Thursday, March 19, 2015

How I write (right now) and how I might

Bookmore challenged the Internet to share how we write stuff, following his own post on the subject. I’m inclined to do so, but mostly as a challenge to write something meaningful and yet quick. Here goes.

I’m in a similar boat to him - I don’t have much time at all, and what I do have is either fragmented (hello, 5-month-old baby) or is “on the go” time, such as getting to work or catching lunch. “Writing” time (or the whole process of putting something together) is often crushed like too much supermarket shopping into daily activities such as:

* 10 minutes in the shower
* 20 minutes walking to work (I’ll take the bus if it’s raining, but it’s too quick to do much)
* 30 minutes maybe having lunch 
* 30 minutes walking back home (it’s uphill, and no toddler to drop at nursery)
* 1 hour in the evening

The nature of the day means my mind is empty at the start and more keen to fill itself with ideas and observations - maybe the shattered leftovers of broken sleep and fleeting dreams. Showering and walking to work are dangerous sports; I am constantly being stalked by topics and finger-pointing arguments I feel the world should know of.

What happens next depends on the rest of the day, but I can break down the process into a few overlapping strands:

1. Ideas

Ideas will float out of my ears (I assume) in the form of either an “aha” point to be made, or sometimes (in conjunction) a string of text that has apparently come from inside me without deliberation. 

I find that these ideas get forgotten very quickly - replaced by another, or by some more pressing urgency. Although sadly, I don’t tend to forget that I had the idea in the first place, and spend many minutes trying to chase it back again.

I’ll often put an idea down somewhere to join the others in some nebulous info-ether. A text message to myself, a notepad, an Evernote memo. Whatever’s closest. Long ago, during Uni, I decided it was more important to write something down that it was to re-read my own notes. The act of writing is therapy in itself.

Sometimes, infrequently, I come back to these raw ideas. Generally, I don’t have the time to flesh out things with such enthusiasm, and it’s only when I actually have time to put some text together that anything publishable happens. Somewhere there’s a graveyard of all the ideas I once had.

2. Tools

I mentioned Evernote above, which I’ve used on and off for years. I got a Premium account with a Livescribe digital pen, and then another one recently, accidentally, when I switched mobile phone company.

I like Evernote for its app-ness, it does a good job of letting you add a range of different stuff quickly. I don’t depend on it, but it’s very useful when putting notes together. This post is being written up in Evernote.

Sometimes I’ll just start writing into a Draft blogpost, as it makes me one step closer to that “Publish” button. 

Sometimes I’ll whack the note into Dropbox, but these definitely tend to get ignored. I do love Dropbox, but actually use it for other, more wiki-like things. And photo sharing.

Really, the tool I use right now most is my phone. That reflects the sheer production of ideas though, not the writing process. I’ll often switch to a tablet at lunch, to jot some more thoughts down. But I still can’t beat a laptop for writing speed. A proper, physical keyboard is the only thing that comes close to keeping up with my speed of thought. Switching writing context is key to getting stuff out, in my world.

Keyboards are amazing.

3. Finalising and publishing

This is the bit I hate. Ideas are easy. If you’re in the right mood, chunks of text are easy. Proof-reading and putting links in? Tedious and fiddly.

I’ve gone through phases where I’ve tried to ignore links altogether, and just assume that anyone reading can use Google, or get in touch if they really want to know. The main reason for putting links in seems to be more for Googlejuice these days, except for the very few links which have instigated a particular thought. I’m actually tending to think of blog posts this way anyway. My gut instinct says it makes for a better reading experience.

But getting to the “Publish” point is hard. Lots of things need to come together for me: A holistic whole to the piece, a flow and rhythm that makes it readable, and a point worth hooking people’s attention for. A lot of posts never get finished.

Wat Better?

I’d really like to spit more out, but more structured, meaningful stuff. James produced a [nice series of short, exploratory posts] back in January, and I have some drafts which try to navigate particular theme. I’m hoping to turn them into a blog/tinyletter some time soon, once various dusts have settled.

I feel like I should spend more time playing with formats though as well. The limits of both not-enough-time and not-enough-screen-space should become challenges to creativity rather than blockers. I had an idea to form haiku-like paragraphs: one short, one long, one short. It could work.

I’m also probably going to have a big upheaval to things in that I’ll probably be swapping my legs for a train sometime soon. Having a lightweight laptop would be useful for getting stuff done in the morning and evening, and I’d love for writing to be a significant part of that time. 

Anyway. Writing is fun. But it takes more than a stream of consciousness to publish stuff. Social media services like Facebook and Twitter have figured out how to allow chit-chat in our fragmented and surveilled lives, so I’m sure something similar can happen for more long-form creations...

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