Monday 10 May 2021

Hurdles IX - A Personal Insight into Writing by Peter Lok


Overcoming Hurdles in Writing

Everyone can write.  Writing should be like talking to the page for a technical paper or something creative.  The words should just flow, be properly  structured and chosen, and capture the ideas I had in my head.  This is not what really happens, and writing is more difficult than just having a conversation.  There is a permanence to writing, unlike a conversation, so almost all writing needs rework and editing to some degree.

I would consider myself to be a good writer, not some artistic genius who is going to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I can put out an entertaining story.  When I write, I’ve run into writer’s block, no motivation to write, and been daunted by long writing tasks.  I was a programmer and then a business analyst, so some of my techniques to overcome these hurdles come from my professional background.

Writer’s block is a nasty thing.  I may have an idea, but I just cannot get something down on paper that seems to represent it properly.  My creativity is just not working and I’m stuck.  When I’ve run into this problem I try to get away from it for a while to clear my head – sometimes I get great ideas by taking a walk outside or even talking to someone else about it.  Another thing I can do is to change tasks and work on something else.  Having a few things going at the same time or getting a change of pace works wonders.

Motivation to write is a hard thing to solve.  It is one level above writer’s block as I cannot even get to the writing to have writer’s block.  Getting motivation is easy if I’m writing and able to get the words down fairly easily, but what happens when I derail for some reason.   I treat getting motivated like a job as one solution.  I can have a job I do not like, but I still do the job (note: if you are in a bad job like this in real life you might consider a change as this is bad for your mental health).  This means I need to dedicate time to writing – preferably at a regular time – and do it continually.  Even as I write this, I am moving forward on a novel I’m working on right now with this method.  I remember reading about Dan Brown when he wrote the “Da Vinci Code” and he basically spent the first hour of every morning working on it, dedicating time to it.  Having a goal to achieve and keeping that in mind is also good for motivation.

Being daunted by a large writing project is only natural.  Any large project, be it a home renovation, writing a book, analyzing a business system, or a year long software development, looks like a huge mountain to climb and impossible to do.  I tackle this by using decomposition and simplification.  Decomposition is taking a big task and breaking it down into little tasks.  To decompose, I have to outline or identify an overall structure / plan.  I then break down these big pieces into smaller pieces (e.g. chapters / scenes).  Simplification tries to minimize what you actually need to do for the big tasks or little tasks.  What is the core theme, functionality, or plot required?  Simpler is better, right?  This allows a core narrative or a minimum viable product to be created to get the big project done.  Getting something written that is coherent or a simpler system that works is better than the alternative. 

Having this overall structure in place allows me to know how much work I have to do, how it fits together, and allows me to work on something else if I’m stuck on one thing.  This helps to mitigate excessive rework too.  Importantly, I can measure progress by passing milestones as I finish up little tasks.  Suddenly, a chapter is done, or a section of a document, and you can move on to the next writing objective.  Achieving milestones helps with motivation and determination as I have a positive achievement. 

These three hurdles are something that I’ve run into many, many times when I write for myself and for my professional work.  Of course, all hurdles also drop away when you can get into the “zone.”  This is a term from my programming days.  When you are in the “zone” you are focused on the task at hand and are extremely productive.  Getting into the zone is another kind of hurdle, one that can only be solved if you like what you are doing. 

There is one last thing I would like to mention, and that is endless rework or editing.  When I finish writing a section or a chapter, I do not try to get it absolutely perfect.  Good enough is good enough as I need to keep momentum up on my writing to keep hitting milestones.  When I am done with my first draft or have achieved significant progress, I can go back to edit and rework.  The need to keep producing is a priority so that I never have the un-ending work in progress and can keep my motivation up.  I hope I have been able to give a little advice that has worked for me, so good luck with your writing.

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