Writing something every day was too tough for me for a long time. Eventually, though, I found out there ware lots of opportunities to practice writing while I feed my note archive. So I made note-writing a deliberate practice. Today, I think I’ve found peace with the way I write texts. It’s possible I’ve said things like this before, but this time it feels different. No, really! Writing itself isn’t a hindrance anymore and my actions yield results: I’m adding meat to my book manuscript and I find topics to write blog posts about. I became more confident in writing texts, even though writing a text seems to be different from taking notes at first.

If you practice writing every day, it’ll come easy to get words on paper when you’re under pressure to complete a writing project. That’s my experience so far. For years now I write something nearly every day. When I write texts it’s usually a mess. The first draft isn’t going to be pretty once I finish it and sometimes it’s hard to even get that shitty first draft out. But it’s easier when typing and phrasing ideas itself isn’t the bottleneck anymore.

I know, this is your usual textbook advice: write daily and eventually you’ll get better at it; you only need to keep the juices flowing. Problem is, no one ever seemed to care and tell me what to write during practice sessions, though. There is little motivation in rote writing if it only produces waste like most Free Writing sessions, for example. Of course I can clear my mind when I just let the words pour out of my head onto the paper – but seriously, how often can you do this a week without getting on your nerves?

Photo Credit: jeffpyle via cc

I had to un-stuck writing itself. When I learn a new programming language, I learn most when I work on tiny projects; like that, I practice writing by taking notes about topics I’m interested in. Practice isn’t an end in itself anymore but comes naturally while I write to learn more about a topic. This may involve reading a text first, but, more importantly, it certainly involves taking notes, phrasing observations clearly, and integrating the notes into my note archive. It’s just like real research, only I consider it playful practice.

The bottom line is: the output of your writing practice isn’t destined to land in the trash. It’s more useful to practice the craft of writing by creating pieces of text which can be re-used later.

When you turn writing into a habit by feeding your Zettelkasten note storage like I did, you will less likely get stuck when you take on a writing project. You won’t panic and think: “boy, now writing’s getting serious”, because all you had yet done during your practice was serious, too. The products of your practice are useful pieces for future writing projects. Also, you worked your skills and improved your knowledge. Eventually, you’ll realize getting started with a writing project isn’t so different from the work you usually do, and suddenly you’ll stay calm and write with confidence like you always do instead of tightening up and questioning your skill all the time. Moreover, you’re going to be surprised how many notes from your archive turn out to be useful for your particular writing project, even though you didn’t anticipate any of that when you wrote the notes. Keeping your Zettelkasten well-fed is therefore useful for your present and future self because you gain confidence in writing and prepare research in advance at the same time.

Questions

  • Have you tried Free Writing or similar techniques before?
  • How did you keep the writing juices flowing when you had no project at hand in the past?