My Biology teacher once pulled me aside after class, this time he probably sensed how unhappy I looked. Suddenly, he asked me, “Zat, what do you love to do?” Without hesitation, I deftly responded, “I love to write”. When I was in school I was always writing short stories — Plenty of times I just remodeled them to suit my English exams. That’s why English exams were fun.
“Then write a blog,” he said, “I know you’re studying, of course. But do something. Don’t let that love die.”
That didn’t happen until two years later, because I wasn’t open-minded about the idea of blogging. My preconception about blogging was that it’s nothing more but something that people do to tell stories about themselves, like an online diary (See how dangerous preconceptions are).
But I was constantly reading books, and I felt that it wouldn’t hurt — In fact it would be a great thing to create a casual platform for me to share the knowledge I obtained from reading — What if I could re-engineer all these connections I made so that other people could benefit from them? Also, maybe it would be a good way to get people to read more books.
I also told myself that I was doing this for the sake of doing it. If I only have five people who are my loyal readers, heck, even if I have just one — It doesn’t matter. Just do whatever it takes to serve in the best way possible.
10th September marks one year since my first article — Easy to remember the vibes. It was about a couple of weeks after my nephew was born, and just two days before my brother’s 20th birthday. I remember sleeping at 4 in the morning, sipping my second cup of coffee, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’s Stadium Arcadium record playing on repeat, while I made the most of not knowing what I was doing.
As “casual” as this platform is intended to be, I can’t deny the fact that it takes an enormous amount of work just to write one article. I mean, I could take the easy road and write a lazy one, but I wouldn’t just be cheating the readers, I’d be cheating myself too.
Below is my attempt to reflect on the things I learned from working on this site.
1. Take Your Time
“They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there – And all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see.”
On The Road
I recently rediscovered (again) the Stadium Arcadium album — Other than the fact that it was John Frusciante’s final work with the band, and that they were at the peak of their musical creativity — This time it made me realize what made the album so special.
Every Red Hot Chili Peppers album is amazingly unique, but listening to Stadium Arcadium — You can hear how much they had grown as lifelong students of their craft. If you listen to their earlier work, particularly the ones in Frusciante’s time such as Blood Sugar, you’d feel that they were young guys, with youth running deep in their bones, eager to go fast, eager to explore the limitations of the craft.
But Stadium Arcadium is different — In their minimalistic approach and their aim to “make every note count”, there’s a feeling of having already reached somewhere high on the hill, being able to see things with a much clearer view. Due to their past experience, through their music they had the wisdom to say “No need for too much zeal. You’ll get there anyway. Just trust the process.”
Maybe, I’m still a very long a way from being able to stand on that hill. There are so many things I don’t know, and no doubt, I musn’t act like I know. It’s only been a year.
2. You Can’t Write Without Having Something To Say
“Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants.”
Ryan Holiday’s metaphor for writing is that it’s like handling a gun. If you want to fire a gun, you need to have some ammunition in the first place. In writing, the ammunition translates into research — And this is actually harder to do than to just dive into your writing, because you have to undergo the hard thinking first.
What is it that you actually want to say? And if you have something to say, is it clear enough? Is it streamlined enough to be turned into an article? Will the contents of the article be coherent? What case studies can you use to back up what you’re trying to say? And are those case studies or examples good enough, or do you need to find better ones?
Based on my experience, Holiday couldn’t be more right. I admit that I had cheated on this process before, and as a result, I wrote numerous horrible articles.
To aid myself, before working on an article, I’d create two drafts. One to gather my ammunition, and the other to outline the article’s skeleton or structure.
Here are examples of my ammunition draft. It’s just a draft to store whatever scattered ideas I have — Even names for sub-titles in the article.
After I’ve gathered enough ammo, I’d transfer them into the skeleton draft. You might notice that there are a few ammos that didn’t make it into the actual article (or before that, the skeleton draft), because I felt that they weren’t good enough, or that I was talking more about what I personally like instead of getting the point across.
And here are examples of the skeleton draft. (Sorry I couldn’t upload the ones from the same article. I’m just using whatever I have.)
Structuring is a very important thing. Very.
I like to remind myself that even Kerouac outlined his work before he began writing spontaneously.
3. Write For Yourself. Rewrite For One Person.
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — As right as you can, anyway — It belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”
There’s always the question of whether you should write to please only yourself or whether you should write for another person. Based on what worked best for me, the answer to that question is — Both.
For me, the process of writing is like running down a dream, or going on an adventure in the fourth dimension. It’s about having fun in your mental playground with the avalanches of ideas and the things that you feel the need to say. It’s a very dear adventure to me. It means a lot to me.
But in order for that adventure to make sense to other people, I need to find the best way to put it in words. Henceforth I need to take a dispassionate stand so that I don’t get into the boring details or little textures that have meaning only for myself. This way, it can be something valuable for other people — Instead of only myself benefiting from what I know, other people can benefit as well.
In writing his stories, Stephen King has an “Ideal Reader” system that he operates on. It basically means that when he’s writing, he’s also thinking about one person that he has in mind — For him, his Ideal Reader is his wife, Tabitha — So he forces himself to think, “Will this make any sense to her? Is it good enough? Will she get bored with my flowery descriptions?”
In my terms, it’s kind of like Programming (or in other words, writing computer code) — Often times when I look at my lines of code, it looks perfect that I think, “What else could I have done wrong? This is already the best I’ve done” — But the code still couldn’t function. The program still couldn’t run on the computer — And when a friend comes and debugs my code, there are so many errors that I didn’t have the slightest thought of.
Thinking of my Ideal Reader helps to avoid that kind of thing. It forces me to see my work from a different point of view, to observe my blind spots, and to attack my own work.
Or at least that’s my opinion.