In this post, we’ll discover actionable items when you want to take on some creative work, but you’re not sure how to start, for how long to do it, and what the process will look like.
Writing is an art form that, due to over-use, does not get the respect that it deserves.
Constant texting, writing emails, or any other kind of messaging communication numbs our inner creativity around the art of writing. This is unfortunate because when writing is properly addressed, it helps us grow the more we practice it.
All of us write, all of us read, but just a few people write artistically.
Enter the Experiment
I have only written sporadically over the years, and about random topics. In fact, every time that I was writing, it felt I was not good enough and when it was due time, I become completely afraid of posting it, let alone, sharing it.
With that in mind, I decided to run an experiment being myself the test subject of it. So, this is how it got structured:
- Hypothesis: “If JJ wants, he could publish 7 articles in 14 Days“.
- Test Subject: JJ
- Start Date: May 25th, 2020
- End Date: June 6th, 2020
So, this is how it went:
Finding the topics
What are the topics that you’re currently curious about? Maybe a pandemic? Racism? Breathwork? Politics? Soccer?
In my case, I took several of the topics that I’m currently interested in and have dived into previously. Also, I took advantage of a few presentations that I was going to give (also on topics of my interest), using them as an excuse to consolidate ideas around them.
Even though it sounds like selfish curiosity, it’s actually a good motivation and the perfect catalyst when you want to make things happen, especially when the only roadblock in that pathway is yourself.
In fact, this is the last article that I wrote during this experimental period :).
Now, let’s review the toughest part of the experiment.
How many times did you find yourself starting a new diet on Monday and dropping it by Friday? Or trying to follow a workout routine that fails miserably after a couple of weeks?
During the experiment my struggles where these ones:
1. Finding time to write
I do have a job and also have a life outside of the job. So, finding time to write required that I book time aside in my agenda and respect it.
Yes, there were several times that I had to re-schedule the date with the pencil and paper for later during the day due to some unexpected work call or fire to fight, or due to unexpected and must-have calls with family, or simply life getting into your agenda and messing with it.
After booking time to sit and write was accomplished, the next struggle was actually grabbing my will by the neck and make it happen.
Guess what. ANYTHING can become a distraction that enchants your attention and half-hour later, you realized that you were in a dream-like state.
In circumstances like this, I had to act like Ulysses on his way back home and navigating next to the Sirens. I knew that the outside temptations were beckoning my name but, no matter what, I was going to respect my writing time, holding onto my computer’s text editor. Period.
Now, it was not a self-inflicted punishment strategy. Like we’ll see later, there was a strategy behind it.
3. Fear of “What people will think/say.”
Every time that I’m about to click on the “Send” button to publish an article, photo or video that contains some sort of actionable information that is more than the simple selfie or fun comment, I get the fear of what people may think about it concentrated right at the tip of my finger.
Something that I’ve found that helps to overcome this recurring fear (yes, it doesn’t disappear easily) is reframing the approach. Instead of thinking that I am “teaching or lecturing” the audience about a topic, the perspective is more a: I’d like to share what I learned based on where my curiosity took me.
Finding the courage to overcome this fear is something very personal and the invitation is on the table for you to let me know how you overcome it.
Once I overcame the struggles, I was on my way to start writing. But, the process didn’t actually start sitting in front of the computer and typing frantically (that’s a later stage). For me, it all starts with a simple and silly mind map on a piece of paper.
A mind-map helps to splash ideas in no particular order, and that way find the key ideas or concepts that later will become the backbone of an article.
When you draw mind maps, you’re letting yourself be free, because there’s nothing perfect about them, and even with some creativity you can also sketch funny symbols associated with the main ideas. That is the perfect memory training practice (want to improve your memory? take a look at this 30-Day Memory Challenge).
Writing for the sake of writing was not appealing, so I decided to set goals, depending on the topic that was chosen. For example: for “¿Eres un Experto Respirando?, I decided to share breathwork techniques to relax under stress and also to prep for sleep.
Setting an article goal is important because that provides a destination where we plan to arrive to. This is useful especially when you’re on a time crunch like the one on this experiment.
So, after setting the goal and having most of the key concepts and ideas dumped into the mind-map, now it’s time to seat in front of the laptop, and start typing frantically, ….the more frantically, the better.
Yes, I know. It sounds like a waste of time, but it actually worked for me because that’s when the ideas glued together in sentences and paragraphs that I cannot normally come up with beforehand.
True to be told, not every one of them is part of the articles itself. Some of them are a good fit and other ones are not, even though the ideas that they reflect may seem cool in isolation. But, we’ll talk about them on the Refining stage.
An important feature of this stage is the unavoidable Research.
No matter how good you think you know about the topic that you’re writing about, you will always wonder about concepts, ideas, and even words in the context of your writing, and that doubt sparks the curiosity that leads us to research more about those concepts, revisit old book notes, find out the etymology of words, and even search for relevant stories to help the reader remember the key message.
After chunks of ideas were written, backed up by research, that is time to move onto the next phase.
Similarly to drawing a sketch, writing is not about finishing one polished paragraph at a time and then moving on to the next one. (Interested in drawing? Check this Drawing 30-Day Challenge post).
So, after outlining has taken place, it’s time to actually triage, simplify, and beautify most of the rough work created during the outlining stage.
This is the part where entire paragraphs are moved around to help with the flow of the lecture. Other ones get connected between themselves, or even completely re-written, all for the sake of making readability and conciseness the main feature of the message that the article is trying to deliver.
But, there’s a trick here that I realized early on. Triaging, simplifying, and beautifying does not include deleting.
As mentioned earlier, we tend to come up with nice and catchy sentences, paragraphs, or even entire sections for a post that simply are not in alignment with the goal of it.
So, we delete them, right? … No really.
Our minds are factories of thought. Most of those thoughts are pointless (at least mine), but there are some golden nuggets eager to be found among the less relevant ones. So, once we find them, why letting them go?
There are no leftovers, at least in my writing, since those ideas go into an Evernote Note to later become the source of new articles or even catchy tweets.
Now, after we cut the fat, refined the structure, and made sure the content of the article is delivering the intended goal, it’s time to choose a nice image and to deliver it, that means, facing the fear of “what others will say” by pressing that big old “Publish” button.
There’s an old saying that goes like this:
Art is not art unless it is shared.
Publishing an article may seem scary, but the actual fear is sharing it with the world because once it reaches several people, they will read it and create an opinion about it. At that stage, there may be positive or negative feedback coming one’s way, and that is fine. At least, that’s better than being ignored.
Starting with sharing an article with close friends and family is ideal because, most of the time, they will help to read-proof the article and spot those inconsistencies that you missed, even after you double-checked it several times. It’s easy to become oblivious to our creation’s big imperfections.
The point is: share it, don’t overthink too much about any given feedback (if given), and move on to the next project, because this article doesn’t belong to you anymore, but instead to your audience.
ROI – “Results” Of the Investment
As in every formal experiment, this experiment also provided results and discoveries. The following are some of those:
Not a Challenge anymore once you start doing it
What originally started as a “7 Article/14 Day Challenge“, quickly changed into an experiment that showed unexpected and positive results.
The hypothesis: “If JJ wants, he could publish 7 articles in 14 Days” was proven right, despite weeks of hard work at a full-time job, taking online classes, and all the extra house-maintenance, and unpredicted tasks of daily lives.
The best part is that actually, this is article number 8 (yes, eight) out of the 7 that I was supposed to publish (yey! 🙂 ).
The point is: by day three, it was obvious that the “challenge” was only mental overestimation. Not even a self-imposed limit. It was simply a lack of action that made me believe that it was “hard” or “difficult” to write.
Time Constraints used in our favor
Unless we define a due-date to deliver personal projects, we will not deliver them at all. The “one day in the future” implicit date in many of our personal quests means Never.
Since I had only 14 days, and many daily responsibilities to work on, I thought that it would be appropriate to publish an article every two days. That way I’d avoid the well-known procrastination rush that we all experience sooner or later.
Having that 2-Day time constraint in perspective actually helped to clarify the goals and content of every article, especially because I had the following question in mind constantly:
“What is it that I can write about to deliver value to the audience in two or fewer days?“
Motivation & “Shut up and Ship it”
For most of those 14 days, I had two Writing-Article appointments booked on the agenda. One early morning before starting to work on my job, and the other one after the job, between 6pm to 9pm.
That second round was tough in my case because after investing a massive amount of mental power and attention in work-related topics (software architecture decisions, team coordination, unplanned fires, and so on), it felt that the stamina was depleted.
That’s when the mind just wanted to “chill out” on social media or any mind-numbing amusement. And, that’s when, in my case, I had to put extra effort to make things happen.
Sometimes we forget that writing, painting, reading the book that we said we were going to read, or any other expectation that we self-imposed will not improve anyone else but us. Does that sound selfish? Well, I’d argue that investing time and energy in something that will make us a bit smarter, a bit happier, a bit healthier, sounds instead like being smart-selfish.
That is pure intrinsic motivation, and we have it when we work on personal projects, so when it’s there, that’s when we need to take advantage of it.
But, when it’s not there…. that’s when I had to use the “Shut Up and Ship it” strategy on myself.
Do you recall a time when you were told what to do, and you had to follow orders despite not liking it? Well, this is pretty much it. If we don’t parent ourselves, no one else will, especially when we know that eating veggies, sleeping enough, and, in the case of this article, writing articles, is good for ourselves.
Curious about the product of this short, intense, fun experiment? These are the articles that were published 🙂 :
- Manufacturando Resiliencia — Cómo empezar con Ingeniería del Caos
- Uncommon Ways to Increase Your Productivity
- 7 Pasos para Convertirte en un Nómada Digital y Cambiar Tu Mente
- Motívate para Ser Bilingüe, inclusive en tu Propio Idioma
- “Good” vs GOOD Questions and How to Make Them
- ¿Eres un Experto Respirando? Técnicas para Mejorar tu Relación con el O2
- ¿Quieres un Negocio Resiliente? … Diseña una Cultura Remota (coming soon on https://emprendedores.bo/)
- This article
The question now is for you: what is it that you’d like to write about? what is your writing struggle and process to come up with a piece?
Or, what is an interesting, short, fun, intense experiment that you’d like to try yourself? Now it’s your turn!
Let me know in the comments.
Keep on Learning and experimenting!