Insights: How I write and what I’ve learned on writing this year

Photo by @dsmacinnes / Unsplash.com

It’s not a secret by now, that I love writing. Yesterday I wrote 15 pages for my upcoming book on Microsoft Azure – it will be a sequel volume to the one that was published in May by ShareGate:

(You can get a free digital copy here)

I’ve written more actively this year – about 50 blog posts for my own blog, and plenty of other pieces online. The more I write, the easier it gets. Perhaps there’s an insinuation to working IT here, too.

I’ve also learned a lot during this year on how I write, and how I get rid of the usual obstacles, such as writers’ block, deadlines and finding a suitable topic. Let’s go through some of the insights I’ve realized, and perhaps this is useful to someone about to start blogging, or hoping to write a book!

The 4-hour rule

Perhaps I’m bastardizing the 4-hour rule, but what works best for me is to get a total of 4 hours of time to write (and research) during a day. Not every day, but on those days when I write.

Tim Ferris famously wrote a book on the 4-hour workweek. I’ve never been able to do that, but I’m able to work 2-4 hours in deep concentration and producing quality results.

How?

It’s simple, but all simple things are often also challenging. The rules I use for myself are:

  1. Maintain a list of titles and content I want to write about. I keep my list in a Microsoft To-Do -based list, and currently, I have about 25 entries there. The reason I’m using a digital tool as opposed to scribbling my ideas on a piece of paper is accessibility. I get ideas in surprising places, and I need to capture them immediately or they are lost for good.
    Here’s a snapshot of some of the ideas I have, that I’ve yet to write about:

    – What are Best Practices, and what’s after Best Practices?
    – Creating a background utility to display temperature data in Windows SysTray
    – Backing up local virtual machines using Azure Migrate
    – My Ubiquiti Networks’ Unifi setup

    Admittedly not all of them are original. But that’s beside the point! The intention is to capture all inklings of an idea, and then pick one and start working on it. Without ideas, there really isn’t much writing happening.
  2. Consciously find time to write uninterrupted, and make an effort. I’m on the lookout for finding at least 2 hours of time every day to do something worthwhile. Many times our days are filled with menial tasks, that are needed and often important. But these tasks tend to fill out days, and suddenly you’re not the director and scriptwriter of your time, but rather the lighting assistant.
    I make heroic efforts to carve out time for writing. That’s why I always carry my laptop when I leave home (except when I go running).

    I find I need 2 hours before lunch, and 2 hours after lunch to get anything productive done. Emails I can do whenever needed, but a conscious effort on writing or similar creative task requires the 2 hours, or so.
  3. When you write, write. When you don’t write, don’t write. I went to buy some groceries this morning before my first meeting. I then had about 45 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, so I sat down in my home office and started writing. I wrote 40 minutes before the doorbell rang and my guest arrived. It’s not optimal but it’s better than nothing. And that’s what counts.

    It’s these small opportunities that allow you to produce text – sometimes daily – and it feels effortless. But then again, you have to enjoy the process of writing.

Getting to a state of flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote about the state of flow in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience back in 1990. I’ve read the book sometime after that, but I can’t really recall much about. Except that you need to get into a state of flow. It’s a skill, and that means you can train yourself for it.

For me, it gets easier and easier to reach this state. And by state, it simply means I can concentrate my will on a topic and produce tangible results I’m happy with. I’m beyond the measurable distance from John Wick’s talent, but then again, I’m not an assassin.

Sheer will!

I haven’t cracked the perfect recipe to get into a state of flow, but any of these work for me:

  • Keeping my desk clean. Only bare necessities. And always have a pen and paper for scribbling nearby.
  • Background music that doesn’t require much focus to listen to. For far too long I’ve had this one playlist in Spotify that I use when I’m struggling to get into the state of flow. It’s not done by me, but it works.
My go-to list for getting stuff done.
  • A routine. I always use the same routine. It takes a few minutes.

    I make coffee. Walk downstairs with the cup. Close the door to my home office. Log in to desktop PC, and put on music from Spotify. Browse a bit – check ‘the usual’ websites, but no social media. Just news or interesting articles. Sip coffee, and anticipate the moment when I’ll start writing.

    Finally, open a new tab and navigate to WordPress if I’m doing a blog post, or open Microsoft Word if doing something else. Maximize the window on my main display, and get writing.

    The first 5 words are the hardest. Then it just… flows.

Know how to type

I learned to type fast when I was young. I used to share the room with my brother, and he often went to bed earlier than I did. And our PC was in that same room. So I kept typing, he kept trying to sleep. With lights turned off, I had no other alternative than learning to type without seeing the keys. This was before someone invented backlit keyboards.

Since then, my typing speed is a little slower – the chiclet keyboards are partially to blame. I actually went to try out how many words per minute (WPM) can crank out on my Lenovo Thinkpad keyboard. It’s 110.

You can test yourself here.

So, the reason I’m bringing this up is not to brag about my score, but to underline the importance of typing quickly enough. If you only use your two index fingers, something is not right. Figure out a system, whatever system, and learn that. When you type quickly, it’s also easier to type more and produce more.

Don’t overthink – just WRITE!

I often start articles, book chapters and blog posts without much thinking. I then type more and review what I’ve written. Perhaps I’m not happy with the first sentences so I’ll just cut them without feeling remorse.

Don’t overthink too much. It’s much easier to edit 2 pages of text and have 1 page of good text, than edit 2 sentences and have nothing left.

While writing my book this afternoon I cut 3 pages of text. Zip. Gone, just like that. I’d spend maybe 30 minutes producing those pages, so you could say I lost 30 minutes. But I like to think I learned what not to write over those 30 minutes.

Write, and write more. That’s what I intend to do for the foreseeable future!