Personal Rules for Learning to Write Again
A potential love letter to writing
It’s a picture everyone who’s ever taken up writing as a hobby (or a profession) has known all too well and familiar: You have a lot of ideas, snippets of ideas, things that reside on your head, and you are pretty confident that said ideas, assuming you just sit down on it and try to focus, can turn into more structured-piece of writing like articles, blog posts et cetera that a person or two on the internet, given the right moment, can spare a minute or ten to actually read it, and hopefully, get some sort of a value from it, or at the very minimum, you — the writer, can maybe read it again a year from now and avoid cringing. The world may have different standards when it comes to a lot of things, but we can all agree that you can never go wrong when you aim for timelessness, and as a writer, that’s really the goal for anything that I put out, aside from the usual attributes of usefulness, entertainment, comic relief, information-driven, not a waste of paper/pixel et cetera.
To help combat this increasingly frustrating writer’s block, I’ve decided to make a few rules for myself that weren’t necessarily deliberate. In fact, over the last few months, I’ve found myself gravitating towards a multitude of things that really challenges my thinking, and overall mindset, which I’m happy to say has greatly improved because of said things. Some of them were innate, and unsurprising (affinities for the human-interest stories, 2019 indie films) but most were — for the most part —a complete, who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-to-Nikki mystery: moderate interest in electric cars, and the future of automation, the future of cities (carless cities), psychology and business, and the habits and patterns of world-class performers (thanks to Tim Ferriss’s amazing podcast), modern philosophy et cetera.
It was almost as if, I’m driven to learn more about these things than anything I’ve ever tried to learn my entire life, which then led me to think about how unhealthy, and unproductive my academic life has been and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change that, nor deny that. I wasn’t a terrific student, that’s fairly obvious but I’m also not one to dwell on the past, and sentimental things, even then. To me, that was probably one of my few strengths that stayed consistent: I’ve always been more interested in the near-future than the day before yesterday. Always. Which brings me to rule #1…
Learn from the collective past, but don’t live there.
I’ve been blogging (or livejournal-ing) since I was maybe 14,15 years old when I had a plethora of teenage issues that practically messed up my really really bad social skills, and had no-one to talk to about them so I turned to a bunch of different, pre-social media platforms that older millenials in the Philippines may be familiar with: Teentalk forum on Candymag.com (using likely an emo-sounding username with the number 6 somewhere), Livejournal (deleted), bunch of blogspots account, Tumblr-before-tumblr , and pre-iPhone era, Tumblr. If horcruxes exists in the modern web, I probably would have placed mine individually on each of these incredible platforms. They’ve been hugely influential, and original and I won’t be the thinker that I am today without them.
But they are not what I needed to move forward in the next phases of my professional and personal life, much like their pop-culture counterparts I always referenced to, and have talked about heavily back then — Smallville, pseudo-punk bands, and mixtapes, The OC, One Tree Hill et cetera.
Treat everything as a research.
If I try and micromanage myself to the brink of insanity just because I needed to catch up on a lot of things, I would end up as a big, ball of failed intellectual misery. I’ve always been unconventional, and a little bit of a nonconformist. The minute I copy paste a template (of learning style) that works well for a dozen or two people, I know I’ll fail. It’s simply not in my DNA to just blindly follow, just because the majority swears right by it.
To address this fascinating personal problem: I’ve very early on started tailoring my media consumption (films, music, books, online blogs) to how I see it, and with a few firm rules (rules again): No dumb stuff, no films about exploding cars, and muscled men and robots with feelings, no action heroes that never die, no badly-color-graded space films with cheesy soundtracks, no dumb stuff. Which are likely 80% of what we see in cinemas, no?
To add to that, I also put an effort to reading books outside of my profession. The worse thing that could happen is I zone out afterwards, and wish for a minute, I could’ve stayed happily blissful not knowing what I just known a few pages ago. But where is the fun in that?
And finally, just start.
It doesn’t matter where, or how, or why. It doesn’t even matter if I clog up my Instagram Stories with daily narratives of my life than my followers should know about, or if I spend a chunk of my free time rooting for a car that I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to afford to own. If it ignites your intellectual curiosities, and drives your mind so passionate you can’t talk nor think about anything else, then by all means, invest that time, read that book, watch documentaries about that industry, do part-time work for that company, talk to people that are outside of your circle, bring up topics you know absolutely nothing about but are willing to open your mind on. Stop thinking there’s an end-all-be-all pattern, or there’s always right way of doing things. It‘s ridiculous.
I can only write what I know, and the more I know things, the more effortless my narratives can be, and is becoming. I wasn’t the perfect student, I didn’t even pursued writing, nor discussed writing to peers. It’s always been the very first skill that I’ve learned how to do well, and love beyond anything I’ve ever done, and when you love something that much — its stamina is stronger than the external credentials you have to show for it, because it’s real, and is completely motivated by this burning, and intrinsic passion you can only hope to find in its human counterpart.
Once you have that, it’s practically impossible not to write. In my case, I’m finding it impossible not to. Actually.
Current reading list:
- The Life and Death of Great American Cities, J. Jacobs
- The Black Swan, N. Taleb
- The Daily Stoic, R. Holiday
Find me on the web