LIFE ADVICE, WRITING, GOALS
Before you can write for others, you must write for yourself
Let’s make a blood pact. If you are a first time writer, you will stop worrying about who you are writing for! And while you are at it, stop worrying about everything else as well. Thank you!
Yesterday I came across your average run-of-the-mill question on Quora:
What is the most clever life hack you have learned?
Typically I don’t answer questions of this nature, primarily because they are full of pointers on things like “how you can save your water drenched iphone” and the likes. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with those answers. I have actually had the pleasure of reading one or two such answers and found them absolutely riveting. But answering like that — it is so not me. So, I would have passed up on that question, and then a thought popped up in my head.
Heyyy… I write… That’s a life hack, right? And yeah. It could actually help many people.
So, I went ahead and wrote that. And then something crazy happened. People were actually finding merit in that answer. I mean, a lot of people.
I was getting DMs, follower notifications and what not.
Now, I don’t write for the upvotes, I don’t write for others. I am in it for myself. But this was actually nice; people wanted to write. As someone who is at the marker ‘25 days and counting’ of every day writing, I do believe it is helpful to me, and I would not mind others getting that same help.
So here are a few points and tips:
#1. DO NOT WRITE FOR OTHERS
I don’t write for others, I don’t care whether someone reads it or not. I don’t care if people agree with my perspective or not. I don’t care if I am being controversial. I write for myself. To help myself think more clearly, and at a faster rate, with higher efficiency.
#2. DO NOT MAINTAIN A LIST OF IDEAS TO WRITE ABOUT
That is just inefficient, and defeats the purpose. You are not a NY Times best selling author who has his publisher on his ass about the next novel. You don’t need to think of the plot. You are not a Pulitzer winning journalist who needs to ensure that everything he/she produces is a work of art — something worthy of the name that he/she has built.
You, my dear sir — as many of the people reaching out have noted — are not a writer. And I don’t want you to be a writer. I just want you to write. Good or bad, short or long, red or blue — I just want to do this one thing every day.
Maintaining ideas is unproductive and inefficient. The only things that creating this list helps you with?
A. Wasting a lot of time
When you are creating this list of ideas, you are always thinking of what can go next up on the list. And when you are not thinking that, you are thinking of how to create a beautiful story out of one of those items on your list. About all the things you would research about, all the ways in which the narrative could be built. In short — you are wasting a lot of time. I simply hate that. What’s worse? You are wasting your time fantasising about creating something. Why not just go ahead and create it?
B. A ever expanding list
I have 121 items in my drafts section on Quora.
121!!! That’s 4 months worth of questions just sitting there waiting to be answered. I saved them to drafts, so I obviously know the questions are worth the time. So why not pick a question a day from this list for 4 months, instead of looking for a good question to answer every single day?
Because if they are in the draft, there must have been a good reason behind that. If they could have been published, I would have published them. I don’t want to waste my time researching these drafts etc.
I have answered 30 questions (maybe 1 less, but I know I am close) in the past 25 days, and none of them came from the drafts.
Drafts is where stories go to die!
Your idea list would be the same thing. James Altucher is a big proponent of creating a list of ideas, and sure — it is a great idea. But statistically speaking, you will end up just making the list and not working on it. So why not inculcate the discipline in you first before we start making any other changes in your lifestyle. Just write. Don’t think about what to write about. Just write.
This is what I do:
- I write about any 1 of the first 5 thoughts in my head in the morning. I take my dog for a walk, and when he is busy sniffing some butts or watering some shrubs, I am recapping my day yesterday. The challenges I faced, the places I am stuck at, things that I need to do today. These 5 topics somehow sneak in during the whole conversation I am having with myself.
- While I am answering the question, or writing on medium, I just have 1 tab open — Quora if I am on an answer, and then Medium (in the same tab). The only time I open a new tab is at the end — when I want to add 1–2 pics or gifs to the piece.
Why don’t you try it out.
#3. DO NOT EDIT, DO NOT PROOFREAD
Once again, these things are for a later stage. When you are getting better. When you have already reached the stage where you can identify with yourself as someone who writes — every day. Hopefully, by this time you would have come to identify a few topics you can most closely relate to. Now those are your niche. And it is at this stage — and this stage only — that we need to start thinking about turning this writer (you) into a better writer.
Right now, I want you to be true to yourself. Just let it all out. Your brain will always work at a much faster pace than your fingers, and it will form coherent thoughts as well. So just continue to dump those thoughts out in the form of words.
#4. DO NOT HOLD YOURSELF BACK
There is a very strong reason why I chose this particular experiment for myself. Well 2 strong reasons. The first was — to inculcate some discipline in my life. I had come to hate myself a lot for wasting days after days, weeks at a time, not doing any real work. And I am a man who loves himself right to the point of it being considered a crime. So saying I hated myself — that should speak a lot.
So I decided it was time I got my shit together. Sticking to this writing target and schedule has helped me (1) Get up early. I am out of bed at 6am almost every day. On days that I fail to do that, I am still up by 7. Oh. I used to wake up around 10–10:30 before I started this, so Yayy! (2) Be extremely focused, driven and committed. Well, at least for the 1 hour (sometimes 1.5) that I am typing away. But hey — baby steps, right? We will make this better.
The other reason — to condition my brain.
Our brain is one of the most powerful things you can think of, one that none of us have even begun to tap into. It is so powerful that tapping into an extra 0.1% could mean a lot. So I want to do that. Tap into an extra 0.1%, may be 0.5%
How do I plan to do that? By continuously keeping it on the proverbial track. Always thinking, always thinking fast. Having to think faster the next week.
The more I write, the more I am exercising my brain.
I may be right, I may be wrong. Who knows! Not me, for sure. I am like a dog.
But I am hoping that the brain conditioning thing — is really a thing. I will keep you posted.
#5. WHEN YOU CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING TO WRITE ABOUT. IT’S OKAY. NOW WRITE!!!
You think you are the only one?
- One day I was hungover. Badly. Tired. Lazy. My mind was completely and utterly blank that day. So what did I do? I wrote exactly about that.
- Another day, I woke up having figured out the solution to a problem I was facing the night before. I got so pulled up in it that when I finally came to realise that it’s morning and I work with a deadline on my writing chores — I had only 35 mins left. 35 mins to think of what to write about on Medium, write about it, hunt a question on Quora, write about it, and slightly unrelated but — pee! I still managed to do that. 25 mins (Medium), 10 mins (Quora)
Nobody is judging.
Well, ideally it should read “shut up and write”, but we aren’t living in an ideal world, and I really did not want to go make a gift just to induce this half a second of lame-ass humor.