Stop thinking, start writing

Prologue

One should not have Zoom meetings all day. Geez, that messes up your head. I have been staring at a screen since 8AM this morning, and only briefly stopped to grab a bite and bring my son to bed after lunch. I have been outside (at 5.30PM) to water my tomatoes. That’s when you know the day has been good for your mental and physical health.

Anyway, let’s continue with some interesting stuff.

I ended this long day with a great Zoom session. A masterclass on writing by Stephen B Heard, hosted by Ana Pineda from I focus and write. Stephen explained how his own struggles in writing led him to compile his book on scientific writing, and basically launched him to a lifelong adventure of optimizing writing. (I think he did so quite successfully) I guess his central thesis was that we almost all struggle in writing, even though in academia almost all of us (have to) write a lot. That doesn’t mean just manuscripts. There’s a whole lot more. Stephen gave us a back-of-an-envelope calculation of his yearly writing estimate, including manuscripts, proposals, administrative reports and blog posts. I think he underestimated, as it did not include any emails (or Tweets!). Other than that, his calculations seemed very conservative and realistic, and taken togetger he estimated that he wrote about a Harry Potter novel’s equivalent in terms of word count (roughly 165.000 words if memory serves me well). That’s a pretty impressive statistic!

So what’s the secret to writing a lot? Stephen gave many insights into different tips and tricks that might help those that struggle out. I guess to learn the answer, you should pick up his book on writing ;-). I haven’t read it yet, but certainly will. I think I may have already picked up some strategies that I might try (for instance, measuring my own distraction levels, especially when I write professionally).

I also considered running a similar calculation for my own total writing output, but when I checked my blog’s ‘insight’ tab, I noted that since January 30 – the day I started writing daily blogs – I have already churned out a decent series of words. This post will make me hit the 75.000 word mark. Of course quantity and quality are not the same thing. But still, I was somewhat amazed. It means that if I continue writing daily posts (which I am finding quite an enjoyable routine, to be honest), I may end up writing a small Harry Potter novel on my blog alone. (Title suggestions are welcome)

So what’s my secret to writing a lot? There is no secret. The only secret to writing a lot, is to write a lot. What I’m saying is these words don’t write themselves. You have to be the main driver of it, if writing a lot is what you’re after. Content doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how many people read it, or like it, or even hate it. If your goal is to write more, you should write more. Trust me, if you start thinking less, editing less, and just start writing, in two months time you will start seeing a difference. A huge difference. Words will flow more easily. What used to take two hours to write, now comes in twenty minutes. But also, you will start to see things differently (and you will likely get a new appreciation of the written arts). Stories will start appearing to you. Not all your writing will be good! Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes no one will read it. Sometimes it feels like you’re writing the biggest mess. And maybe often it is? So what? The goal is to become a better writer, and a better story-teller. And this solution – to start writing more – is the only solution that works. Experience is the best teacher.

Stop thinking, start writing!

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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