A recipe that works

I have heard so many times that people use particular excuses for why they don’t write, or struggle at writing. “I cannot write”, or “I suck at writing”. Or the best one, “yeah, I suffer from writer’s block”. Hell no! No you don’t. You can write, and the only reason you suck at writing is because you don’t write. Writer’s block? I don’t know. I’m skeptical about it. I think people are just very eager to confuse procrastination with writer’s block.

Everyone can write! Writing is not a problem, even if you have physical disabilities that limit you. There’s always a way.

Imagine this. You’re unlucky. You’re at work in your office, when all of a sudden, someone storms into your office, with two big guns pointed at you. They need you to urgently write an email, with their demands, and send it to the highest-ranking official in the institute. Obviously, if you don’t cooperate, or they don’t meet your assailant’s demands, they’ll blow your head off. But they’re in a good mood, so they’ll dictate a letter. Only 200 words! But they’re in a rush. So better get to it. How long would it take to dictate and type those 200 words to the average person that regularly uses a keyboard? Two minutes? Maybe five to be on the safe side?

Fucking hell, was that so hard? Did you really need a gun to your head to write 200 words. No you didn’t. You can write, so don’t bullshit yourself into saying you can’t.

Now forget about the gun. I don’t even know where that came from. Try something else. What’s your favorite movie? Or your favorite band? Heck, your favorite animal for all I care. Now try the following, sit down and try to write as much as you can about Mr. Mittens in five minutes. I’m pretty sure you could write 200 words about any subject you know and get to that number in five minutes. Right? You can repeat this process for whatever subject you want to write on. The result? A paragraph… A diamond in the rough!

See. Writing isn’t all that hard. It starts with getting something on paper. You got that now. Don’t overthink it.

Once you got that unpolished diamond on paper, it’s time to make it shine. The polishing or editing part is more difficult than the actual writing of the first draft. But imagine this. (Again, no guns this time, it’s too hard to think with guns pointed at your head.) You have your 200 word draft about Mr. Mittens, and now you have one hour to make the sentences the best you can. You really have to give it your best, you only have one hour. I’m pretty sure that in that hour, you could do a whole lot of good to that small paragraph. Perhaps you’re not fully satisfied yet. That’s alright. No writer ever is immediately satisfied with whatever they wrote (but overcoming perfectionism is for another day, maybe).

Now let it rest. Maybe a week? A month? To be honest, the longer, the better. In my experience, it works best to be at the point where you have almost forgotten about Mr. Mittens and his story. Then, pick it up, read it, and give yourself another half an hour or so to perfect the piece. Could it flow better? Could sentences be split up? Would it be better to swap order for some? At this point it might seem like your improving other people’s writing (which is why the rest part matters). It’s always easier to improve something that isn’t close to you (anymore). It’s becoming a pretty awesome story, eh? Did you even need the 30 minutes? Who would’ve thought that Mr. Mittens was so nice.

There you go. One hour and 35 minutes – if that – for a decent paragraph. It’s not perfect. But it’s certainly good enough for others to read. Trust me. You know Mr. Mittens better than anyone. It’s awesome!

Now, whatever is true for Mr. Mittens’ story, is probably true for anything you want to write about, assuming you’re not picking stuff you have never heard of to write about.

I can tell you this. You can be pretty damn productive if you would write a couple of those paragraphs per day, or per week even.

If you ask me, that’s all there is to it. Don’t make it more difficult than it is. The result will get better and better with practice, and the polishing hour gets shorter every day. Writing isn’t hard. You just have to find a recipe that works for you. And then do it, again, and again, and again! Nobody’s gonna do it for you.

Published by Robin Heinen

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

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