I’m in full-on, heads down, focused writing mode right now, completing our People Make Glasgow book. Someone sent me an email a couple of days ago asking about my approach to writing, and it occurred to me just how much I love to write, and that my approach to it was probably pretty simple – viz:
1. Write a lot (preferably every day)
3. Write some more
4. Enjoy writing
1. Write a lot
I don’t mean writing an email or a quick note or memo – I mean sitting down, very intentionally, in front of a blank page with the desire to craft some lines or sentences. I think it’s good to do this every day – so that it becomes completely habitual, and stops feeling like you are practising. Even though you actually are.
I think reading is the best way of really understanding good writing— by which I mean the writing that you like, enjoy, and therefore feel is good. Try to challenge yourself with your reading, and read widely and variously in the genres in which you consider yourself a writer. I read a lot of narrative non-fiction and poetry, and that’s what I write too.
3. Write some more
I’ve worked at a lot of different jobs, and, day to day, I wear many hats managing what goes on at KDD, but I still think that writing is the hardest job I’ve ever done. It’s hard because of the discipline and focus that it takes, because of the inevitable losses you sustain (you have to be willing to throw stuff away that isn’t working and repeatedly start over); because it takes a huge amount of time (and for me, energy) and because sometimes it simply isn’t all that easy to get right. The only way to get used to how hard writing is is to just stick at it, do a lot of it, and through a disciplined routine accustom yourself to managing the inevitable difficulties of the process.
4. Enjoy writing
Writing may be the hardest thing I do, but it is honestly the most rewarding. I truly love to write. I love sitting down at my desk, knowing that today’s a writing day, and I love the flow and focus of the process. I also really enjoy the small pleasures of crafting a neatly constructed sentence, producing a paragraph that I feel captures what I’ve been trying to say, going for a walk to wrestle with an idea (walking definitely plays an integral role in my writing process) and then finally getting down what I mean in words. I’m sure I’m not great to be around when I’m in writing mode, and I’m also sure Tom and Mel would be happy to confirm that. I don’t hear what’s being said to me, I don’t answer the phone, all my routine admin falls away, and I become much less efficient and communicative in other areas of my life and work (I’m in writing mode now, so many apologies if you are currently waiting for an email or call, I promise I’ll set aside some time toward the end of the week and get back to you). I’m fortunate to live and work with people who understand how these things get, and most especially to be positioned in this role that, from time to time, allows me the freedom and space to squirrel myself away and focus on making words and sentences. When I worked in academia, my desire to write far outweighed the time I was actually able to dedicate to my writing. In so many different ways, I’m much better suited, much better placed, in my current role than the one I held ten years ago.
I do think its probably easier to write if you actually enjoy writing, but that said, I know a few people (all academics) who insist that they really don’t like the process at all and are still incredible writers, crafting the most beautifully balanced dialectical prose. I suppose I feel that if you look forward to doing something, if you truly love doing it, and really want to do it well, you are probably much more likely to do more of it, and find it less of a chore.
Do you feel it’s necessary to really enjoy something to be able to get better at it and just get it done? I’m sure you have thoughts – I’d love to hear them!