Tag Archives: Writing

Cranking it out: On Being Prolific

I’d like to write down one of those unwritten rules: Better Prolific than Good.

It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, or if you know what you’re talking about. The public at large would rather see 10 mediocre works of art than 1 superlative opus. This applies to books, movies, software, furniture, or any other human endeavour. It doesn’t matter how good it is. Society is more likely to encourage you if you just keep cranking it out.

This applies to the highest levels of business and achievement. Electronic Arts got big because it could produce a Madden game every year for the past 20 years. Apple has a yearly product cycle. If you don’t like the current model, just wait until next year. Even perennial products like Coca-Cola have to keep producing ads to keep their product in touch with people.

Even if you are bad at what you are trying to do, being prolific is a win-win proposition. The more you produce, the more you’ll be able to look back on your prose or code and think, here’s where I can improve, here’s where I can work on my game. It becomes a process called “Deliberate Practice”. I’m reading all about it in Talent is Over-rated by Geoff Colvin. If it’s mentally demanding, repeatable, provides constant feedback, and not necessarily fun, it’s kind of practice that’ll take you from struggling to world class.

A lot of people say that we lose our capacity to be prolific in grade school. It’s where we develop our fear of failure. I disagree. That damage is done at the post-secondary level, where your entire grade is based on 4 papers and an exam. That’s 4 opportunities for feedback before you are judged for all time. If you fail, it’s another grand to retake the course. In grade school, the feedback is constant. Teachers work every day to find new activities to develop student understanding. There are many opportunities to mess up an assignment, but there are just as many opportunities to improve.

I have yet to find a K-12 teacher who wouldn’t give their eye-teeth for a class full of students who try to find new ways to learn the material. Meanwhile, as an adult I’ve been scolded for not taking a professor’s perspective on Ginsberg. Take a look at the Clayburn Middle Youtube channel. Almost all the videos have been shot and edited by students. If Clayburn has any problems, I can guarantee you those kids behind the cameras aren’t part of it.

As adults, we think we’ve figured it all out. We don’t think we have to go through the embarrassment of learning anything new. However, the world’s changing so fast that we have to learn new things no matter what we do. It’s best to get comfortable in that situation. The only way to do that is to be prolific.

 

750words.com

No one tells you how hard it is to write content. People think that just because you speak English and type using the home row, you should be able to dash off post upon post without breaking a sweat. Not so. Even if you have something to say, you need to undo years of academic conditioning. University will tell you how to write for the professor and how to make everything “correct”, but says almost nothing about writing honest, human communication.  That kind of writing takes training. When I need training, I head over to 750words.com.

750word.com was started by Buster Benson, a developer living in Seattle, WA. It’s a writing challenge where you sit down and write 750 words of free associative writing, a practice inspired by writing exercises and psychotherapy. Only you can access your words (although you can export them), so you don’t have to worry about taking down bad ideas. It’s a great way to experiment with your writing, and leaves you open to those “happy accidents” that are the soul of true creativity.

The site also takes down statistics about your word use and tries to figure out how you are feeling at the time of your writing. You can learn a lot about yourself by just letting your fingers fly across the keyboard. When I decided to show Sara what I had written, she was surprised learn exactly what was going on in my head. I mostly wrote about the move, getting my business going, and all the stress associated with it. I find it difficult to just talk about this stuff verbally. If I write it down, I don’t have to worry about stuttering or messing the words up. Correction is only a backspace key away. I used to think that writing about yourself was kind of narcissistic. While it’s true that having no filter can make people uncomfortable,  attention is not the only reason to reflect. Your own advice has more power when you write it down.  Your words don’t just stay inside your head. You can catch yourself in a lie, or better yet, you can catch yourself speaking the truth. That truth, once etched in letters, can blossom until your life is changed forever.

Naturally Speaking

I’ve been playing around Dragon NaturallySpeaking, this voice recognition software I picked up for Boxing Day. It works surprisingly well, even though I’m driving my wife crazy by saying “scratch that” every time it makes a mistake. It’s a lot like training a dog. Very intuitive, but it needs constant attention to make sure that it follows your commands directly. Also, like a dog, I find I have to train myself to work with it. If I want this thing to write what I say, I now have to speak my thoughts as they form in my head. It’s an adjustment for me. I’ve gone through life fully convinced that if I say the first thing that pops into my head all the time, I’d soon end up in a ditch with a sharpened Star Wars action figure jammed into my side (Don’t ask). I think that because I find it so difficult to dictate to a computer, perhaps I should keep doing it. Good ideas are useless if they just take up space in your head. If I can practice expressing them quickly and clearly, I might be able to put a few of them to good use.

Christmas Part 1: Shopping

When most people think of Christmas Shopping, the word “Scrum” comes to mind. The malls become choked with sweaty bodies all dashing in every direction to reach store shelves picked clean of taste or value. And how the heck are you supposed to buy for adult loved ones? Let’s face it, if they want something they usually have a job that gives them money to buy said thing whenever they want it. You can try to mitigate that using lists, but the people writing them feel greedy and the people reading them feel daunted when their shopping budget just got spontaneously high-balled. When the inevitable Visa hangover comes in the mail you think to yourself, Why did I just do this? Why do any of us do this? Are we so under the spell of corporations and money-making enterprises of all sorts that we prostrate ourselves, year in, year out, on the altar of mass consumption? Boy, those corporations sure have us licked. I once saw a corporation eat a live puppy once. True story.

Or so I used to think. My wife, Sara, loves giving gifts and shopping for gifts. However, she laments that her shopping stamina is not up to par with her mother, who can go 8 hours without so much as an Orange Julius break. To Sara, when you give a gift, you are not just placing filthy lucre at the foot of a torch-lit shrine to Sam Walton. A gift is a symbol of how well you know a person. It is, in effect, your relationship in effigy. Finding the perfect gift is kind of like a game. You try to pick out the person’s hopes and desires from observations you’ve made of them over the past year. The search isn’t always fruitful. Sara will still ask her quarry if nothing comes up. But if you’ve got that kind of information about your loved ones, be it a snippet of conversation, or a glance of a magazine open on a coffee table, wouldn’t you act on it? Even if navigating the retail landscape is confusing, you get a little peek into their world, their experience. That, my friends, is a gift that all the realities of modern manufacture and consumerism cannot cheapen.

Permission To…What?

I think it’s funny that we seek permission for a lot of decisions we should be making on our own. Where do we want to take that vacation? What shall we have for lunch? Why don’t we get started on writing that great novel/blog/video game that will make us independently wealthy? If making our own decisions is supposed to make us better people, then what use do we have in seeking validation from others?

Permission might not be a deciding factor in our lives, but it makes everything so much better. Taking an important step is so much easier when you know someone has your back. It’s not just the relief that comes with someone making hard decisions for you. Knowing that people trust your judgment is also a big deal. I’m not saying you need to be a leader, but knowing that you have someone’s simple approval can make you feel like one.

There are times when I don’t feel like writing (shocking, I know), and just when I give a big sigh and put down my keyboard my wife asks me, “Aren’t you writing tonight, dear?”

“I don’t think so sweetie, I can’t think of anything.”

Then she makes sparkly eyes in my direction. “But you have to! You’re a good writer!”

And I gladly become millionth monkey at the millionth typewriter in this mathematical experiment we call the Internet. Sometimes labor as its own reward is not enough. When you live in a place where you have so much latitude with what you want to do, a vote of confidence is the only vote of consequence.