What I think about writing, when I'm not writing
My first listicle of 10 reflections after almost two years of writing regularly
Happy New Year to you! Thanks for staying with me and reading this newsletter.
As the new year dawned, I found myself reflecting on the Performonks journey. Between May 2020 to Dec 2021, I have hit publish on 74,000 words. And written but not published maybe as many words. So I thought for the first edition of 2022, I would write an introspective on writing.
When we write, we often don't end up where we began. So I started with an essay, but ended up with a listicle. I had once promised myself I would never stoop to low brow writing like listicles! But as they say, never say never. Here are 10 things I think about writing, when I’m not writing.
1.When in doubt, pick discomfort. When I built my website, Performonks, I agitated for weeks whether to start a newsletter or not. Comfort zone was to slip into procrastination mode and blame the ‘busyness’ of my day job for not writing regularly.
I am glad I picked the discomfort zone. That it has kept me disciplined to publish at a regular cadence is in itself a big win. This consistency continues to compound and continues to enrich me.
2.Internal report card. David Brooks in his excellent book, The Road to Character, talks about people who have made indelible contributions to society. He says they were guided by their internal moral compass. External report cards (promotion, money, bigger house, fancier car etc.) definitely tickle the ego and dial up our dopamine; but sooner or later hit a ceiling, or worse, are rudely taken away one day. When one has worked in a corporate job as long as I have, one gets used to living to an external drum beat. Our day hums to a cadence of corporate rituals - calendars, conferences, and year end appraisals. But pursuing a personal passion has moved the responsibility within. Only I am responsible for how often I write, what I write about and only I am the judge of its quality. This is both terrifying and liberating. I highly recommend you try and create something that is for yourself and by yourself. You will experience the empowerment that comes with living for an internal compass.
3.Writing has made me more present in the current moment. Consuming knowledge without internalizing it, is like cooking and then dumping the entire saucepan into the dustbin. Now when I read, listen to podcasts, or am in a conversation, my mind is on high alert to pick up an interesting turn of phrase, a fresh point of view, or an idea I could write about.
4.Rituals create flow. I read obsessively about writing routines of famous writers and dream of being like them. While I know I will never be as prolific or as great a writer, I have take half a baby step towards developing a writing flow state. I have learnt that we can train our body and mind to enter high performance states through a rhythm of routines and rituals. I write most nights, right after dinner. I look forward to this time of solitude. The soft glow of the table lamp in a dark room, the same playlist on loop, autofill passwords into WordPress and Substack, and maybe a cup of green tea. The minute I settle into this space, my body relaxes and my brain becomes alert. Some writing sessions are good - I wrote the EBook on Brand Differentiation over just two days and one night. Some sessions are not. And I have learnt to be ok with that. I know consistency leads to results… even if in a trickle.
5. I write to learn what I know… and to rediscover what I have forgotten. I often don't know what I want to say until I start writing. I have a topic I want to research, and that takes me down a rabbit hole of articles, books, podcasts, blogs and news. All of a sudden, I get an idea spark and I start writing. All the random pieces of information magically start connecting and percolate through my fingertips, onto the screen. The idea begs to be told and I feverishly try to capture it, afraid it would fly away! If I did not write, I would not know what I think, and all the reading and lived experiences would not crystallize into knowledge.
So inherently, writing becomes a selfish pursuit. But I digress…
The sketch below tries to capture this synthesis.
6. I discovered that for me, writing and drawing go hand in hand. I find myself sketching out concepts I write about. Visuals convey an idea within 2 seconds to an attention deficit world. This is a good discovery and I hope to hone this more. I take inspiration from Jack Butcher - a master in synthesizing complex ideas into simple visuals and Tim Urban - who literally draws what he writes, in a comic style.
7.Gratitude. The title of this newsletter is a shameless lift from Murakami’s book, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. Which itself is inspired from the title of a short story collection by Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. The more I write, more I bow with gratitude to those I learn from. Humanity together is weaving a collective latticework of ideas. If we worked alone and started from scratch each time, we would all still be sitting around a fire, sharpening our flint stone spears. All I do is synthetize the vast knowledge that already exists and maybe add my paltry 0.5 cents on top of it. Thinkers I look up to, learn so much from, and want to be like… Scott Galloway, Fareed Zakaria, Tim Ferris, David Perell, Julian Shapiro, Tim Urban, Andrew Chen, Shane Parrish, Mark Ritson, Amit Varma, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rick Jarow, Eckhart Tolle…and so many more. Thank You.
The fact that all but one in this list are men, is not lost on me…but that might be fodder to dive into and explore in another post…
8. Connecting dots. What are my 0.5 cents? Connecting dots, visualizing concepts, and finding the connective tissue between personal mastery and professional mastery. I connect multiple disciplines to form new ideas and sprinkle the newsletter with examples to bring the ideas alive. The more I write, more I realize that the concepts we use to build our brands and businesses can also be applied to self-development. So I try to link personal and professional mastery.
9.Ups and downs. I spoke earlier about discomfort zone. Each newsletter goes through a roller coaster of ups and downs before it is published.
After a period of laziness and procrastination, I start researching and lose steam in the middle when I overwhelm myself with too much reading and too many lose threads. Without fail, each time I publish, I feel paralyzed by fear of judgement and imposter syndrome. I know many people don't read each newsletter. But there are always 4-5 people that write in next morning to give feedback and share what they liked. Not wanting to disappoint them keeps me going.
10.Iteration and editing. We can’t iterate and edit out those moments from our lives when we have not been our best self. But writing gives us the opportunity to do just that. Hemingway believed one must write drunk and edit sober. While I don’t write drunk, the part I enjoy most about writing, is the editing. If I did not have a deadline, I would keep editing endlessly. I struggle with the first draft and take longer than I should. I think it’s because I am still trying to discover my voice. My goal for 2022 is to write my first draft in a stream of consciousness and draw more from my own experiences. I know it is the iterations that polish the writing, shed extra words and add mindfulness to the ideas.
As I wish you a happy new year, I want to remind you of this.
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson