Handwritten blog post about writing

Photo of handwritten blog post: The text reads: Finding the time to write when you don't have any requires two qualities. Resourcefulness and efficiency. Both forces discipline into your writing ethic. Otherwise no writing happens.

I scrawled some thoughts on writing on paper. Don’t know when or why. It took some scratching around. But here it is. I think it sums up what I feel about “writing” after banging out a blog since 2007. It also epitomises what I feel about Nibble Writing.

Photo of handwritten blog post: The text reads: Finding the time to write when you don't have any requires two qualities. Resourcefulness and efficiency. Both forces discipline into your writing ethic. Otherwise no writing happens.

Photo of handwritten blog post: I don't have the time to write That is not a complaint. It is an acknowledgment of fact. A fact that made my writing the kind I enjoy reading. It may have made me a better writer. Or at least a better disciplined one.

No time to write ? Practical writing tips for the time starved

Typewriter Details

Nibble Writing is a life hack for people without time to write. This post covers the essential practical how to’s. I kept them loose to fit the diverse chaos most people call life. My earlier post introducing Nibble Writing gives context to the tips in this post. Reading it will help you make better use of these pointers.

Time is the main constraint of Nibble Writing. So these tips are about creating workflows. Their aim: making writing a few minutes at a time productive. The final goal is piling short bursts of writing into a greater whole.

The core of this approach is about:

  • breaking writing into small actions so you can write at any moment
  • assemble your output into complete works without going mad, turning alcoholic and/or putting your brains on a wall with a shot gun

Write short sentences

Nibble Writing is a response to a harsh writing environment. Where you are starved of moments to jot thoughts into words. So short sentences make the most of the time crumbs you manage to steal.

It’s not just about getting thoughts out fast. Short declarative sentences flog specifics out of fuzzy thoughts. The ideal: one thought, one sentence. Every word must count or die 1. If a sentence won’t fit in a Tweet its too long. Chop it.

Each sentence must act as a brick of meaning. Between three to six of these must build a paragraph a bigger coherent thought. The resulting thought pile must lead to a summit of greater understanding.

The overall goal of writing this way is turning thought into coherent word structures. Another is developing an instinctive scent about where your writing is going and how to manage it. That instinct is a stew of balancing acts between control and letting go.

It will give you a “feel” when you are building towards that summit of greater understanding. Or if you are wasting time. In both cases you will develop an instinct for when to stop. Another powerful instinct is knowing when to break the short sentence rule.

Such instincts are developed with a steady flow of self contained units of writing. Hone it with regular use.

Use short paragraphs

Short sentences make editing easier. You need to group them in short paragraphs for this to work. A rule of thumb: a paragraph should fit on a mobile phone screen. You should read the whole paragraph without scrolling.

Edit as you go

How you edit will save your words from drowning in incoherence. Thus saving your sanity or the catastrophe which passes for it. Don’t wait till the word flood ends to edit. It will overwhelm you. I have managed to cling to sanity by editing in three stages.

Stage 1: Figure out what’s being said

Go over what you have spewed. Have it read back to you if you can. Most digital devices have some kind of text to speech function. Use it. Forget the awful sentences and typo disasters. Focus on spotting:

  1. distinct themes
  2. key underlying thought(s)
  3. places you can break what you say into smaller self contained units of writing
  4. move these into separate files as distinct stories, blog posts, or articles.

The first three points will give a working sense of where the voices in your head are taking you. This is your primary thought sorting process.

The last is a practical tip for stage two. It is a quick way of making your Nibble Writing time productive.

Stage 2: Work on the most interesting idea first

You pigeon away seconds/minutes from the torrent of the daily life for Nibble Writing. Give those precious time fragments to the ideas that pulls you the most. They deserve it and so do you.

During this phase:

  • Break each sentence into something concrete. Airy metaphors waste time. They breed long sentences (see previous tip on SHORT sentences)
  • Kill beautiful sentences if they don’t add to the whole. As Stephen King said: “Kill your darlings”2. It will save you from getting word drunk and mired in pretty mush
  • Put off research for moments you can’t write. Don’t waste you’re writing time Googling. While writing, just add a note to yourself to look it up later.

Stage 3 : Focus on getting the thing finished

Have your writing read back to you by a machine (text to speech)

Over familiarity with your own words makes proofreading unproductive. Getting your device to recite your words lets you proof read while doing dull tasks like millimetring3 along in traffic. This will help you speed up the completion process by

  • cleaning up sentences
  • picking the ideas you want to keep
  • find good points to break up the text into another post/body of writing

Serialise your text

A big hazard of Nibble Writing is wasting time “stirring the pot”. Where your few minutes of writing time rot away in endless tinkering. Serialising your text into chunks under 1100 words gives focus over a large body of text. It lets you create more finished “product”. Which is both satisfying, and placates the voices. Focusing on smaller chunks also preserves the frayed strands of sanity. Yes I’ve said that before but it’s worth repeating.

There is nothing wrong with serialising a single body of writing. All my posts on Nibble Writing started out as one post. Anna Karenina, Sōseki’s “I Am a Cat”,Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, major works of the Qing dynasty and Duma’s novels came out this way. That’s the closest I’ll get to great writers. You might edge a bit closer. Even join them.

Will Nibble Writing make you a better writer?

The answer depends on you and your writing. Would a frequent output of focused completed pieces of writing make you a better writer? I will never make that claim.

Nibble Writing is just a tool. It’s meant to leverage writing time from the 86,400 seconds we have a day. Nibble Writing has let me write when the other priorities of life killed any chance of a “traditional” writing process. The 745 posts (as of July 2016) in this blog is the evidence.

Has such an output made me a good writer ? I’ll leave that for you to voice via the comment box. The most accurate answer is that after two years of it I began to enjoy reading my own writing.

Next up: Tools that helped me Nibble Write.

My Flickr photos are now public domain

In the town - not in the sacred area

I am not a photographer. Just another slob who takes the occasional photo. For centuries I have had a neglected Flickr account.  I used it to hold photos illustrating blog posts. Now I have decided to put the photos I’ve taken into the public domain. 

What that means, to quote the Creative Commons description is :

You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. 

This is my miserable offering to the internet from whose photos I  learnt so much. Not that excrement from my camera is of much value. Still that’s all I got to offer. 

Enjoy.

My Flickr URL is http://www.flickr.com/photos/cerno/

Independence Square Colombo Sri Lanka

On a practical note, many of these photos are low resolution. If you want anything higher contact me. I’ll dig around and see if I can find anything bigger. All for free.

No time to write? Try this life hack.

IMG_4393

I don’t have time to write. So I jot words on the phone in the spare seconds scattered across the day. I call it Nibble Writing. It’s a life hack typical of the time starved. Not a saviour of writing dreams squeezed off the clock by the practical demands of staying alive.

Nibble Writing can happen anywhere. In a food court line. In the dead space before appointments. While squeezing out a sausage in the latrine. All time to peck out a sentence. Or to chop up a long one. Nibble Writing has kept this blog going since 2007.

Writing a few minutes or even seconds at a time is harsh ”writing climate”. Every harsh climate moulds those who survive and even thrive in it. Thus Nibble Writing has consequences. It impacts the what (ideas) and the how (structure, voice) of your writing.

As a result Nibble Writing pushes a narrow type of subject matter. It ends up being a narration of a situation or a recollection of an event. The resulting story becomes  a frame for ideas and views of life and its banal ironic brutalities.

It’s an approach buzzing with easy temptations. The urge to overuse clever sounding, ‘funny’, arty sentences is a big one. Giving in to them leads to slop of easy generalisations and lazy conclusions. Fending off such cravings is part of the toil.

Nibble Writing makes getting words down easy. It gives you a nudist’s lack of inhibitions. Jotting on a phone avoids the intimidating formal glare of the blank Word document. Letting thoughts plop out as words. Before the inhibiting claw of the conscious self can snatch them back.

The resulting word flood makes it hard to keep track of what you are saying. Try telling a story amidst constant interruptions. The sensation is the same. I spend half my writing time slots getting my bearings. Writing this post is typical of the experience.

The result is repetition of the same points in different ways. Making it difficult to write anything beyond a simple SHORT narrative. The reason is that I have no idea what I’m writing about when I start.

Professional writers start with structured ideas. My writing begins with a stray thought. It starts buzzing around in my head. I bang it out in a few sentences with the silly hope of plugging the flow. Instead each sentence births the next. It’s infuriating and exhilarating. All my blog posts were born that way. My about page has a short overview of the experience.

Overcoming these cons takes time and effort. Often nibbling away on anything over 200–300 words for months. There are at least 2 posts still in draft mode for over 2–3 years!

So I’ve evolved a few Nibble Writing practices over the centuries. They keep what’s left of my sanity intact. 

Immaculate old Mercedes Benz

Old Mercedes

I’m not a car buff. Yet I’m quick to drool at old cars in fine condition. This mid 20th century Mercedes Benz is a classic example. Saw if cruising through the madness of Colombo traffic. It’s dignity got my attention before I realised how well maintained it was. Worlds away from the condition of another classic car I found.

The 4 “shri” licence number dates the car somewhere in the latter part of the mid 20th century. The driver who sat without slouching seemed to come from that era a well.

I’ll leave the details about this chariot to the automotive connoisseurs among you. I can spot a Messerschmitt Bf 109 E from a Messerschmitt Bf 109 F in an instant. I take longer to separate a Honda from a Haundai. I only knew this car was a Mercedes from the logo on the back.

David Blacker has far better photos of a sexier looking vintage Mercedes.

Old Mercedes

Old Mercedes