I’ve been thinking about writing a lot more recently and stressing in my mind that I don’t seem to do any of it. I spend more time reading about writing then I actually write and when I do write it is mainly technical articles for work or notes for work about things I would like to do but never get round to doing. As I get older I start worrying about this more and more and I am now getting to the point of realising that no amount of preparation will make me sit down and write. I just have to sit down and write completely unprepared, and the very act of doing this will create inspiration in itself.
I seem to always sit on the easy side of the fence, barely ever venturing outside of my comfort zone. Last month I presented in front of my work colleagues at a staff briefing which was something that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that ended up very stressed out and ill, but I enjoyed it immensely. This is something that I’ve actively avoided since my final project presentation in university in 2010 possibly down to being insecure about my abilities and not wanting to embarrass myself in front of a room full of people. This time around I did something I’ve never done before, I wrote the presentation over a month prior to the date of presenting and I practiced it like crazy. Practicing not only improved the overall quality of the presentation it proved to me something I’d debunked for years ‘practice makes perfect’. I never took heed of this as I always though that because I’d written it the night before I was due to present that it would be fresh in my mind. There is a small amount of truth in this, but the very act of leaving something so important to the last minute usually meant that my nerves got the better of me and I would give a very poor presentation making me look unprepared, and appearing to lack knowledge of the subject matter.
I feel that as I get older I start to listen to advice given to me in the past which I’d ignored, probably because I thought that it didn’t apply to me. The funny thing is I think I probably had to come around to this realisation on my own, I just wish that I’d done it sooner. One of the reasons I think this has happened is having a career and working somewhere where one can’t be gung-ho about things, projects have to be planned, funding has to be secured in advance at the point where you don’t have any idea what you actually are going to do. In IT you can’t just upgrade a server in the middle of the day, for PCI:DSS compliance you have to keep detailed notes of configurations and any changes you made have to be documented in a change control system. I think this work related enforcement has inadvertently improved my writing skills to the point where I can just sit down and being writing about things.
I’ve never understood the fascination with distraction free writing software that provides you with a blank screen to write on. I’ve always felt that you need to be able to see the editing controls so that you can emphasise text or underline your prose as you write. But recently when I started writing my blog I noticed in the WordPress editor that I could fullscreen it and write on a completely blank screen, I tried it a few times and enjoyed it as it allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and use all my screen real estate to view the shape of my writing almost like you would if it was printed out. It also means that I’m not distracted by ‘shiny’ things happening in the background or tempted to open a new tab to Reddit or Hacker News, I found that I actively enjoyed it. The other night when I was sitting down to write my first brain dump I decided to give a piece of software called Focus Writer a try. Focus Writer provided the same interface as a lot of other distraction free editors but it was cross platform and I prefer to write using my mac, but my PC at work is Windows and my other laptop that I use when my partner is using my mac runs Ubuntu. I fired it up and instantly fell in love with its bland interface, I found that my writing would just flow and I didn’t have to have a topic in mind before I started writing, just the desire to write.
This in my mind is a revelation. If I can get into the mind frame of wanting to write and can resolve the distraction issue I’ve been plagued with for years then what will I actually create? I’ve been impressed so far I’m interesting to see where it will lead. I’ve left the daily word count in Focus Writer at it’s default setting (1000 words) and forced myself to keep the screen maximised until it says I’ve reached or exceeded that goal, even if it means rambling on about things that aren’t important in the hope that I eventually write gold at some point that I can edit and publish on my blog.