Two key activities that I try to do each day are reading and writing.
One issue with anything that is done daily is that it runs the risk of becoming a chore, and then you suddenly find yourself not wanting to do the thing in question because you feel that you have to do it.
I have a few strategies to get around this for both reading and writing.
With regards to reading, I tend to have anywhere between 3 to 6 books that I am reading at any one time, and so if I get stuck reading a particular book, or I just feel that I need a break, I can switch to one of the others.
I then tend to pick these books in a careful manner, so I have some variety. They won’t all be history or economics books, but I do tend to read mostly non-fiction, and perhaps I should broaden my horizon somewhat.
With regards to just writing, I have various strategies in place. Sometimes I find it very straightforward just to jump in and write thousands of words on a topic that I feel quite interested in, and I have been reading about for several months, and it feels that my brain is making all the right connections and things feel effortless.
At other times, I struggle to get even a few sentences together. When this happens, I turn from writing essays to just jotting down what I like to call “short thoughts”.
These are normally less than 1,000 words, and I don’t do any research or upfront thinking. I just sit down, pick a topic, and start writing. In fact, I am doing it at this very moment!
I have found this to be an excellent way just to keep the writing muscles ticking over, and it also has some great benefits.
It allows me to process my thoughts on a particular topic without getting too bogged down in the detail. It is also a great way of coming up with ideas for future articles or even books.
I have often found that the best ideas come when I am not thinking about them too hard but rather just letting my mind flow freely. This is what the “short thought” method of writing allows me to do.
The reason why this is a great strategy to get unblocked is that it removes the idea that writing has to be perfect. If it is just a short thought, it is not that important; it is just a note for the future and something that may or may not be developed further another day.
But, it does keep my habit of writing going, and it also teaches me the concept of hugging the cactus. Sometimes there are things that we don’t want to do, and we know will cause some level of “pain” if we do them. Yet, we still should do them.
And so the best strategy is to break things down into the smallest possible step required to get moving in the right direction and then take that step. After that, you are welcome to give up! Sometimes, you’ll find that you will actually continue and take the next small logical step in the right direction, and so on.
Keep this going long enough, day by day, and you’re starting to make real progress.
So now we can see that “just” writing something is actually far more important than the content of a specific writing session; we are building the habit of writing, sitting down, thinking about some ideas, and developing those out. More than practicing writing itself, we are practicing the habit of writing.
And that habit is important because it gets us into a state where we are more likely to come up with new and interesting ideas in the first place. It allows us to see connections that we wouldn’t have before, and it just generally makes us better thinkers.
Some of the world’s most successful people have written down their thoughts on a regular basis, and it is no coincidence. It helps to clear the mind and allows us to focus on what is important.
So if you want to be a better thinker and a better writer, make sure that you are “just” writing on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be published; it just has to exist.
And who knows, maybe one day you will look back at your collection of short thoughts and find the germ of an idea that could change your life.
I harbor ambitions to write a book one day. I know that I can write enough words each day that, over several months, would be enough to create a book, but I am stuck on precisely what this book should be.
I think I may run the risk of being stuck in this position all my life and never actually writing a book — and then have some strong regrets about it.
So this is my antidote for now. I am “just” writing a few words here and there and developing my habit, and I hope that eventually, I can build enough concentration to be able to focus my habit on one major topic.
But for now, I am just writing, and it feels good.