Writing a Shitload

As the regular readers of this blog know, I write a lot. The quality of my writing is probably up for debate, but for someone who does this as a hobby on top of working pretty long workdays and other hobbies, the quantity of my output is unrefutably good.

So, what’s my secret?

Simply, two things: First I sit down and write. When I do it, I’ll get new ideas and constantly structure the existing ones while I write. So its just a matter of starting and after that its easy.

Second, its much easier to work on material you already have, even if its bad, then to start from nothing. This latter one I learned from Graham Linehan (Irish TV-writer, who was famous enough to be part of the Chris Perkins run UK Celebrity D&D game on YouTube, although he’s probably the only truly famous person in the group). He writes comedy, so it probably works better for him, because he can always use the structure and change the jokes around, but it does work with any creative endeavor.

My point is, creativity is also just work. Its generally pretty fun (otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this), but its still work. However, its also a skill and you can be better at it.

I recently read a book called A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech. The marketing department has been nice enough to call it a classic on creativity on the cover, but this was a 25th anniversary edition, so apparently it has a following. In fact, I decided to read this because Mark Rosewater (or MaRo, the head designer of MtG) has often mentioned it as his favorite book on his blog. Since MtG is still fresh after 20 years, which probably no other game has ever managed to do as well, this is a pretty good recommendation.

The book introduces ten ideas on how to be more creative, but I’m going to concentrate on number 6, “That’s Not My Area”. The basic idea is that it might seem a random person will not be able to help with a specific problem, but because we all live in different paradigms (we all have our distinct thought patterns and beliefs about the world) finding viewpoints beyond our own paradigm is generally a good idea.

Based on this, its a good idea to know different kinds of people, but its also a good idea to keep your own paradigm flexible. Simply, read a lot and preferably a lot of nonfiction. You will come up with ideas (like for what to write on your blog) because you will have more to scoop ideas from. You will see things in different ways and find new angles.

I also did this in at university. If I had done my degree (MSc in Software Engineering) by the books, my curriculum would have comprised of pretty much math, physics, lots of software development and a bit more math, but instead I also took a number of computing courses, some economics and commercial sciences (although it pains me to call the courses on marketing and management science), industrial management, intellectual property rights, physiological psychology and neural networks, multimedia and communications, higher education pedagogics, and a minor in philosophy. Probably something else I can’t remember right now.

Of course I took some of the courses because I knew they’d be handy in the future, or I just needed the credits to keep my student allowance going, but much of it was just because I’m interested in a lot of things. I can’t really say what helps where, because analyzing my own paradigm is pretty hard, but what I do know is that my math skills have definitely helped with business issues (I’m a partner in the company I work for), and in much more widely than one might think. Also my gaming experience has probably had a large influence on the contract structure our company uses. All knowledge is good.

So, how do I write so much? I just do and my background lets me come up with ideas and angles. No real secrets here.

Note: I’ve probably said it before, but: Math. Learn it. Not arithmetic, but real math. It just helps understand the world so much better. People who think math is somehow the opposite of creativity are simply wrong, and probably pretty stupid.

Second note: Ironically, writing this was a pain. There will be a sister article, but that seems pretty hard to write about too, which is partly what its going to be about.

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