Writing for Busy People

A few years ago I wrote Reading for Busy People. Last week somebody asked if I cannot write something similar, but about writing. While it may not be visible online, I actually have been writing a lot recently, but most of it is internally focused (we use Facebook’s Workplace, where I have a space I use as an internal blog).

So, how does a “busy” person get time to write?

It all starts with the ultimate existential writing question: why do you want to write at all? What is in it for you? Does it just seem like a thing you should be doing, or does it serve a specific purpose?

Because, you know — perhaps the answer is just don’t. If you can make better use of your time than writing, just don’t write that blog, articles. And stop feeling bad about it.

Nevertheless, if you do have a clear goal you’d like to achieve through writing, then it all boils down to the basic matters of priority and process.

So, what are the reasons that I spend a good amount of my time writing?

  1. It helps me structure my thinking. I have many half baked ideas flying around in my head, writing them down and trying to turn them into a somewhat coherent story usually does the job of connecting the dots for me. Even if I’d delete the end-product, writing it down makes it worth my while.
  2. Scalable communication. I have about 60 people in my reporting line, and probably double or more in my “area of influence” — you cannot communicate with that many people in one-on-ones or group meetings. Yes, some of this communication can go hierarchically (I talk to my managers, they talk to their people), but that’s not always the best way to get a high-fidelity message out. And if you publish on the public Internets, your potential reach is virtually infinite. Beat that, megaphone.

I have concluded that I cannot achieve my work goals without writing, or couldn’t achieve them as effectively. That’s why I decide to make time. Admittedly, it does help that I enjoy writing as an activity.

What is the goal that you are trying to achieve by writing?

Now, let’s assume that you you decided: yes, this is worth doing for me, and I will make the time. A few notes on process coming from my own experience:

  1. Give it time. If it’s an important idea that I’m trying to communicate, it really needs more than a day. It requires iteration. The message always improves, sometimes even changes when being revisited a few times, ideally spread over a number of days. Bounce it off other people to gather feedback and improve it.
  2. Don’t force it, wait for an inspiration streak. You’ve been struggling to make sense of an idea and write it down. You even booked time to get it done, but somehow… it doesn’t happen. You struggle. Then the inspirational moment happens and in a matter of an hour it just pours out. Use it. Embrace it. Wait for it. Showers, walks, conversations with other people are usually the things that trigger inspiration for me.
  3. The best writing tool is the one you have at hand. Use some tool that syncs your writing between your devices. You never know when inspiration is going to hit, and you want to have some means of using it. It’s like photography in that sense. I wrote the majority of The 100x Engineer on my phone when inspiration hit while sitting in the middle of the night next to my son’s bed, waiting for him to go back to sleep.
  4. There’s no substitute for practice. To get better at writing, you just have to write more. No other way. Sorry.

If all else fails, you can solve any problem by joining a facebook group. Writing about writing is one I occasionally enjoy.

Good luck.