Date: 01-03-2021

I’ve spent a lot of time developing my visual communication skills: finding the right font or colours to convey a particular emotion, designing products and experiences for specific messages and illustrating to describe what words can’t. All this focus on visuals have left my verbal skills inadequate. I decided to take a month to read more and write more, in the hopes that I’d get better at writing.

There’s no problem with leaning more towards the visual side of things –– but I also believe that language is just as important. If I want to be able to communicate better, and listen to others communicate better, I want to be able to do it well myself.

My biggest mistake first: I just didn’t write enough. I spent so much time searching for a topic –– something worth talking about, something of value to any potential readers. I built my self a trap, and then paralyzed myself by thinking there was nothing out there to write about. As every day of the month inched forward, the will to get better at writing suddenly turned into an assignment. I had a paper to finish, regardless of what it was about. Even though I didn’t know what it would be, it had to be perfect. It had to be interesting, unique and well-written, and that’s why it didn’t deserve to be written by me.

I spent more time reading about how to write better. I consumed articles and books on writing –– I delved into the theory of writing, instead of actually writing. It was like trying to learn to drive a car by reading the manual from end to end instead of sitting behind the wheel and figuring it out through practice.

Key lessons from my learning adventure:

Resist the urge to keep everything, resist the urge to remove everything.

When I finished my first draft, I was well aware that it was a mess. I still hadn’t found a central point, the writing wasn’t clear, and I didn’t have much of a structure to follow. I knew I had a collection of incoherent and incomplete thoughts. However, when it came down to the first edits, I suddenly became protective about the work I had at hand. I felt like I couldn’t remove anything without taking away from the point at hand. I couldn’t distinguish between the lines that had value, and those that didn’t. And then I fled to the other extreme, realizing that everything was unimportant. None of the lines added value, so why keep any of it? I didn’t have a central point yet, so nothing was worth saving.

I oscillated back and forth between wanting to keep it all and wanting to keep none of it.

First drafts won’t be perfect. Re-writing is the essence of writing. It’s knowing which sentences to keep and which sentences to leave behind that makes one a good writer. The hardest lesson was learning to find a balance between these two extremes. I’m still struggling with it.

Garbage in, garbage out.

There was one thing I did right last month –– I settled into a reading habit. I’d start out the mornings by reading. I forced myself to read a book or an article everytime I had the urge to scroll through Instagram or watch a YouTube video (granted, I slipped up now and then.) I highlighted and made extensive notes, too.

Most of the writing happens before the words are even on the page –– especially with non-fiction essays. New ideas or thoughts stem from connections, from reading enough to find similarities and differences in thought patterns. The more time I spent reading, the more connections I would have made, and the more things I would have to write about.

The quality of the output relies on the quality of input. Learning to write and to edit is slowly allowing me to tell the difference between good, well-presented ideas and bad ideas that haven’t been thought through. By learning to read carefully and to separate out the wheat from the chaff, I’m also learning to write the way I’d want to read.

I hope that the more I read, the more ideas I’ll have to write about, instead of forcing myself to pick something arbitrary just to practice.

All this is easier said than done

Writing is really hard. With practice and patience, good writers make it look easy. By being able to write well, they’re also able to convince us that their advice is God’s word. But if you’re like me and are just starting out, all the advice is a lot to take in. It’s a lot harder to put into practice, too.

Some advice was even controversial. For example, some said just write, and through the writing you will find something to say. Others said don’t write it unless you can’t not write. When there’s something of importance to be shared, you will find every way to share it.

The challenge was picking and choosing from the variety of processes, tips and guidance other writers have so graciously shared. I had to figure out which one’s worked for me, and which one’s I had to leave behind.

Finally, the lesson I still haven’t learnt fully: finished beats perfect. The key to good writing is to hand that paper in, publish that article, regardless of how pathetic we think it is (and no matter how accurate we may be in that opinion). I may not be a good writer yet, and that’s okay –– I’m at least 1% better than I was last month.


[[The More We Know, The Less We Know]] is the still-in-progress essay that came out of this month-long learning adventure.