I started a new series on TSR recently, Celerity -- about how to build the character traits of speed into your life. In response to Celerity #1: Frenzied Genius, I got a very nice email from a friend of mine who is both a CEO and an amazing writer himself, asking --
"Really enjoyed reading this. The pace of my life recently has made me lose any inspiration to write - not necessarily a bad thing, and the 10 days you describe are something I hope to have one day. How do you manage to write so much and keep it to such a high quality? Does the stimulus come naturally?"
I wound up writing what turned out to be a long reply, maybe there's some useful points in there for you --
Thank you, and that's a very high compliment from you -- you're one of the most lucid thinkers I know. No flattery there -- you're one of the few people I read and then am reliably genuinely surprised and informed.
How I do it, the obvious stuff:
*No dumb socializing
*Liberal use of blockers like Distraction-Free Youtube, Facebook News Eradicator, OSX SelfControl, and Freedom
*Automate stupid background tasks to minimal time
But you know all that stuff.
Mechanically and more advanced for writing specifically, here's what did it for me:
First, Bob Pozen's book Extreme Productivity -- the chapter on writing -- was masterfully important for me. It's not epiphanies going off or anything, it's just practical hard work of dividing writing into discreet steps of brainstorming, organizing/outlining, writing, and editing as very concrete and discrete steps, and going through loops of them. Adopting Pozen's method made me a slower writer for about 30 hours, and then made me a faster writer forever who never gets writer's block. I can always brainstorm/outline/write/edit in loops -- I add in research as one of my steps, additionally, and can do research loops -- so I'm never "truly stuck." I can always write, and I'm about twice as fast as I used to be, at higher quality -- I actually measure all those numbers, a piece that formerly took me 30 hours now takes 15. That's Pozen's method primarily, with lots of practice.
Second, I aim to keep a backlog of 8 weeks of writing always done. I only re-launched TSR once I had 8 full issues written. Disasters and stupid stuff happen, they can't be entirely avoided, any given year 1-3 stupid crises might strike and I might go a month with minimal writing. That just means I need to make the time up, and I'll aim to write 2-3 issues per week until the backlog is full. Without the backlog, TSR would've died multiple times.
Third, writing in series helps a lot -- before I start any individual given piece, I think what broad themes I want to cover. So, for TSR, Toughness -- I knew I'd cover mental and physical toughness, mission orientation, religio right away. Then I filled around the edges and built an arc to the thing. This creates some local repetitive structure -- relating concepts like mountaineering or Dante's Inferno to toughness limits the scope of what I could possibly cover. With Celerity, it means looking for concepts around speed (frenzy, power laws / exponential growth, maneuver vs attrition warfare, threshold breaks, burnout, etc). Writing by series saves a lot of time. So you, for instance, if you wrote about "setting up all aspects of your company to deliver ROI to your customers" could immediately see ties: hiring people who deliver ROI to customers, building product which delivers ROI, making usability increase ROI, having them see ROI quickly after purchasing, etc etc etc. Something like the Turkish War of Independence has lessons on personnel, culture, management, treaties, negotiation, etc -- so if you already know you're covering negotiation, you could use a narrow set of the Turkish War of Independence to cover leverage (Treaty of Sevres vs what Kemal got later) or navigating shared interests in with semi-friendly semi-hostile parties (Kemal's deal with Lenin). If you did a series on "thinking like a CEO" you could do: messaging/emails, promptness, efficiency, short-term decisionmaking, long-term decisionmaking... having the lens/arc of an entire series goes a long way. Infinite potential scope isn't freedom, it's paralyzing. Narrow scope helps a lot.
Finally, I'll say that I made 3-5 attempts at finding a perfect form factor of writing before it clicked with TSR; it took me a couple years. I know writing is meaning-of-life level important for me -- I think it's one of the most important things I do here -- but I always wanted my writing to bring me into contact with smart people, really help and delight readers, and be very special and unique. There was no guarantee that the current form factor was going to work -- multiple other attempts weren't quite right -- but it did work and people really like it. So I'd say that, finding the right cadence, pattern of publishing, topics, themes, brand, target audience, etc etc -- this is something that doesn't automatically come. TSR is perfect for me but wouldn't be for, say, Taylor Pearson (who is a wonderful writer and also on his own reliable structure and schedule).
That help some? Long answer to a short enquiry! How are you? What's going on and what's on your mind?
PS: I realized I didn't answer this explicitly -- "Does the stimulus come naturally?" No, it doesn't. It took a lot of work. It's easy now, though, relatively speaking.
Oh yeah, if you're not on The Strategic Review yet, it's free to subscribe and a new issue comes out every Thursday -- http://www.thestrategicreview.net/ -- people seem to like it a lot, would love to have you on there if you want some actionable analyses every Thursday, for free.
TSR is approaching the one-year mark.
As most of you probably already know, I write one long-form actionable historical essay every Thursday the The Strategic Review. I'm closing in on the one-year date of restarting TSR (last December), and there's been a really marvelous reception to TSR.
In fact, I've done almost no promotion, and TSR has net-gained in subscribers (more new people joining than unsubscribing) in 46 out of the 49 weeks TSR has been out there. That's nearly 100% word of mouth. I'm very, very grateful that everyone recommends TSR.
Some reader feedback to Dubious Battle #1: Faith vs Works
It's really a privilege to get unsolicited reader feedback like this --
or Backlogs, accountability & the look on a Product Owner's face when their New Feature pushes another Feature over the deadline
This article is one of a series on Scrum, The Good Bits.
Scrum has this habit of giving new names to old ideas - status meetings become Daily Standups, requirements become Stories, and the list of things you need to do becomes a Backlog. Every so often someone discovers this and decides it means Scrum is bullshit, and loses the baby as the bath water swirls away.
This is a shame, because Scrum has a whole bunch of good ideas. And some of the best ones - from a developer's perspective - come from the Backlog.