contexts: writing

February 9, 2009

“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” – Steven Pressfield in The War of Art

Sometimes ideas are pressing on my finger tips, demanding that I allow them to burst out into written words.

Usually not.

Most of the time, ideas form inside, where I guard them until I think they are ready…until I think they are good enough to share with others. Who, of course, wants to be represented by half-baked thoughts? But few, if any, of my thoughts seem to really be worked out until they are engaged. It is the process of writing them out that allows them to mature, to take shape.

For those times when the ideas aren’t bursting out, I’ve developed a workflow, and a context, for writing. Speaking of half-baked…that’s what this workflow is. It’s an image of how I want it to work. Sometimes it does. Often not. But here’s what it should look like:

The Incubator

Ideas begin in the incubator. These are little captures here and there that need to take a little more shape. Sometimes, they need to mix it up with another thought in the incubator and see some magic happen.

This used to be the main — well, the only — step in my process for developing ideas. The problem was, I didn’t review it enough. I didn’t give the ideas space to take shape. I ended up with an incubator full of moldy concepts. It was clear I needed a way to acknowledge those ideas that were a little more fully developed. So, I implemented…

The Context

I created a context in OmniFocus just for writing. Ideas that feel like they are ready to take shape are moved into this context — with a few notes, if needed. At first, I thought it would be redundant to have a place for material to take shape in Yojimbo and OmniFocus. But the writing context let’s me see which ideas have energy behind them to develop more.

It’s not perfect, and even my writing context sees some build up of ideas that once had momentum. But now they just seem like…bad ideas. To help make sure I get some of them written, it takes…

The Friction

Someone far more noble than I might have the gumption to just sit down and write. Good for them.

I need a kick in the pants most of the time. Sometimes I need to block out time that I commit to writing. (Merlin Mann’s new direction for 43Folders has been brilliant in helping me see this.) And when I’ve created the time, the writing context gives focus on how to use it.

Of course, it also helps to make promises about what I’m going to write. For me, it’s almost always been good to have external deadlines. But when a syllabus or editor isn’t demanding something, then it’s helpful to create the tension to get the writing done.

This is part of a series on Contexts where I explore some of the unique contexts I’ve been working with in my GTD system.

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