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Write even when you have nothing to say

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I'm a big fan of writing, even when I have nothing to say.

I guess that makes me a blowhard, a bore, or perhaps loquaciously incontinent. Meh. I've been called worse. As the drunken sailor said, I've been thrown out of better bars than this one.

Looking back on four years of blogging, I find many times I "circle around" a topic several times, like a shark taking tiny bites from a fat circus clown drowning in the sea after a tragic tour boat disaster. I see the opportunity, know where I want to go -- I just can't seem to get there.

This type of writing, where I have a goal or a problem in mind and I'm just trying to chew it over, is very useful to me. I might go at the same problem in a dozen different articles before it finally "clicks". Usually once it clicks, folks stop by the blog and tell me how easy I made it all look. Sometimes I flail and thrash about over a subject so many times I just about give up, only to wake up one day with the entire thing as clear as a bell in my mind. Those are the days I "have" to write something. I sit down and inside of an hour pound out an article. People tell me how great it must be to have such insight!

If they only knew.

There are many other times, like today, when I sit down and have nothing to say. Sure, there are about a dozen topics that are sort of half-formed in my mind that I want to unload on, but none of them are ready. It's like staring at a television set that's not turned on. Those are the days that it's most important to write.

Stephen King put it rather harshly in his advice to wannabe writers: if you want to write, write. Don't write to be cute, or to have something of great importance to say, just write. Sit down everyday and make yourself write for 2 hours. Every. Day. To write, write.

Stevie is the man, and if I wanted to be a great writer I'd follow his advice, because writing is like a muscle. The more you write, the more you are able to write.

You might write five thousand words in a few hours, most of which is tripe. But then you cut it down to three or four hundred words that sing? That's magic.

Write when you don't have to, because that way when you need to write you'll have those skills available. When you write, it forces you to organize your thoughts and channel them into a narrative format. It lets you take what is inside your brain, organize it, and put it inside the brain of another person. Being able to do this is the most powerful tool known to mankind. Making an argument, unveiling a discovery, explaining yourself lucidly, and doing it in your own style is something only you can do. It's your magic power. Don't sit on the sidelines and let it go to waste.

Write. Especially when you have nothing to say.


Your comment policy note, actually made me want to post a comment :) For me, the problem is getting started. Even if I don't have anything to say, if I sit with the aim of writing something, I will come up with something decent. However the act of starting is the most hardest part. I guess it is the same for any activity that we want to pursue.

I enjoy reading your book reviews and comments on HN.

Hi Sunil,

Thanks for the comment! And happy you like the comment policy.

I read somewhere that the biggest obstacle to writing is starting to judge your own writing before you even put anything down. To fix that, simply "turn off" any inclination you might have to judge what you are writing. Write anything -- grocery lists, bad poems, random sentences. It doesn't matter. Just write.

_After_ you write, then you can go into edit mode. But don't make the mistake of editing yourself before you even write anything. Heck, you'll never get anything done that way.

So "writer's block" is really more a matter of being a perfectionist than an actual block. As for me, I've just gotten used to sucking, and I have no sense of style, so perfectionism really isn't an issue :)

Fully agree with you when you say that writing is like a muscle. In a sense, i don't think that the act of writing is any different than - say - rock climbing: the more you do it, the better you will get.

But our brains are so much more than repetition machines; It's no wonder that when we have one idea a few others usually follow in sequence. The fact that we make it a conscious decision to do or train something immediately triggers a bunch of reactions that can get you in a "zone" for whatever you want to do.

But still in the writing theme, usually what works for me - when i have no clue what to write about - is to focus in any one thing and think about these two words: "be original". This helps me focus on new ways of expressing myself and often lead me to another great thing to talk about.

Of course... there are also really bad days when the brain is just lazy :D

This concept of writing when you have nothing to say applies to a lot of things, at least in my experience. If I'm not working on some project, I find I tend to get really restless and frustrated after a few days. I label them "boredom projects". These are things like building a new website, setting up a machine with a new OS I haven't used before, or learning a new programming language.

I've also found that it's from these boredom projects that I've obtained some of my best troubleshooting skills or obscure bits of knowledge from something 10 years back that I ran into that helps me on a problem today.

At the same time, it also helps me to not be afraid of starting a new project. It eases that fear that I'm going to break something and not know how to fix it. I've begun to accept that I'm always going to break something and not know how to fix it on every project I start, but I'll figure it out. This has helped me leaps and bounds.

I suppose with writing it's the same way. It's the organizational and presentation skills that need to be developed.

Asimov once said, in one of his books, that writing mostly involves sitting on the couch staring into space until the story is ready. At least that's how I remember it.


If true, it makes me reflect on the vastly different writing styles of King and Asimov.

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on March 14, 2011 10:35 AM.

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  • DanielBMarkham: Interesting. If true, it makes me reflect on the vastly read more
  • Daniel Tenner: Asimov once said, in one of his books, that writing read more
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  • Pedro Assunção: Fully agree with you when you say that writing is read more
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