I’m Lou Franco, and this is Episode 12 of Write While True, which is a writing program for programmers.
If you follow it literally, you’ll be in an infinite loop of writing. But I mean program as in a training program.
So, in each episode, I’ll challenge you with an exercise that will help you build a writing habit. This is Season one, which is about foundational exercises.
Listen to Write While True at your desk, and when it’s over, start writing.
The One Thing
A couple of weeks ago I read The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
The crux of the book is that the authors ask you to focus on one question:
What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
In a “five-why” fashion, you could start with your big goals and work backwards until you have the very first thing you need to do. They recommend dedicating a huge chunk of your time to that one thing, accomplishing it, and then moving on to the next ONE thing … ONE thing at a time.
For example, you might start with a goal to “Lose 10 pounds”, but end up with a ONE Thing like — learn how to cook five healthy, low calorie density, one-pot, bulk meals.
Don’t stop there, though. They want you to keep going—what is the one thing that would make that easier? Maybe you can find someone to come to your house and make them with you for the first three weeks. Perhaps you can get four friends to each learn one and teach the others (or swap freezer bags each week). Or, to break it down more, find one friend to swap with. Then, each of you find one more.
If you want to know more, I recommend listening to the Afford Anything podcast episode where Paula Pant interviews Geoff Woods about the book. There’s a link to the book and podcast episode in the show notes
When I finished the book, I tried to apply its ideas to my own writing.
The One Thing that would make writing easier
In this podcast I have explored the various parts of my writing practice.
I think it’s important to set a schedule as I discussed in episode 4. I think it makes it easier if you are unblocked, and in episode one I talked about how I train myself to just write on demand.
When I sit down to write, I like to start with a first draft of something new or to extend something bigger I am working on. I talked about that in episode three and the fastest way I know of to get a first draft started is to copy the text out of my notes. I did it with this podcast script, and I had about 500 words before I even really started. I gave some details on that in episode two.
In episodes six, seven and eight I talked about how I develop those drafts with editing.
In episode 10, I talked about why I am even doing this. The name of this podcast is a program that goes into an infinite loop. The reason I did that is because I think of writing as an infinite game — I am not playing it to win, I am playing it because it’s fun. It’s like a game of catch. I want to get better at it, because it’s more fun if I don’t keep dropping the ball.
All of these pieces are things I do that help me in my writing, but they are not the ONE Thing.
In the past, when I set goals to write more frequently, I was always stopped by not having ideas ready for what to write about. Or when I got one, I didn’t have a systematic way of collecting them. I would sit down to write, but getting started on a new piece was too difficult.
My ONE thing is make it so that when I sit down to write I have a checklist to work from.
That checklist is a list of ideas of things to either write about or think more about. My action is to either write a note in my notetaking system, a first draft, or to find resources that can help me develop those ideas.
So, to make that easy, I keep long list of writing topics of varying degrees of difficulty.
When I add a topic to the list, I try to develop it a little with notes for why it’s on the list in the first place. If I have already have notes in Obsidian that are related, I link them. All of this will make it easier to get to a first draft later.
Having a long topic list gives me lots of choices for what to write in the moment based on how motivated I am. Not every topic will work out. If that happens, I grab another one.
The key is that I am not blocked at the time I sit down to write by not having any ideas.
I personally keep them organized into a schedule so that each day, when I am ready to write, I can just look at that day’s topic and give it stab. It doesn’t always work out, but having a default one helps me get started.
If I give up on a topic, I can take what I’ve written and link it to that topic in Obsidian. I move it down a little in the list and move onto the next one.
If a topic is too big, that’s actually great, because I break it down into a few mini-topics to build up to a bigger idea later.
In my intro, I asked you to listen at your desk, ready to write when I am done speaking.
But first, I want to thank you for listening so far. As a new podcast, I am depending on you to spread the word if you found it valuable. I also want to encourage you to send your feedback email to email@example.com or find me on twitter @loufranco or look for me on LinkedIn.
I would love a review or rating in the Apple Podcasts app, stars in Overcast, or whatever else your podcast player allows. And subscribe if you want more episodes.
If you write publicly, please send me a link.
I try to make sure I have enough topics for the next three weeks in a schedule.
If I have more, they are are grouped in another list, but mostly unordered.
Here are some ways to get ideas:
Go for a long walk by yourself without any headphones. Bring a pen and paper — giving yourself some solitude is a good way to get ideas to pop in your head. I talked about this in episode 9.
Whenever you delete a paragraph from a piece, think about whether this is really the seed of a new idea. Put it in your notes system and add a topic to your list. We talked about that in episode 5.
Many long emails are really essays in disguise. Did you just write five paragraphs to explain something to someone? Maybe make it generic and post it somewhere.
Read over your own writing, especially old pieces. Do they need updating? Have your thoughts evolved?
I don’t tweet a lot, but I still find ideas in my tweets that are worth exploring more. Export out your tweets and you’ll probably find a few ideas to add to your list. A thread might be able to be the whole piece if you develop it.
This week, I want you to start a topic list. Make it a goal to get enough topics to drive about three weeks of writing. So, if you write 3 times/week, you need 9 topics.
Thanks for listening. This has been Write While True and since true is true, go start that topic list.