I’m Lou Franco, and this is Episode 9 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.
YouTube is my Vice
I don’t use a lot of social media, but if I don’t plan my time intentionally, I’ll find myself watching a lot of YouTube.
It’s not all a waste of time. I mix in the odd Ted Talk, vegan cooking demo, or programming lesson with the top 10 Hulk Smash videos.
But, even if I watch the best, most educational videos, it’s still not the best use of my time. A little is ok, but it’s easy to fall into hours of watching if I don’t pay attention.
And the same could be said of Podcasts for me. My player usually has a few hours of downloaded episodes. Even though the bulk of them are on educational topics or about tech or tech news, while I’m listening, I’m not going to be creating anything. I do try to mostly listen while exercising, but, then I’m missing an opportunity to being alone with my own thoughts.
It’s not that I think that my life should be 100% dedicated to making new things or in solitary contemplation.
In a lot of ways, reading, listening, and watching good content can refill our creative wells and give us things to think about. New things are often the novel combination of old things. In episode 2 I talked about how I get a lot of my ideas of what to write about by synthesizing and applying what I am reading to my own interests.
But, there are times when I notice that level of output isn’t where I want it to be, and so I take a good look at how I am spending my time.
Now, I’m not talking about pure time wasting.
For example, I don’t have a Facebook account and I block reddit and hacker news on all of my devices. Twitter is blocked on most of my devices and time-limited on the one machine that can go to it.
I have dozens of news sites blocked as well.
I wrote about this on my blog when I said that I treat my devices as factory equipment for programming and writing and I don’t want them to have unfettered access to the Internet. I’ll put a link to that in my show notes.
Generally, I want to be very intentional about the sites I visit. I used the app SelfControl on my mac to get started, but now I just edit my /etc/hosts file manually since I know I have enough willpower not to just simply reverse it. And I also set up some website limits in Screentime on Apple devices.
I do this because I don’t think it’s usually worth spending any time at all on those sites.
If you are spending significant time with social media or other doom scrolling activities, and also are not satisfied with your productivity, then that’s the first place I’d tackle.
I also recommend reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. There’s a link in the show notes.
In that book, Cal makes the argument that we should unplug from most social media, or if we need it for our career, to use it in a very efficient and time limited way.
He says to replace that time with analog hobbies and solitary contemplation.
But now, I want to talk about taking it a step further.
In episode 1, I talked about Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.
The book is meant to be read one chapter per week. Each chapter offers exercises meant to get you unblocked and creating.
You might remember that I spoke about morning pages. This is an activity that I do each morning where I write 3 pages of long-hand writing. I find that it trains by brain to write on demand.
In Week 4 of the book, Julia Cameron challenges you to do a week of reading deprivation.
She asks you to stop all consumption, including all reading. So this includes all social media, TV, etc—she makes an exception for music.
I read The Artist’s Way earlier this year and did the week of deprivation in late January. It had its intended effect. With nothing to do, I filled my days with thinking, writing, drawing, programming and other creative activities.
Speaking of creative activities, I want to talk a little about what I mean when I say “being creative”
People often say someone is creative when they mean that they have “good ideas”.
Having good ideas is not a bad thing—but I think that’s something different.
I prefer to keep it simple and say that being creative means that you create things. You can tell if someone is creative by simply looking at their output. Last week I talked about lowering the bar, and I’d like to apply that to creativity. If you’ve made something, anything, then you have created. If you do it a lot, you are creative.
You could make a further judgment on whether your work is any good, but again I think that’s something different.
For example, I’d say that someone is a skilled painter or a master, but that’s orthogonal to creativity, which I prefer to think of as more of a statement of quantity. I roughly think of it as a synonym of prolific, which is probably a better word for this.
Generally, I’m a proponent of prolific output over waiting for a “good idea”—mostly because it’s more enjoyable and builds skills very quickly. Waiting around for ideas is torture.
And so, when I look back to that week in January when I closed myself off to all consumption, I see that I got a lot done. I was able to build a two week backlog in my blog and came up with the idea of this podcast and started planning out the first few episodes.
I got a new version of one of my apps, Sprint-o-Mat, done.
Letting myself get bored made me more productive.
But that’s not the only benefit of boredom.
In the book Bored and Brilliant, Manoush Zomorodi goes over the science of boredom to show how it can unlock new ideas.
I learned about the book from her podcast, Note to Self, that had a few episodes covering this idea. One of the things you might try is her Bored and Brilliant challenge, which is a 6 day challenge where you take steps to give space to your own thoughts and work.
I’ve put links to her book, her podcast, and the challenge in the show notes.
And while I have unplugged permanently from a lot of social media and news, there’s no way I think you should refrain from all consumption indefinitely.
When I was done with my week of deprivation, I started reading, listening and watching old content again. But, I didn’t just go back to old habits. I reset my level and quality of consumption.
I got a lot more picky — I read a lot more long-form content.
I managed to stay off YouTube and unsubscribed from a bunch of podcasts that didn’t spark joy.
I did this about 3 months ago and I’m just now starting to fall back into some bad habits, so I’m going to try another week.
Maybe this is something I’ll need to do each quarter to reset.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Do a week of deprivation
So, this week join me in a week of deprivation. I’m going to cut off all consumption except listening to music, as Julia Cameron suggests in the Artist’s Way.
If this feels like way too much, then try the Bored and Brilliant 6 day challenge. It’s a good place to start. I would also say to try the SelfControl app if you have a mac. I’ve never used it, but there’s an app called Freedom that looks like a good choice for Windows.
Thanks for listening. This has been Write While True and since true is true, start writing.