Evolving a more effective writing practice

I’ve written on deadline and assignment for much of my life. We all learn to do that in school. Add extracurricular writing activities, segue into a career in consulting, work as a case writer at Harvard Business School, write a dissertation, co-author two books, start blogging in 2001, and I think I can claim to be a practiced wordsmith.

What’s been troubling me lately is restoring consistency in getting across the finish line. The transition from writing to hitting publish seems to be acting more like a roadblock than a speed bump. I’ve had some success with various forcing functions that work for a while but haven’t proven sustainable. I need to develop better insights into what works well and what doesn’t in my writing practice.

“Practice” feels a more suitable term than “process.” It keeps the feel organic rather than mechanical. It reminds me to stay mindful of craft when the environment celebrates the mechanical and the technological. Don’t misunderstand. I am a fan of technology wherever it aids my craft. For example, I’ve created at keyboards for over half a century. My handwriting is atrocious. I used to transcribe interview notes as soon as possible after taking them (something I should have also done with lecture notes but that is a tale for another time). I was an early adopter of word processing software, outliners, mindmapping tools, and have experimented with multiple “tools for thought” as they’ve become practical.

I’ve found myself less enamored of templates and formulas. To me, they smack of industrial thinking. Again, I prefer the image of practicing my craft in a workshop over that of churning out product or content in a factory. I’m not striving for masterpieces of art but I’m not producing widgets either. I want what I create to be functional and pleasing to the senses at the same time.

One difference between a practice and a process that has been on my mind is that a process implies a set procedure; a fixed sequence of steps guaranteed to turn out a predictable finished product. A practice suggests a story behind each finished piece. Understanding and improving practice flows from inspecting both the finished pieces and their origin stories. What this has meant for me is that notes and chronology have taken a more central place in my craft.

Notes and note-making have been undergoing something of a renaissance in the last several years. I’ve been tapping into that creative stream. It’s a rich manifestation of something I was trying to articulete back in 2010 when I first touched on the notion of managing the visibility of knowledge work.

3 thoughts on “Evolving a more effective writing practice”

  1. Jim,

    I truly love all of your posts, and I’ve been following you for years (since we’ve met, which was maybe more than “years”).

    This one really resonates. As I’ve made my transition from doer to coach, I find myself using the same language all the time: “practice over process”.

    We are not perfect. Nor should we ever expect to be, yet we should all aspire to be. And that speaks to practice.

    Process means you’ve got it figured out – and any of us really have it figured out? I like to say: Once you stop believing that you have it all figured out is when you can start really figuring it out.

    And you keep walking

  2. I really like your perspective here. I may have to “borrow” if for a future post. Hope you’re well

  3. “This post raises an important point about the difference between personal anecdotes and evidence-based strategies. While something may work well for one individual, it’s essential to consider whether it’s a proven and effective approach for a broader audience. Relying solely on personal experiences without empirical evidence can lead to ineffective practices being perpetuated.”

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