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Alex Kates
Alex Kates

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On the Topic of Writing

I've consistently been writing for a few weeks now intending to publish a new post every Friday. This week, I want to pause the technical posts and reflect on my writing process and what I've learned with the hope that it resonates with other writers that may just be starting their journey.

Perfection Isn't Perfect

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.

Vince Lombardi
Winning coach of the first-ever NFL Super Bowl

A key metric of a SMART goal is that it needs to be attainable. That is, given a finite amount of time, the goal can be realistically achieved. This concept is really important when thinking about knowledge work. After several weeks of writing software development content, I realized that my biggest flaw in writing has been setting perfection as my goal.

But what is perfection? To me, perfection is when a thing reaches a state such that any new changes would no longer improve its quality. Working with computers and software has taught me that this state isn't obtainable. Given infinite resources, systems can always be improved just a bit more. Just like limits in calculus, you can approach perfection, but you'll never quite reach it. This was a big eureka; perfection can't be the goal because it isn't attainable!

So what does this mean for writing? If perfection isn't the goal, then what is? I realized over the past few weeks that I was chasing something more fulfilling; I was chasing consistency. My goal changed from writing perfect articles to publishing something new every Friday; to making progress. While this may now appear obvious, it took quite a bit of reflection to get here.

The Mysterious Quality

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

Edmund Hillary
The first climber to summit Mount Everest

Knowledge work, including writing, isn't wholly about the destination. For me, it's about the journey; about the progress. There is something special in the progress that is hard to qualify. This mysterious quality lives in the grind; in the iteration; in the revision and editing; in the trial and error. It feels like quality. That is, the process of writing allows for a self-reflection to happen where I can measure my quality improvements.

This feedback loop is powerful. I've found that as I write, I read and revise in the same cycle. Each cycle shows some tiny improvement from the last cycle. It's addicting; like a shot of dopamine over and over until the piece is finished. This also feels very similar to the way I write software. I use test-driven development, which has a similar micro-feedback loop.

I've also found that I feel a bit empty when I finish a piece. Almost like a mild withdrawal from the dopamine cycles. Maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration, I'll admit. But there is a change that occurs with each write/revise cycle that culminates into a feeling of relief and emptiness when finished. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to publish every week and see the feedback and engagement, but there is something sad about finishing.

Fear of the Unknown

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

H. P. Lovecraft
Writer and creator of Cthulhu Mythos

Fear is debilitating, no matter the manifestation. It can manifest in things as extreme as staring down a Grizzly on its hind legs, or as simple as tasting seared octopus for the first time. Regardless of the manifestation, the effect is always the same.

This isn't any different for writing. Especially as a new writer, the process can bring feelings of dread. For me, this fear manifested from the thought of putting my thoughts out for the public to potentially criticize. It's the fear of being ridiculed that stopped me from writing all these years.

I don't have any profound realizations on this one. I still have this fear, even as writing this. I don't think fear is meant to be dismissed. Fear is a sieve that separates recklessness from intentionality. I've learned to recognize when fear comes and use it for a moment of reflection.

Until Next Time

I'll admit this got a bit philosophical, but I think it's good to stop and reflect especially when starting something new. I'm hooked on writing, that's for sure. I'm excited to come back to this post in a year and see how I've changed.

I hope you found this insightful or at the very least entertaining. If so, please like and follow!

Top comments (5)

piaomu profile image
Kasey Wahl

My ears always perk up when someone gets meta and starts writing about writing.

I always love reading how others approach their process.

What kind of writing are you referring to, specifically? Tech documentation?

I come from a background in Composition, and I'm really interested in the "house style" for different tech companies. What are the most challenging parts of writing tech documentation?

What kinds of style choices do you make when considering your audience?

Great read, Alex!

thealexkates profile image
Alex Kates

Glad you enjoyed this Kasey!

Mostly technical articles, how-tos, guides, etc. The most challenging part for me has simply accepting that not everything you write is going to be profound and it's ok to be feel vulnerable.

In a strange way, this post was me accepting these fears and I've been writing as much as possible ever since.

piaomu profile image
Kasey Wahl

That's one of the hardest barriers for most writers to overcome. Awesome to hear that you've embraced the process!

thealexkates profile image
Alex Kates

Thank you, glad to hear you enjoyed it!