How to Practice Writing When You Don’t Know What to Write About

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of 10,000 hours and deliberate practice for a while now, but I have yet to do anything about it. The dream was to start a blog documenting my pursuit of 10,000 hours, but I could never settle on a skill to pursue. I considered drawing, yoga, programming, basketball, biking, guitar, and a bunch of others, but it always seemed like I wanted to write about doing those things more than I actually wanted to do them. So this blog is just me writing, instead. It’s me writing about practicing writing.

The plan is to write everyday. When you look for writing advice, it seems universally agreed that the best way to get better is to write. They never tell you exactly what to write about, so here I am figuring it out.

I’m using Paul Graham’s approach of picking an idea that’s interesting and riffing on it until you get somewhere (I’m drastically paraphrasing the approach, by the way).

I will try to stay away from giving advice, because I don’t think I have any to give right now. Any advice I do give, will be directed inwards. It’s meant as a reminder for myself. If you looked into one of my many notebooks, there would be parts that read like a self-help piece of non-fiction. It’s just me talking to myself. That’s how I’ve been writing for the past 8 years.

Oh, and I just wrote the title for this post, which reads as advice. I’ve heard that you need to get the attention of the reader early or else your words won’t get read, and that How-To titles are exceptionally good at this. If you’ve read this far, then it worked. If the content of the post doesn’t deliver on what was promised in the title, I’m sorry. That’s what I’m trying to get better at.

I want to practice grammar and punctuation as much as possible, but I really want to get good at persuasive writing and writing in my own voice. The two are complements, I think (we’ll see!). I want to find out what people want to read. I don’t mean that I want to write just to please the reader. Instead, I want to find out what it is that I have to say that resonates with other people and how best to say it.

There are lots of other websites that can tell you how to do this. You should probably read those websites before reading this one. I did. I still do.

I was reading today about the book Daily Rituals. There are a lot of eccentric (weird?) brilliant artists who do whatever it takes to practice their craft. Together, they have a collection of bizarre rituals any person can steal from to increase their own productivity. For example, it seems that a lot of writers write standing up. While I’m most productive sitting at a computer, I can’t think in front of one. When I sit down to type, I want to be in the zone already. I’m finding that the best way for me to get around this is to play music and dance while I wait for inspiration to hit. Other times, I will sit and meditate (think about) a single idea until the next extension of that idea comes to me. Once the inspiration hits, I take a seat at the keyboard and get spontaneous.

I also want to build a writing practice so I can figure out what I think. By hitting publish I’m submitting an opinion for scrutiny, after having scrutinized the issue myself. Writing is a tool for exploring ideas and getting thoughts out of your head.

I’m going to try and write 700 – 1000 word posts. This seems like a reasonable amount. It forces me to explore ideas in full, but to keep the writing concise. If I find out later that a larger or smaller amount of words resonates better with the reader, maybe I’ll change. Maybe I’ll change what I write about too. The point is to explore the process of getting better at something — writing, in particular (is that dash correct?).

With all that said, I’m at 700 words and have written one post. It’s a new year.

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