New tech blog and post

I have launched a new blog to cover topics related to technology, software and other more technical stuff. It is to leave this blog free to host contents related to my personal growth, insights, feelings and fiction.

You can check the first post of the tech blog here. It is a technical article that introduce you to Microservices.

Why writing longhand with pen and paper could be a good thing?

How many of you write your content using pen and paper before actually getting it onto other platforms for publishing?

If you do write using pen and paper, it’s great and would love to hear your thoughts about it.

For most of us, we’d probably write on computers. I write predominantly on computers too. It’s just a much more powerful tool, more convenient, and probably could write much faster.

However, due to the nature of my work, technology burnout is inevitable. For several days during this week, I couldn’t bring myself to use a computer or even my phone to write anything. Yet, there’s a book that need writing.

This was how the decision to reintroduce pen and paper into my writing life came about. I got a lecture pad and a black ballpoint pen. Then I got down to writing.

The experience was definitely painful at first because it’s been a while since I wrote longhand using pen and paper. After finding my handwriting in a total mess and my hand aching badly, I decided to use the pen correctly and even went to google for the right way to hold the pen or pencil for that matter. Then it was time to put it into practice.

I would say there were definitely some good and bad that came out of this process.

For me, it has been therapeutic. The chance to get away from technology is just great for my mental health.

Further more, I could focus better on my writing because there’s no internet involved. No Netflix. No music. No internet browser. If you put your technological devices out of reach, you have no choice but focus on the act of writing and the story you want to tell.

The second advantage come in the form of deliberate writing. Because writing on paper meant it’s nearly impossible to change what you wrote. Unless you want to leave behind lines after lines of strikethroughs or whiteouts, every word you want to put down on paper have to be the right word. This slows down your writing and forces you to think. This has the added advantage of allowing you to identify if there’s loopholes or problems with your content. This is especially helpful for me as a pantser because I won’t run astray with my writing and create plot holes.

The third advantage was that it’s just more natural. You can do whatever you want. Scribble along the margin of the page. Skip lines. Doodle. The freedom meant you could explore your ideas and thoughts in a more natural and faster way rather than having to conform to what the computer and software forces you to do.

The fourth advantage is the permanence of the content. Unless your notebook or lecture pad end up getting soak, caught fire or the pieces of paper blown away by the wind, you can always trust that your content won’t go away. That’s unlike when you are using a computer to write. Machine can fail. Storage devices, including cloud storage, can fail or corrupt your data.

But not everything is all so shiny and great.

The biggest disadvantage with using pen and paper is the speed of writing. Your arms and hands don’t move as fast when you have to draw out the arches and lines associated with latin characters whereas with a computer, a key press means a letter. Because of that, I find it much harder to get into the flow.

The second disadvantage is you can’t edit the content like you could on the computer. Every word that you write on paper is permanently set in stone, so to speak. If you want to change something, you have to strike out what you wrote or use whiteouts. And if you are like me who makes quite a lot of mistakes when writing, you will find that your paper may end up becoming a complete mess and hard to comprehend.

As for portability, it doesn’t concern me. I always bring a backpack when I go to work and I could just shove the lecture pad in it. And when it comes to publishing, well, since I’m writing a novel, it would be much later in the writing process that I have to type them all out. With that, I’d probably do my editing concurrently. So I get to kill two birds with one stone.

Now, I won’t say every writer should write longhand using pen and paper. For most people, it would be very tedious and tiring. So if you prefer to write using your computer, then by all means do that. At the end of the day, the most important thing is getting your content out for your audience to consume and encourage them to come back for more. But if you find that your computer is getting in the way of you doing your work, then maybe it’s time to go old-school.

If you are a pantser, here’s a useful tool for planning

There are two kinds of writers. One is a planner, also known as a plotter, while the other is a pantser.

To the uninitiated, planners or plotters don’t start writing until they got all the details about the story they want to tell down in a massive mind map or something. It is just as the terms meant. And there is nothing wrong with that as it’s just what they do. Pantser on the other hand doesn’t really plan and simply just write, allowing the story to take them anywhere. They are literally flying by the seat of their pants. Planning for pantsers is just not something they do.

For me, I’m a pantser and really hate planning. The very act feels very unnatural and boring.

But today, I was introduced to something that I thought could be useful as a tool to help pantser. It’s known as a Fishbone diagram or officially known as Ishikawa diagram. From the outset, it look like a really simple tool that doesn’t seem to boring when used.

Now, I know it is really a tool for product design or quality defect detection. It is also used in certain kind of investigative purpose like incident investigation and resolution. So you may wonder how it can be applied to planning out a piece of writing.

Here’s how I thought it could be used...

Fishbone Diagram

For the purpose of this discussion, we will be using the fishbone diagram above for illustration.

Let’s say you are going to write a piece of fiction that has some kind of conflict or problem to resolve. You can put that conflict or problem at the fish head.

Then draw the ribs out from the spine. The purpose of so call bones of the fish is to allow you to identify the causes that ultimately lead to that conflict. You can treat each rib as a category. The boxes at the end of each rib could be used to list the categories such as characters, location and/or incidents. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use it really.

Once you have the categories identified, you can draw horizontal lines out from ribs where you use them to create just enough detail for you to write your story.

And that’s all.

After that, you can refer to the diagram if you do happen to encounter some kind of writer’s block while writing. And since it isn’t so detailed, you get to have the freedom to change your story on the fly while it also ensure you stay somewhat grounded and have some kind of reference material.

Lastly, because it’s such a simple diagram, it doesn’t really bore you to death as a pantser.

I also didn’t forget about you planners. You guys can also use this as a complementary tool to whatever they are using now to write.

With that, I hope it’s helpful to you.

Updated 2020-May-22: Parts of the content was rewritten and fishbone diagram added.

Should you recycle your stories? Yes or no?

If you are a writer who’s any good, you’d probably accumulate a huge pile of writings. And maybe up to ninety percent of those have been published somewhere.

Then there comes a day when you realised the message you wanted to share with the world is really done. Done as in you have said your piece and there’s nothing more for you to share. Or maybe you are just suffering from a serious case of writer’s block.

Now, during your journey as a writer, you’d probably also come across the suggestion of recycling what you wrote in the past and publish them again. I’ve seen other writers done it. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

From a practical standpoint, it make sense. By recycling it, you allow your new readers to get new content while you don’t need to put in any effort to write anymore. At least until you found another message to share with the world. That way, you remain relevant in today’s highly noisy world in terms of the amount of content created and published online. This is where the 80/20 rule comes in. You put in barely any effort but you get the maximum reward because you could get new followers and you remain visible.

Isn’t that a good trade?

But from a moral or ethical standpoint, it’s probably doesn’t feel right. I know because I’ll definitely feel that way. It’s like selling people old stuff. So unless you are at a thrift shop or a place that sell pre-owned goods, chances are you want what’s the latest or new right? Well, in hindsight, I suspect it’s probably the only valid reason that one have when trying to justify to oneself they shouldn’t do it.

However, we should all remember that people do have very short attention span. There’s just so many things in life to distract us. Our memory can get fuzzy too. Unless the readers are your number 1 fan, or with a lot of time on their hand to dig out all your old articles, no one is really going to notice you put out a piece of old content. Hell, I didn’t even realise I read an old post that was recycled until I notice the comments in the comment section is several years old. And yet, I realise if the person hadn’t recycle that content, I won’t have known such a great piece exist.

So the answer is yes. Recycle your old stories whenever you feel necessary. It’s also a useful course of action to take to fill in the lull period until you find your groove back.

P.S. In fact, I almost wanted to do the same thing because I don’t have anything else to share for now, but the realisation that I didn’t write any decent piece of content in the past that warrant me recycling them forced me to find something to write about instead. So I shared my thoughts about recycling old content.

Writing about the things you love

As writers, especially if you write non-fiction, it can be difficult to think of a topic to write about.

Let’s take Minimalism as an example.

It’s something that I came across last year as part of my self re-discovery process. It was something that resonate with me, especially the part on paring down your things, bringing into focus the intentionality behind everything you do and making sure they align with what you want out of life. It contributed in bringing me out of depression, made my life more simple and bring the things that I enjoy back into the picture.

And yet, I found it a struggle to write more about it because it’s not something that I’m truly passionate about. The other truth is, I’m better skilled now at keeping in focus what brings me joy. So the process of minimising has become so automatic that I don’t think of it as a struggle. I just couldn’t think of a noteworthy story to share and hopefully help someone else.

But you don’t see me stop there. I still write. What I have learnt is there is always something lurking around in your mind. It can be a simple observation, a sudden realisation, or something you heard. That’s how I manage to squeeze out this article late at night.

And what if you ask, “Bran, there’s really nothing?”

Well, then my response would be, write about something that you love.

And what could that thing be?

In my case, I love Apple and their products (but not a fanatic). I love to play video games (not a fanatic either). I also love technology despite my current misgivings about the software development industry. I care about the environment. Then there’s science, medicine, engineering, human psychology, design, etc. that I like too.

That means I could draw on those topics to write something. And the ideas can come at very weird times. For example, an idea came just when I woke up from a nap. It wasn’t well-formed but the title came up. This was how I got down to write this article titled “The platform doesn’t matter until it does…

And was it a good piece? I think so, at least based on the metrics I’ve got. And I kind of stop caring that much about how good it is when it goes up.

So you have to find the thing you love and give your opinion about it. And don’t care about how well it does. The reason why I read stuff from a particular writer is not because I enjoy everything he or she writes about but rather because I like the writer’s voice. Could be honest, could be humorous or generally very nice/sweet/gentle. Or maybe I just love the writing style.

Moreover, your writing has to be truthful and doesn’t lead someone astray. Do the necessary research before writing.

Lastly, don’t fret so much about what to write. Relax, have a cup of tea, coffee or your favourite beverage, and do something else.