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.

Focus on playing the infinite game

There are two kinds of games. Finite and infinite. Finite games are games that we all know about. Sports for example are finite games. In each sport, there’s a set of rules and end goals. Once you follow the rules and meet the end goal, you win the game. Failure to do so, you lose the game.

And what about infinite games?

Infinite games are games that have no end goal. It just goes on and on until the players in the game drop out because of the lack of resources. And by resources, it could be anything: mental energy, money, time. Some examples of infinite games are the game of life and your personal growth.

You might be wondering how is personal growth an infinite game. For the uninitiated, it might be a finite game.

Let’s take the scenario of you deciding to go for a quick course to get a new skill. It has a set of rules. You need to sign up for the course and that is the most important rule. Then maybe there are terms and condition you need to follow. And what about the end goal? Completing the course and get the certificate.

But, it’s mostly an infinite game because you don’t stop at that one course, right? Everyday, you will be experiencing new things and then learning something from those experiences. It doesn’t stop. There’s no end goal. You don’t win the personal growth game. If you have the slightest of growth mindset, you just keep growing personally until the day you run out of resources. By that, it means you are either too sick to continue or drop dead.

And that lead me to the next point.

In one of my previous post, I talked about the importance of knowing your ‘why’. It’s especially relevant now. Not only does it helps to reduce the odds of getting situational depression, it’s your anchor in this world. It enables you to play the infinite game because you have now found your purpose. So whatever you do from there will be to fulfil the purpose. Now, that is an infinite game.

Furthermore, knowing your ‘why’ will give you strength to ignore all the noise that you get from people you meet, especially now when there’s always something telling you how to behave, what to wear, what to eat, and who you should be.

When you focus on playing the infinite game of fulfilling your ‘why’ through actions, you will be happier and you also frustrate the people around you because they realise they can’t seem to influence you to do the thing they want. With that, they will lose out. And you will also command respect from people who understand the game you are playing.

However, that’s not to say it will be all bright and rosy. On some days, you will lose some, and on some days, you will win some. It’s frustrating. And that’s the nature of the game. Just do not give up. By giving up, you are dropping out of the infinite game.

Even then, it’s also important not to forget about the finite games of your life because they can affect the quality of your life in the short term or block you from progressing. For example, getting a house for your family, getting that degree that you always wanted, or finding a job to feed yourself. Just don’t make the finite games the only game you play in your life because they lead you nowhere good.

I know you might wonder what could you do if you don’t know your ‘why’.

There’s something else I believe to be an infinite game; identify and put your strengths in play whatever you do. Don’t focus on fixing your flaws because they only serve to take away your energy from the things that truly matter. Just acknowledge your flaws and get someone who can hide them for you in both your personal and professional life.

The well has dried up but it’s okay

You have just finished work and arrived home. In a bid to make yourself healthier again, you decided to reset your workout routine. And you thought, Monday is a good day to mark the start of your new workout routine. A quick run around your neighbourhood seemed to be the right choice.

After you’re home, had your shower and dinner, you realised you are doing everything else but the one thing you should be doing. Maybe you have to paint a piece of art. Maybe you have to prepare a new set of musical beats for your upcoming song. Or maybe you have to write an essay.

Not wanting to feel like a failure, you tried to get yourself to do that one thing. Seconds went by. Then minutes. Then hours. As midnight draws closer, you recognised the futility of the effort. There was simply nothing you can draw on from inside of you to do it.

And you know what? It’s ok.

Maybe you are really mentally exhausted and couldn’t do it. Or maybe you are really out of ideas. Whatever the situation or issue maybe, it’s important not to blame yourself for this failure. Trust yourself to deliver. After all, you have been doing it for a long time, right? The skills are there. You need to be kind to yourself and catch yourself before you go deep into that “I hate myself” speech.

And what you probably need also is a change up in the environment to put yourself in the right frame of mind to continue. In my case, it was as simple as going out of my room to get a cup of cold water, switched on the air-conditioning in my room and sit back down.

That’s how I break free from my initial writer’s block and write this. It may not seem much but I hope this help anyone who’s suffering some kind of creative block.

Be fearless about who you are

People who have an outward personality may not have the issue of showing the whole world who they are. They may come across as loud spoken, confident and sometimes just plain irritating. And there will be people who doesn’t mind having them as friends. For some of us, the more reserved, quiet and highly sensitive people, you can’t help but want to run away from these kind of people.

And it’s perfectly all right to do that.

What is not all right is when these reserved, quiet and highly sensitive people keep to themselves even when other people are insulting them, making snide remarks, or step all over them metaphorically.

It’s also understandable because these kind and nice souls didn’t want to hurt another person’s feeling or simply want to keep the peace. Another reason could be they are lacking the confidence or are just too self-conscious.

I’m like that too. Always hated bringing attention to myself. And didn’t quite like challenging people more senior than me. I’m highly sensitive and is an INFP.

But I’ve learnt that it’s important to stand up for yourself and speak up.

It’s only by speaking up and setting expectations, other people will know where you stand. If they respect you as a person, they will accept those expectations and leave you be. If they don’t, then it’s not your problem if they choose to keep picking a fight with you. You can either make your stance even firmer or find someone who can help you resolve the issue.

Admittedly, there are times when I utterly failed to set expectations or make my stances clear because of my fear of disappointing people.

And I remember quite vividly about how I actually ignore how another person saw me and make my stances clear. It was with my first two jobs that I actually made it clear about what I will do when it comes to my job and I don’t work weekends or late. I didn’t know why I said those things but somehow those words just came out. But of course the end result was pretty different. One respects it while the other kind of use it as a weapon against you.

Looking back now, I think I did good then.

But when it came my third job, I didn’t quite assert myself because I felt like I should be like my new colleagues. More proactive, hardworking, etc. And after having encounter people using what you said as a weapon against you, well, I didn’t want to feel the same way again.

But what happened was my boss then got very confused as to who I am because I stop asserting and being myself. Hell, even I became confused as to who I am. That time of my life was a complete mess.

And now at my fourth full-time job, I went at it differently. I sprinkled a little of what I will do and what I will not do every now and then. And there is no holding hold back when it comes to showing my emotions or attitude to certain things. So much so, I can come across as an asshole.

But you know what?

It actually made me happier overall. People also know where I stand on certain things as well as my strengths and weakness. This meant that when tasks are assigned to me, it fits me. Not only that, I’m perfectly fine with people pointing out my weakness or certain things I don’t do right. For example, if someone is upset that I don’t give a shit about certain things, I really don’t care. After all, if it’s something I don’t give a shit about, why should I give a shit about what you think or feel about me. But it doesn’t mean I don’t respect you as a person.

And by being fearless about who I am, I have come to acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses. I know that certain aspect of my personality give me certain strengths that others don’t have. And it’s far more effective to be doubling and tripling down on my strengths than attempting to fix my weakness. My strengths are what give me the ability to do the kind of work others can’t do.

With that being said, I’d also prefer my colleagues tell me they don’t do certain things too. The reason is simple. It’s so that everyone knows where everyone stands. And now I come to see for myself how it allows all of us to find ways to workaround the limitations and still deliver the end product.

So don’t be ashamed of who you are even amongst your friends and family. They may be mad at you for certain things you do but if they have truly accepted your flaws and can focus on your strengths, they will still be around. If they aren’t, then obviously they aren’t supposed to be part of your life.