Writing longhand with pen and paper

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.

All in your head

Distraction.

It’s the thing that could destroy your productivity and send you down the rabbit hole of wasting time and achieving nothing. You will find yourself doing everything else but the one thing you need to be doing.

And you know what? The biggest problem isn’t with distraction. It’s not that video game. Not that Netflix show. Not that book. Rather, it’s you. You are the problem. You choose to play that video game, watch that show or read that book.

So why did you make that choice?

Is it because you lack the discipline?

Or maybe be that the thing you should be doing doesn’t have a strong enough draw to pull you away? Maybe it’s not as important as you think it is? And don’t kid yourself and be all defensive. After all, if it’s important, then why aren’t you doing those things? Why are you allowing yourself to be distracted?

It’s also a conversation that I’m having with myself every now and then.

As much as I like to think I have the discipline to work from home, it’s a lie perpetrated by me on me. The truth is being distracted is a recurring theme. There were so many projects that I want to do but ended up not doing them. I went with playing video games, stopped thinking like a writer and stopped thinking like a designer.

I even told my friends that I couldn’t find the time or concentrate on my stuff at home and needed to work outside. There’s just too many distracting stuff.

One of them said, “it’s all in your head”.

I won’t say I’m surprised. From what I have learned so far, it’s the truth. And the only truth when it comes to productivity.

And that’s a great reminder on who’s really in control.

No one else can make you concentrate or focus. You are the one who decide whether you can concentrate and do the work. Everything else that you say or fight against is just you finding an excuse.

What if you really think that your home has a ton of distractions and you can’t prevent yourself from utilising those distractions? Then go out there and find an environment to work in that allow you to focus. Otherwise, remove all those items in your house that distracts you. Move those distracting things, be it television, your internet router/access points, etc. to a storage unit. Smash them to pieces if you need to. You can always buy a new one later. It’s all about creating that environment you need to work.

And watch what you say to yourself. A lot of times, many of the comments or complains you make are just you being fancy and refuse to do the work. So shut up, and make a plan and execute.

Importance of a tidy and spacious workspace

Workspaces. It’s something that most of us don’t spend a lot of effort thinking about. After all, how many truly enjoy the very idea of work? If given the chance, we would rather kick back, relax and lie down on some beach chairs and watch the sunset. And even for those who do love work, they too don’t think much about their workspaces. They are there to work and be productive. Thinking about their workspaces is an unnecessary waste of their energy and doesn’t contribute to anything at all.

And that’s where I believe they are wrong.

Our workspaces are no different from the rooms or building we spend our time in.

Let’s take a well-designed office building located somewhere in downtown for example. Imagine for a moment how do you feel when you see it for the first time in your life? Then you stepped in and chances are the first thing you see will be the lobby. Now imagine it to feature a soothing lighting, has a clean overall look (probably minimalistic), and has some kind of music playing from the overhead speakers. How would you feel?

So if you agree that you feel great about seeing a nicely designed building with good looking yet soothing interiors, then I suspect you have the intelligence to understand why it’s important to think about your workspaces. Especially since most of us would spend hours after hours working on it.

The human brain is irrational. At its core, the limbic system and reptilian complex drives most of its actions. Ever notice why you feel disgusted after seeing certain things or simply don’t like something but can’t provide a reasonable explanation? That’s because before the neomammalian complex realised what’s going on, the rest of the brain has already made up its mind about that one thing you have seen, heard or experienced. The decision made then was the result of subjecting the input data collected by your senses through a series of filters that created your personalities, your tastes, likes and dislikes, etc.

Just as how nicely designed objects make you feel, a tidy and spacious workspace can ultimately contribute to this subconscious decision about whether you enjoy working there or not.

For me, I love a good stable wooden desk. Although glass table look cool and modern, it gives me this feeling that it’s not as stable. If it’s normal glass, it could just crack and shatter when there’s a major impact, causing potential injury. And could explode in my face any time if it’s tempered glass.

Other than a good stable desk, the desk has to be at least 1.20 meters wide for me to put my computer on it. Any smaller than 1.20 meters, it actually feel claustrophobic. Just imagine a desktop computer with monitor, keyboard and mouse sitting on such a small desk and you have to spend hours working at it. Doesn’t it feel like you are being squeezed? And you can’t seem to put anything else important on the desk? In my case, I could never focus because of this subconscious pressure. That’s one reason why I switched to using a laptop as a desktop replacement at home. It’s smaller and can give me more desk space.

Last but not least, the state of the desk matters. If the desk is messy, it can actually give you this feeling or impression of being lost and unsure what you want to do next. It can also lead to issue finding where you have placed a certain document you need for certain task. And mess can actually cause undue amount of stress even if you don’t realise it. Mess is actually no different from chaos. Chaos is detrimental to the mind since it’s unfamiliar and lack a certain kind of stability or security.

If there’s anything to understand about the mind is that it craves familiarity and stability. That’s why it, ultimately us as human, is so resistant to change.

That’s why decluttering is a big thing in minimalism and that minimalism has help people live a more meaningful and content life. The decluttering process is all about clearing out the mess and being very intentional about the role of each object you do keep on your desk and how they fit in your life, be it professional or personal.

Once your workspace is tidy, believe it or not, the mind actually will finds itself going into a neutral, possibly calm, state. Before you know it, you are off into the zone, doing highly productive work instead of procrastinating and feeling stress even when the work is so simple.

So if you find yourself feeling stress, can’t seem to do anything productive when you are at your workspace for no reason or just hate being there, maybe it’s time to evaluate how does it make you feel. If it’s not a good feeling, then maybe you need to ask yourself what you could do to improve it. If you need to clear out the desk and leave only your work computer on it, do it.

P.S. It’s probably why these past few days, I’m still evaluating, designing and thinking about my desk setup at home. I needed it to be even better, more conducive for me to do my writings.

Meet short term goal or minimise long term pain

Every day of our lives, be it professional or personal, we’ve got to deal with situations that require us to deal with it now with quick solutions or come up with a better solution and taking the time to implement it to minimise long term pain.

Ideally, there should be a balance between the two but reality tends to force us into coming up with an immediate solution to deal with the current pain. Usually, it’s because someone above you, your customer or that a life depends on it made the issue a high priority.

And it takes someone with experience in certain situation to be able to make a decision that seemingly strike a balance.

As a software creator (I don’t call myself an engineer or developer but that’s a story for another day), I lost count of the times when I have to sacrifice the solution that’s good in the long run to deal with something that the customer wants it now. And then there’s always this “we are behind schedule” speech by the management. So much so, it makes you want to roll your eyes. It can make one feel like the management is always reacting to something and not preempting and executing on a plan.

Of course, perspective matters here. More time spent in doing something means more money spent. The manpower could be better utilised to work on something else that deliver on more value (money) to the company. Not to mention, to the customer, it’s like they don’t get their money worth of goods or services on time.

However, cutting corners on a solution just so that you can deliver on time can lead to long term pain that ultimately translate to time and money wasted.

Let’s take something that I’ve experienced at work as an example.

The system my team and I are working on requires a constant patching of data in the database. It can be either to insert new records or to fix old records with updated information. As the system is still undergoing development and deployment, the data is constantly in flux. And the customer will send us spreadsheets of data for us to do matching and patching.

And instead of spending maybe a week to build the user interface and implement the business logic that not only validates the data but to allow us to upload those spreadsheets and update the database in a few clicks and change existing data all from one UI window, my colleagues have to take the time to review through those spreadsheets. Sometimes, two persons are involved. What any one of them will do is use their eyeballs to scan through the records in order to determine whether to match and update existing records or to insert. Then they will manually write the SQL scripts to insert or update the data into the database.

No doubt the scripts run fast and the database will be patched within seconds.

However, what the project lead and management didn’t take into account of the time and effort needed to validate the data manually every time, prepare the scripts and run them. And that’s not forgetting humans can make mistakes. If the data is patched wrongly, the whole system may not work as intended and then we will need to “rush” someone down to the customer office to fix that issue. Time spent at customer office is time not spent on delivering features.

And if you are someone who panics very easily, and you have to deal with such high pressured situation, more mistakes will happen.

The management of course have a defence. Their stance is that this kind of data patching doesn’t happen often. By my last count, it has happened five times since the project started and we aren’t even at the end yet. And I suspect this data patching will repeat several more times until the end of the project. How many more, I don’t know. In fact, I’ve just recently spent half an hour to de-associate the relationships between two datasets because it wasn’t patched properly. Mind you, those de-associated relationships need to be rebuild again once the data has been reviewed and cleaned up again.

I may not be in a management role but it’s obvious to me that taking the time to build that user interface and implement the necessary business logic to help us match the data, validate the data and update the database in as few click as possible is the better option here.

And given what I know about the future plans of the company with regard to this project, the current way of doing things is just not scalable. Oh, I raised the point a lot of times but I’m always overwritten. Well, mostly.

This is what I mean by meeting short goal or minimising long term pain. There are many other examples that I could think of but this is the clearest one to me.

In conclusion, always strive for the mid-point between meeting short term goal and minimising long term pain by evaluating as much data point as possible before making a decision. It’s especially the case if it’s something that affects your persona life and you don’t have a higher up to answer to. And depending on the culture of where you live and work, you can either fight to the death for what you believe to be the right course, find a compromise or swallow your pride and let the other party win. In an asian context like the one in Singapore, you are better off choosing the last approach if you are an employee at the bottom of the ladder or an underling. Or management will make your life miserable.

When you neglect your body, everything else suffers

The market moves very fast because of technology. It has given people access to things almost instantly. In the past, they had to wait for days if not weeks before getting their hands on it.

Because of that, as a creator, you find yourself working almost non-stop just so that you don’t get drown out by the market.

Or maybe that isn’t even the real reason or excuse. It could be the fact that you are just lazy and couldn’t be bother.

In either case, the one thing that gets neglected is the body. You eat junk food because it’s cheaper and faster to get. You don’t exercise because it requires a lot of willpower for you to get out of that chair, couch or bed.

Over time, the body becomes weaker, prone to sickness and pains. Not only that, it gains more weight. With more fats, the body becomes inflamed. Before long, your body is fighting off infections and inflammation. And that affects your brain and mental health. You get depressed easily. You can’t tolerate work and life-related stresses well anymore. Tiredness and sleepiness also become very common.

And making things even worse is age. By the time you get to your thirties, your metabolism drops even more, compounding the weight problem. And failure to take care of your body leads to even more problems.

I know because I’m dealing with them now.

My lack of physical activities the past few months (especially ever since I turned 29) has given me a ton of allergies. My tummy and overall body size have become rounder and bigger. I get tired more easily. My body aches and hurts like there’s no end because of the amount of time I spend in front of a computer or a digital device. And it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

With those issues, I find myself sometimes unable to concentrate on my tasks, lacking excitement in what I do and I just want to sleep more. Now even my fiction writing also grind somewhat into a halt because my brain just isn’t able to work efficiently.

And I know now it’s not the holiday season that’s making me so lazy. Being overweight and lacking physical activity is what make me lazy and sick more often. It’s a vicious cycle really.

So what I have to do is exercise more. Get out more.

And it’s important to set goals that are more sustainable.

So my goal won’t be about losing certain amount of weight by certain time. And I know that alone isn’t sustainable for me because I tried. My goal now is that I want to feel better about myself in terms of energy level and overall health so that I can do my best work.

Now you see, don’t ever neglect your body. Treat it well and treat it right. In turn, it will treat you good.

P.S. I’m actually using the lump that is my tummy to prop up the laptop I’m using to write while I’m lying down on my bed because my back, especially the neck, is hurting. It’s embarrassing really.