Getting Fooled: How to Make Hard Things Easier.

I decided on a whim one day that I would start writing and sharing down my thoughts.

I’ve owned this domain (yinahuang.com) for years — kind of as a failsafe to stake my identity on the world wide web. But it’s been untouched, defunct and gathering dust since its very first day of existence.

Dust Off GIFs | Tenor

What a sad and dishonorable thing to do.
What a waste.

I’m not sure when or why — maybe it was hedonic adaptation to “level up my sharing” off of social media. Or as a productive escape from setbacks in my startup. Or maybe I realized I needed to hone my clarity of thinking.

Whatever it was, I woke up that day and just started to write.

Getting fooled

The hardest part is starting, they said. That wasn’t the case for me.

The first post was easy. The words came spilling out faster than I was ready to capture them on paper — the paragraphs well-formed, the idea cohesive. I wrote and published my first post the same day I decided to start.

I felt quite proud of myself.

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Based on the low effort required for my first post, my heart leapt — if this feels so easy, I should be able to keep this up. No problem.

False.
Each subsequent attempt took every mental ounce of strength to string the words together.

What I didn’t realize was that my first post had been sitting with me for quite some time. Digested and subconsciously refined over the course of several months, no wonder it took little to no effort to write. It had already been mostly written in my head.

Trying to create something out of nothing however, especially a half-baked concept, felt like taming a wild beast.

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Down boy, down.

I’d have to wrangle it down and wrestle it into submission, to get the idea to make sense in my head before even attempting to write it down. I’d meet my internal deadline for writing that’s true, but always finished feeling depleted, like I ran a marathon or gave birth.

It felt exhausting.

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Recognizing the problem

Diving into problem solving mode, the first things that came to mind was asking myself how can I simplify the creative process:

How can I make this simpler?
Is there a way to systemize the creative process?
How do I optimize this?

 

Unfortunately, what I learned in my online research and asking for help, was one key takeaway: This is what creation is all about.

We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time.

Shitty First Drafts, Anne Lamott

I was lucky with my first post; like a Blue Apron meal kit, my words had come pre-assembled and measured out with the recipe already provided. I just needed to put it together.

But if I am to continue writing as a consistent creative process, I’m not afforded the luxury of spending months ahead of time assembling my meal kit.

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So the first step in solving this problem: accepting that creativity will be an inherently painful process.

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It’s much easier to consume. But creating consistently requires constant, effortful, progress.

Accepting that, I think, is partly what I needed. But the second part, was an extension of a previous post: optimization. In other words, to turn this into a routine.

The solution

In theory, I already know the solution. I’ve even written about it before. I just never thought to apply it to my writing context.

The key solution then — is just to simply write.

It doesn’t need to be perfect.
It doesn’t even need to be good.
It just needs to be done.

Do it daily in some shape or form, so that it becomes natural to transfer thought to paper. And then work on refining it.

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You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult, Interview with Noah Charney

Dedicate time to writing each day, or a specific day, however you want to organize it. But ensure it becomes so routine it becomes habitual.

Creativity through Routine

Creating a routine of writing allows for a few things:

  • Separate your writing brain from your editing brain. My theory is that my mental fatigue is caused from context switching between these two modes of thinking.
  • Systemize with drafts. Drafts are a system. Prioritize getting thoughts down on paper first. Iterating and refining versions make it easier instead of doing it all in one go.
  • Transform writing into a habit. Consistency builds value. Figure out a good cue, response, and reward for writing. It will compound over time. 

I do believe creativity can be systematic as well, and surprisingly, after more consideration not complex. Essentially, creativity can be systemised in two steps:

  1. Create.
  2. Edit.
  3. Revise.
  4. Repeat. Aka: iterate.

We create first by writing everything down on paper followed rounds of edits and adjustments. This reduces the mental fatigue when creating. Because creating and refining require two different aspects of your brain, it’s important to allow one type of thinking to flow instead of being hijacked by the other.

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This is a skill that requires discipline to cultivate, but I’m realizing that by forcing myself to stay in this creative flow state of thinking, I’m able to significantly reduce mental fatigue by “batching my work” — in other words, by creating first, and editing later.

Optimization through habit

Consistency compounds into value. I am constantly reminded by how necessary it is build good habits. In this case, the best habit I can build to make this process easier is to make a habit of writing consistently.

It will never get easier, I’ve learned. But it will get better.

This post is perhaps more of a reminder for me than you, but I hope it’s useful nonetheless.

This post is dedicated to Angela Goodhart. Thank you for your words of encouragement and additional reading to make me feel less alone in this process ❤️

TL;DR

  • Creating is an inherently painful process
  • Top line solution: Make writing so routine it becomes habitual
  • Consistent writing offers three main benefits:
    • Separating writing brain versus editing brain to reduce mental fatigue
    • Systemize with drafts to iterate
    • Transform writing into a habit
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