#writing / Obama on writing.

From an adapted excerpt of President Barack Obama’s new memoir, A Promised Land published by The Atlantic comes this thought from Obama about writing while he drafted his presidential memoirs:

I still like writing things out in longhand, finding that a computer gives even my roughest drafts too smooth a gloss and lends half-baked thoughts the mask of tidiness.

I haven’t written anything by hand in so long I don’t know what I might be missing. Though it does not share any insights into his process, here’s an interesting story on Obama’s literary past including authoring his first book, Dreams From My Father.

#writing

There's a voice inside your head that prevents you from sharing ideas—punch it in the face.

If we have worked together or you’ve asked me for career advice, there is a high probability that I have encouraged you to write and hit the publish button often. There are so many benefits to writing that includes processing your thoughts and ideas, improving your ability to communicate, and increasing your thought leadership in the industry (presuming you write about your industry from time-to-time). The excuses—or, I’m sorry, reasons—I hear folks say they can’t write include: I’m not very good at writing (you can’t improve if you don’t write often), my website isn’t finished (classic, and also guilty so shut up), and I don’t know what to write about, there’s nothing new for me to add (oh boy).

The last challenge has always perplexed me because if you look through the archives of my writing, you’ll find a cornucopia of nonsense sprinkled with a few solid posts with well-formed thoughts. Most of my early writing was observational humor laced with misplaced road rage and a complete disregard for people living in the state of Arkansas. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what you write about as long as it is coherent. If you start a thought, finish the thought. Feel free to lead the reader through a backwood of tangents and subplots just as long as at the end you’ve come back full circle.

When I challenge the idea of topics—especially when I suggest writing about a design topic—the “I don’t know what to write about” excuse goes to level two: Someone has already written about [design topic]. And that might be true, but by Great Gutenberg’s Ghost!, if that was a hard requirement for publishing, we’d have one newspaper, a few magazines, and maybe a thousand books. Hollywood would be a ghost town because we got to the end of all of the movie tropes by 1989. We’d only have seventy-five songs with lyrics, but re-recorded in every music style and still, everyone would hate Yanni. The point is you can’t let the people who published something before you be the excuse to stop you from writing or, frankly, creating.

Now, I want to add that I am guilty of this too. There have been some lean years where I wrote lots of articles but deleted them before hitting the publish button. My friends who are prolific writers have also confessed to me that they, too, have suffered from this problem. To be a writer, to be successful at anything, we have to create like no one is watching, listening, or reading. We have to fight that inner voice that says don’t do the thing because we are wired to question sharing our ideas based on originality.

Earlier today, I found a short post by Scott Olster, Editor at LinkedIn. He writes:

Before you discard that brand new idea, you just cooked up into your mental dustbin, hold on for just a moment. According to researchers from INSEAD, The Open University of Israel, and The Technion, people consistently underestimate the originality of their ideas. One reason we do this? We tend to think that everyone else is thinking the same way we are. Turns out they aren’t, or at least not nearly as often as we assume. So, if you feel an urge to keep your suggestion to yourself, speak up instead. Being aware of this tendency can help, and managers can help even more by openly encouraging people to share their idea seedlings.

Did you catch this? “We tend to think that everyone else is thinking the same way we are. Turns out they aren’t, or at least not nearly as often as we assume.”

I don’t know about you, but this made me feel slightly better about feeling that way in the past. As I get older, I realize more and more that as much as I think everyone is thinking the same thing as I am, they are, in fact, seldom thinking in the same way. I have learned that it is important not only to share my ideas but also to get the people around me to share their ideas and thoughts through writing and otherwise. As our world and our work get more complicated, knowing how to express your views is increasingly critical. And writing, whether it’s about the design of the U.S. Presidential Briefing Memo or that one time a father-in-law almost killed himself by hammering a screwdriver through a live wire, will help you develop those skills tremendously.