On writing: A reflection on my messy process

On writing: A reflection on my messy process

Most of the times, I only really develop a strong opinion about a topic when I’ve written a piece about it.

Puzzling together all of the separate thoughts floating in my head into one (hopefully) cohesive article is not always easy. I get frustrated and insecure, then calm, and in the end.. relieved.

Reflecting will do that to you: It helps you analyse, learn and understand. I am convinced that being able to reflect is a skill that will make your work stand out, no matter what.

Reflective practice is a dialogue of thinking and doing through which I become more skillful.

Donald Schön in The Reflective Practitioner

In this article, I’m taking you with me while writing a blog post.

It will not be a structured roundup of my practice, like Steph Smith did so very eloquently in her post Writing is Thinking: Learning to Write with Confidence, but rather a journey through the mess in my head.

If you’re curious, you can check the finished piece out beforehand: Towards a mindful content practice.

Choosing my topic

I start by choosing a topic. It’s funny that I’m doing this reflection-in-action while writing a post about mindfulness. I didn’t plan for this deliberately, but I guess it fits.

I chose the topic of how mindfulness can contribute to our content practice and -strategy. Something that has been on my mind a lot lately.

I’m frequently reading about mindfulness, spirituality and buddhism – soaking up many things I can relate to, and things I can’t fully understand yet. I’m doubting I’m the most qualified person to write about that topic, but I guess nobody else will publish a book about mindfully working with content anytime soon, so I might as well create a space to start thinking about it.

Like Steph, I’m only writing blog posts in which I think I can contribute a unique perspective – something that can only develop in my head. This topic is kind of a weird take on the usually so matter-of-fact field of content strategy. Sometimes I feel my opinions about it are mostly coming from weird places, but I guess that’s not a bad thing.

Drafting a structure

Structure. I should think about that before I start rambling into my editor.

Actually, I think mindfulness is something that affects all areas of our life, so I’m already sure that there are takeaways for our work with content strategy. But at the moment, I only have noted down some vague ideas and impulses.

Working through my notes

  • I have the voice of Andy Puddicombe from the Headspace app in my head, telling me to observe my thoughts, but to try not to judge them.
  • Adriene Mishler, Youtube yogi, is telling me the same: Explore where you are today, Melanie! While bending like a pretzel, she smiles and asks me to find what feels good.
  • There are also tidbits by Colleen Jones, author of The Content Advantage floating around in my head (as they do often). She’s urging me to experiment in my work with content, and see it as a process.
  • James Clear (the guy I have to thank for helping me create good content habits) is nodding his head: Rather than trying to be right, assume you are wrong and try to be less wrong. Trust the process. I have a link to a tweet where he states that.

These are the kinds of things I collect over time before even writing an article and come back to them when actually writing. Creating a blog post is usually a long process for me. (Too long? Maybe!)

Now that I see the whole list, it feels incredibly cheesy to write this article. I agree with all those things, but am I overdoing it? I’m going to hit people with a lot of soft and squishy stuff (Feelings. Thoughts!) Do I really want to do that? I don’t even know what I want to say yet.

Uncovering connections

A bit uneasy, I go back to my notes again, discovering that I have already built some connections to my own content practice while I was thinking about the topic:

  • Since I’m actively trying to observe, not judge, I get less frustrated when my content does not perform well, or when my newly created navigation is not working out.
  • I am working towards constantly reviewing the status quo of my content as well, instead of rushing to create more content.
  • Experimentation and iteration – a.k.a. the process – got more and more important for me.

Well, that doesn’t sound bad. I had already forgotten about these ideas, even if they are so true – which reminds me that I should write down my thoughts more often.

Anyway, I’m going to use these themes as the main points of my article for now, and create some headings to hold on to.

Starting to write

I have practiced just writing a lot. I’m not overthinking every sentence any more, and just hit my keyboard. I always start at the beginning, because I need the introduction for myself to initiate the writing process.

In this case, I’m defining mindfulness and why it’s important, and I try to find a good transition from mindfulness to content. In between, I’m looking for quotes on mindfulness from people that helped me understand it (and get lost in videos and articles for some time).

Back in the editor, I’m noticing that my introduction got pretty long. Seems like I have a lot of thoughts about mindfulness.. Hmm.. That’s not the main point of my article, so I’ll have to rework it. But I resist the urge to edit right then and there.

When I finished typing up this first surge of words, I take a break from writing.

Coming back to it again and again

I’m coming back to the article multiple times, sometimes with days or weeks in between. I’m adding chunks to the separate chapters, trying to include and interweave all of the sources in my notes. Oftentimes I come back to my chapters with new ideas and realizations.

I delete and move sections, trying to better get my message across. While doing so, I get exasperated at how everything seems to fall apart, before I build it back up again in a better version.

I doubt my topic several more times, questioning if the things I’ve written make sense. I’m thinking about asking others for feedback, but I decide against it this time. This article is kind of carthartic to write, and my goal was more to write it for myself, rather than for someone else.

Finalizing: Conclusions, titles, media

I don’t stop writing and editing until I feel myself calmly nodding along as I read through the article. Finally, I add my conclusion, and rework the introduction. By now I have a solid idea of what I want to say, so it’s easier to create a the final frame for the article.

Then I go on to add my sources and recommendations for further reading.

The title just appears on the page when I’m not thinking about it actively. I’m not good at titling, but I kind of like this one: Towards a mindful content practice. It’s simple and conveys that becoming mindful is a journey.

The title image is harder. On my blog, I’m usually using abstract shapes that describe the topic. How to picture mindfulness? Tricky.. so I procrastinate on that some more days. Honestly, I kind of regret that image concept: It always keeps me from publishing sooner, because finding a fitting abstract shape is hard for most topics, really. (Who would have thought?)

Reflection about reflecting

Well, what a mess. I’m a bit jealous of the structured process of some of my colleagues from my content strategy studies. It sounds really efficient.

Katrin for example is a professional writer, and doesn’t seem to experience those moments of exasperation. She says she only publishes texts she is 100% happy with. Wow. I don’t think I ever achieved 100% confidence in my articles.

I’m at about 85% with my article when I finally press publish. I know I did my best, which is the measure I go by when deciding to publish.

Writing about a topic always makes me realize how many things I don’t know about it yet – so how could I ever feel 100% confident?

That’s a thought I should probably mindfully explore.

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Towards a mindful content practice

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