Discussion

I used to do things until the Internet

Why I’m going offline for a while

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I’m pacing my room, thinking about a cigarette.

I’ve just emerged from a three hour internet bender, trying to research this post.

The rabbit trail had me finally cornered at this arcade blackhole of a site where I watched my Alpine skier flip end over end in slow-motion, 1982, 8-bit color.

Thirty-two years on, our virtual world is slightly more advanced, yet it hasn’t lost its ability to send us tumbling down the side of a cliff in an avalanche of Facebook likes, blog stats and people getting hilariously injured.

It’s awful. Not people getting hurt—that’s numbingly funny. What’s awful is the fact that I feel both mesmerized and trapped by the internet’s ability to provide instant gratification while at the same time sucking my desire to be a contributing member of society.

And it’s only getting worse.

I remember the days before the Facebook newsfeed, where you actually had to search a friend’s name to find their page and you went because you had a reason to go there.

And I remember the days before the internet even existed at all. If only vaguely.

I used to do things until the Internet

I used to collect and trade baseball cards. It was a huge passion of mine. There was nothing better than the smell of opening a new pack—splitting it ever so carefully so as not to damage the corners—and anticipating what rare or valuable cards would be uncovered. I could put rosters together simply by knowing players and their teams from their baseball cards.

And I wrote. More, and in a more authentic way than I do here on this blog, whatever value this might have. I wrote for the joy of writing and not because it was in some public forum where potentially everyone could read my words. I wrote short stories like this one from seventh-grade that I’m still trying to match the quality of, 17 years later.

I drew mazes and played outside and had a sun tan. Now I’m a cream-colored fleshy blob, like overcooked oatmeal, microwaved by the rays emanating from this computer screen.

It started with AIM—the instant message—and I was hooked. This was no catch and release. The hook only went deeper. Now everything is linked in irrevocable chains, keeping us captive in the dungeons of likes, comments and videos that start playing all by themselves as you scroll over them.

But emerging into the light of real-reality isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch and walking away. It’s more akin to performing surgery—to removing a bit of who I am as a person.

He’s just a ‘facebook’ friend

I’ve fantasized about purging my Facebook friend list, “deleting” anyone I haven’t physically spoken with in the past year. In these dream sequences I convince myself that they aren’t my real friends. But if that were true, why is it so hard to hit the unfriend button?

Erasing a friend in virtual reality still causes offence and emotional pain in a physical reality.

And that right there is one proof of how the lines are blurred.

Nate Jurgenson, a net theorist, adds to this thought. He points out that when we’re at our computers we’re still flesh and blood in real time, and when we’re out camping we’re thinking about how awesome it will be to tweet about our adventure once we return.

In a digital age, the real you is a composite of reality and virtual reality.

Losing a whole year

I first came across Paul Miller while high from a line of TEDx Talks on Youtube. In 2012 as a tech writer for The Verge, he set off into the wild of reality, living unplugged from the internet for a whole year.

The first few months were great. He lost weight. His family found him more emotionally available. He cranked out half of novel. Then reality set in. Miller found himself again struggling against the negatives he thought were the cause of always being connected to the Internet.

“There’s deeper reasons for a lot of my problems that didn’t really have a lot to do with the Internet. They just manifest differently on and offline,” says Miller in a video documentary shot 11 months into his experience.

It’s not a matter of virtual vs. reality. The real world exists and continues in real-time, whether we’re connected or not.

The heart of the matter lies in how Miller wanted to change and be different. Going offline was the path he chose in order to discover himself and life in a new way. And that’s why I’m taking up the similar cross to trudge along. By it, I may just find freedom.

The real, virtual challenge

I don’t really want to quit it altogether. After all, the Internet itself isn’t the problem—it’s the way I’ve let it snag me and pull me into its vortex.

The Internet is simply a tool—like a car or pen and paper even—and can be used to accomplish constructive things. The trick is to get to a point where I’m using it as a tool and not becoming a tool myself—twisted and turned and wrenched and wracked by an overwhelming beast with its head lost in the cloud.

Without making ridiculous promises I’ll never keep, I’m not going to do it for a year. I’m going to start with a 30-day trial and then re-evaluate where I stand. Starting tonight and running for a month, I’ll be adhering to the rules set up below.

I also expect to slip up at some point and am ready to forgive myself. The point isn’t to do it just for the sake of saying I did it, but to try and discover how a life without the constant virtual-distractions will enable me to live a better life.

What I’m hanging onto:

  1. Posting to this blog – All my writing will be done offline, and the only page I’m permitting myself is the posting page. This also means all my research will be done offline. It’s going to be a bit trickier, but I hope it will encourage me to draw even more from the human experience and to connect with people better by asking more questions, considering the answers and simply hanging out with people more in general.
  2. E-mail – Though I’ll be checking it less often, I’m limiting myself to 30 min. on Tuesdays and Fridays. This will force me to scan quickly and focus on the essentials, while letting the rest fall serenely by the wayside.
  3. Skype – I have family and friends who live on different continents and the technology to be able to see them face to face in real time is an incredible blessing. A major point of this whole thing is to connect better with people, and there’s no good reason to pull the legs out from under this ability.
  4. FutureLearn – I’m currently taking a couple of free classes online, and I really enjoy them and I believe they’re helping me create a better future.

What I’m giving up:

  1. Facebook – This site has been one of the deadlier ones when it comes to zapping my time. Those who want to get ahold of me can still call or e-mail.
  2. Online articles – Ok, pretty much everything else caught in the interwebs not included in the list above.
  3. Texts – This is, perhaps, a weird one, and people may get slightly annoyed with me but I’m extending the ban to cell phone texts as well. My phone bill is going to go up, but I’m going to try simply phoning instead and see how it goes.

Like Miller’s experience, I don’t expect giving up the Internet to automatically change my life. What I do expect is the opportunity to be able to discover what a freer, more productive life is.

In quitting, there’s so much to gain

So…why? Why am I quitting the Internet? What do I hope to gain? What’s the reason, what’s the search? And what, you might ask, did the Internet do to deserve such a shunning?

It’s existential, mostly, and not a little selfish.

I want more time to myself. Sitting alone at a computer, surfing the web doesn’t constitute time to myself, quite the opposite in fact. I feel buried and overwhelmed by the amount of information I expose myself to.

I want to create more, and consume less. I’ve got this idea growing in the back of my head about a kind of a ‘create movement,’ that seeks to draw out people’s creative energy and make contributions to the world in real, tangible ways.

I want to give my priorities space to breathe. I have a list of priorities taped above my desk like studying Russian and calling friends, but I’ve seen them lose their places to my addiction of spending time on the Internet.

I want to remove the stress that comes from trying to keep up with the Joneses. I wonder how much of my overall anxiety and depressed feelings are directly related to feeling I’m not measuring up to what I perceive others to be accomplishing through their posts on the internet. I struggle with dark competition, an idea put to words by Stephen Covey, where I’m not competing for some kind of place or prize but for my “own internal sense of worth.”

I want to draw myself out into the world made of flesh and bones. I ignored my host brother for a random linked article. He was making little etchings on a piece of scratch paper on my desk for a board game he’s inventing, and he wanted my input. I did one of those little “mmhmms” and in no uncertain non-verbal hints, turned back towards the computer screen. Now that he’s left for the capital for a few days I started thinking what a great idea he has and I need the time to invest to help him draw it out.

“What are you doing for others?”

As Paul Miller was set to return to life with the Internet, he reflected on what he’d learned, what he’d failed to learn and what he now wanted from life.

“I want this next year to be about other people than just Paul Miller. There’s only so much navel gazing that one guy can do. There’s people in the world with real problems other than that they use reddit too much.”

That’s where I want to be. I want to take down the pixelated placards that have covered the reality of my life with a virtual wall made from carefully selected photo tags and manicured status updates.

I want to climb out of the webs where I’ve been buried, entangled in click-bait titles and shiny topics I care nothing about.

I want to look up from my virtual navel and see people with hearts pumping in their chests, moving and breathing and being.

For now the pacing has stopped, and I’m meditating in the deep silence of a stilled computer. I’m still here, I’m not gone, and I’m not leaving. It’s my hope that this time will find me more present than ever–both in my own life, and in the lives of others.

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For obvious reasons I’m not going to be reading comments here for a while, but please share with us your thoughts–how does the Internet get in the way of your life? Have you ever lived or thought about living offline? It what ways do you limit your Internet usage? Should we even make attempts to limit it? What does a life offline have to offer?

Hidden rules – a meditation

The idea of “hidden rules” comes from Dr. Ruby K. Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty first published in 1996. It advertises itself as “a must read for educators, employers, policymakers, and service providers” and I’m going to add, for anyone who does anything.

Knowledge of hidden rules is defined by Dr. Payne as “knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group.” This she specifically applies to the three classes—poverty, middle class and wealth—with adroit attention to the different ways classes use and value things such as time, personality, education, etc.

While the book focuses on understanding poverty and discusses strategies for improving people’s lives, the concept of hidden rules can be applied for anyone trying to function within a group where they don’t yet have a working command of the unspoken habits and cues.

It’s a simple yet enlightening concept. What I like about this book is how straightforward Dr. Payne presents the strategies for functioning in a different group.

For example, one might say to a group of fourth-graders, “Do we use the same rules when we play basketball as when we play volleyball? No—the rules are different. Just as we must use different rules in different games, we must use different rules in different situations in life.”

The part in which he considers hidden rules and his identity

This concept revealed a lot for me as an America Peace Corps Volunteer living abroad, half-submerged in a different culture. Sure there’s always been the tossed around phrase “when in Rome,” but I couldn’t quite unravel it all from my sense of identity. That, as I fall in step with the habits and cues of a group, I begin to edge towards an identity crisis, wondering how much of who I feel I am is changing into something else.

This Dr. Payne acknowledges as a “painful process” but one that can be smoothed by being “aware of the choice.” I wonder, though, is it possible to eventually work ones way up to being able to swoop in and out of several different groups while maintaining a static understanding of one’s identity? I personally am having a hard time with that.

I think it was being raised in such a monochromatic middle-class culture that made it difficult for me to see that transitioning between groups was less a matter of simply being born into it and more about being able to apply an understanding of the cues, habits and hidden rules. I can play the part of the blonde, blue-eyed, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup, sitting on a folding chair in a church basement, Norwegian heritage sweater wearing, uff-da muttering, reaching-out-and-putting-an-awkward-hand-on-your-shoulder in an act of consolation, self-esteem shunning, seasoning hotdish with the three God-given spices of salt-pepper-and-ketchup, pretty gosh darn well. I’m pretty miserable at fitting in almost anywhere else.

But now I have the language to be able to deal with things a little better. I have the permission of someone saying, “Go ahead—learn the new rules and then decide to what extent you want to change, shape or mold your identity.”

The part in which he becomes less lucid

In Rudyard Kipling’s book, Kim, the young protagonist Kimball O’Hara becomes a master of ‘The Great Game’ in Central Asia and India in the second half of the 19th century. He grows up as an orphan on the streets of Lahore and it’s there he learns the ways of unnumbered classes of people scurrying about their lives.

It’s such a fascinating book full of intrigue and adventure. I wish I had the mind of young Kim to traverse multiple cultures and identities with such ease and mischief.

Even though I’m more than twice his age, in a lot of ways I’m just learning his lessons.

To open my eyes to the world around me.

To seek without jadedness.

To desire knowledge and merit beyond what I know today.

To humbly accept my reality yet have the humility to learn from it and be better.

To watch people without staring.

To remember without memorizing.

To engage without shutting down.

And to fight when necessary.

I think that in trying to smooth my rough edges I dulled the point that had any chance of poking into new worlds and new thoughts and new ideas and new stories. I never want to reduce my walk to that of the mailman, down known and tired paths, working the same little messages into smart little boxes. I want to be the trash-digger, the treasure hunter, the guy who sifts past an old banana peel to save a magazine or a piece of furniture.

I’m ready to get back at it, and though I’m well past what university would call my “prime” and the military would deem “acceptable for use” and though this mind is dusty and these wheels need a little grease, and though I’ve sacrificed much on the hills of newsfeeds and consumerism, I’m making the turn. I’m repenting. I’m facing a new direction.

Well, the proof’s in the walk and not the talk, as they say, and so I’m two weeks into a six week course on journalism at FutureLearn.com. Yes, the rest of the course is in week five, but I’ve been catching up and will meet up with the class for the final. It’s so good to be learning something again rather than just consuming.

And that’s a topic for a future post—the idea of a “CREATE MOVEMENT” or a call for us to produce more and consume less. This idea started to formulate during my first months on my blog hosted by tumblr. I realize that tumblr was developed and is created around the repost, but what I find fascinating and discouraging is the number of blogs that consist entirely of reposts. (And I suppose this is the point of pinterest as well. Does anyone actually add pins or are they all repins? And then where do the originals come from??)

It’s no more than a statement of one’s hobbies and interests. It’s not a blog. Blogs are supposed to be creations, not regurgitations. Tell me I’m wrong?

The part in which he wraps up his still forming thoughts

This blog has been an experiment over the past 3-4 months since I moved platforms. I’ve been experimenting with different kinds of posts and on many occasions have slipped away from my originally intended structure for the blog. I think I’d like to get back at it again and get back at it in the way the steam of indignation over injustice boils in an engine, hauling thousands of tons of weight screaming through the countryside.

I hope I’m not alone.

A cause for Kyrgyzstan, 16 years and counting

A life-changing conversation with a leading expert on bride-kidnapping

Last week I had the honor of meeting with Dr. Russell Kleinbach, one of the world’s leading experts on bride-kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic. A professor emeritus of Philadelphia University, this is his tenth trip to Kyrgyzstan since first teaching in Osh as a Fulbright Scholar in 1998.

Born and raised as a Minnesota farm boy, Dr. Kleinbach went to seminary in Kansas City then worked as a civil rights activist, once meeting with senators on Capitol Hill in the mid-1960s.

After returning from his trip to Washington, D.C., he was asked to be a guest on a talk show debating the Vietnam War. Going head to head with staunch proponents, the “green” Dr. Kleinbach quickly found himself in over his head. “They tore me every which way and loose,” he told me, with a quiet chuckle.

For the next six months he read everything he could on the war, educating himself on the history and perspectives of the conflict. This led him and his wife to spend the last two years of the ‘60s living and working in Vietnam. The experience helped shape his deep ideological belief that “the foundation of all conflict in the world is inequality.”

Dr. Kleinbach worked for most of his career as a professor teaching psychology and the humanities. Having had a keen interest in the Soviet Union, he took the opportunity to live and work in Kyrgyzstan, a former soviet republic, a few years into its newly forming history. Here Dr. Kleinbach was first made aware of the phenomenon of bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, a social ill that affected his students and those in his community. Sixteen years later, Dr. Kleinbach continues to work researching and educating Kyrgyz people on the effects of this practice and how it can be stopped.

Bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan is an extremely complex issue which runs the spectrum from those who elope to those who are physically taken practically at random off the street. Dr. Kleinbach’s cause works to end what they call “non-consensual bride-kidnapping” or the practice of forcing a woman to marry who doesn’t want to. (More detailed information can be found in this well-written 2013 Eurasianet article. A descriptive account can be found in this NYT article from 2005.)

Reducing bride-kidnapping rates one village at a time

I was initially invited to meet Dr. Kleinbach by my Japanese volunteer friend in our village. Entering the guest house where he and the director of the organization he started, Kyz Korgon, were staying, we found them folding pamphlets and rolling posters for their next round of seminars and door-to-door canvassing in villages in our region.

He started right in with the history of his work in Kyrgyzstan since 1998, the research he’s done, and the methods of education they employ.

Bride-kidnapping is a prevalent practice that, according to his research, has been growing in Kyrgyzstan since the 1950s. It is popularly believed here among Kyrgyz people that this practice has ancient cultural roots, yet Dr. Kleinbach believes it’s a more recent phenomenon. “In a culture without a written history, tradition can develop quite quickly,” he tells me, adding that no where even in oral tradition does the idea of bride-kidnapping appear as a legitimate way of gaining a wife. “It’s not in the Manas,” he says, referring to the world’s longest epic poem and what today many Kyrgyz people consider the foundation of Kyrgyz culture.

This is one of the appeals he makes to people during his organization’s seminars. They focus on a multi-pronged approach to reach people which includes a discussion on how according to the Koran, Muslim Imams are forbidden to bless a marriage that is non-consensual.

“The issue is start the thinking process,” he says. But he’s doing a lot more than that. His work is getting results.

The organization he works with canvasses an entire village, conducting interviews with women and men to determine the statistics on the number of women who have married non-consensually. Then, they meet with students and unmarried youth to show a video of women who have been kidnapped and discuss the devastating effects it has on people’s lives. The sessions end with an appeal for a written and signed “pledge of resistance” form stating that for girls, if kidnapped they will leave and return home, and for boys, that they will promise to only marry someone who will agree to the marriage.

The next year his organization returns to the same village and conducts interviews with those who have been married since they were in that village the previous year. The results are showing nearly a 50 percent drop in the number of non-consensual marriages.

His talk on the organization’s work only slowed when our host brought out the afternoon lunch of rice soup and steamed dumplings.

You’re asking the wrong question

As the conversation moved on to the kind of chatter associated with all meals, I felt this growing urge to ask him a selfish question. Maybe it was his professorial demeanor. Maybe it was his warm heart and open ear from decades of mentoring students. Maybe it was simply a deep gift for relating to people. Whatever it was, I felt that tug that comes whenever you’re in the presence of someone great, that tug to ask for sage words of wisdom gained from a life of living with purpose.

“What am I supposed to be?”

As a 30-year-old, still hopping the world every couple of years without a clear plan, I yearn for that calling. A cause that pulls my feet out of bed every day to stand for something instead of that listless noise that’s made me fall for everything.

“If you had a calling, you’d probably know it by now,” he says, tossing the thought ball back to me. “Don’t worry about the question ‘What am I going to do with my life?’…Focus on a cause you can pursue.”

Indeed Dr. Kleinbach didn’t discover the cause of bride-kidnapping prevention until he was in his late 50s. “Ah, but I already had a full life teaching. This is just sort of the icing on the cake.” He went on to commend the role of the teacher I’ve been playing saying that’s cause enough, an honorable cause.

Always one to make things practical, he followed this immediately by challenging me to pick up the cause of educating people of the dangers of bride-kidnapping and helping people work out a better way. To stake my claim here, in Kyrgyzstan, working with local people to end this practice that wrecks havoc in so many lives.

And there it is: the secret. It’s nothing more—and nothing less—than simply doing something. To start thinking about others and what needs to be done. To not worry about having what it takes or being on the right path because in his words, “the education will take care of itself.” That each and every cause is fought by people who through doing the work are discovering how to better people’s lives.

I’d been asking the wrong question and seeking its answer in the wrong direction. Focus on the self is where the problem lies, not the solution.

A cause to celebrate

“You ever hear about stone soup?” Dr. Kleinbach gave me a whimsical look.

I had—I remembered the story from grade school, where a man with only a stone for dinner invites the village over for soup, but first cleverly asks each person for just a little something to flavor the stone. The story ends with a simmering pot of vegetable stew and dinner for the entire community. I nod.

“I’m the guy with the stone.”

Dr. Kleinbach looks at me with the smile of one wise enough to know it’s not the personal cause alone that changes the world. It’s a focused heart, a willingness to do something and an invitation to draw others in to make a difference.

IMG_6310A student painted poster hanging in my school reads: “The 8th of March! Dear ladies and girls–we congratulate you on your upcoming holiday.” (International Women’s Day)

Discipline Day by Day

This is the fourth installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. We all would like to be able to think a little clearer, feel a little better and enjoy the things we need to do in life a little more. No matter where you are when it comes to being disciplined, these thoughts can help you better achieve your goals and continue along your path of being disciplined.

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If you take a look at the publish date below this post, you’ll see it arrived four days later than promised. Taking it day by day, it turns out, means, “Not this day.”

How often have you too heard yourself saying that? “Oh, not today. I’ll do it tomorrow.” The problem with promising yourself you’ll do it tomorrow is that you can ignore your project indefinitely while technically keeping your promise. There will always be a tomorrow.

Daily despair

Discipline is a despairing thought. It’s despairing because it’s painful and we’ve already looked at working through pain sessions. But it’s further depressing because being disciplined is a continuous state. This means you’re going to be suffering for an indefinite period of time. And that is a sucky thought your brain is going to make an effort to keep as deeply buried as possible, somewhere, maybe, next to that 15-year-old memory of accidentally farting next to Amber J. on the bus ride back from the science museum. Or some other equally as vague and hypothetical repressed memory.

So leave those thoughts be and try this one instead:

You don’t need to be disciplined forever. You just need to be disciplined until the end of today.

Discipline is not about the finished product. It’s not the castle; it’s the laying of stones. It’s not the article; it’s jotting some words in a notebook. It’s not your English lesson for tomorrow, it’s a clarifying objective.

You don’t need to learn all of the Russian language. You just need to study one hour today.
You don’t need to lose 50 lbs. You just need to eat healthier and eat less today.
You don’t need to write a 20 page paper. You just need to get to the library this afternoon and check out some books on your topic.

Don’t try to stuff the whole castle in your head—it will quickly fill with the enormity of it all until it pops and your brains ooze down you shoulders rendering you useless to lay even a single stone.

T.E.A.M. up with Today

Here’s a look at what I call “T.E.A.M.ing up with Today.”

This is a three step thinking process to help you coordinate what you can accomplish before your head hits the pillow.

It’s based on your:
T ime
E nergy
A nd
M otivation

Time and today’s discipline

If the paper is due tomorrow and you haven’t started writing it yet, you need to limit what you’re able to do based on time. You don’t have time to read 2 books, take notes, write a rough draft, run it by your professor and then write a final copy. It would be nice if you could do that, but you’ve found yourself in the situation you’re in today so you have to approach it as it is.

Count the minutes or hours. Now mark off a relative amount of work you can expect to accomplish in that time frame.

Energy and today’s discipline

Like our friend “PP” in the previous post on Doing the Minimum, you don’t have unlimited energy levels. How much sleep did you get last night? What time do you need to go to bed tonight so that you can have the energy to do another day’s work tomorrow?

If your energy level is currently lower than normal, it’s going to take you longer to complete the task ahead of you. You may need more breaks. You may need to cut back the scope of what you think you can accomplish.

Make sure you consider your current energy level when scribbling down the long list of things you think you can accomplish today.

Motivation and today’s discipline

Finally you need to consider your motivation. “But I already took my motivation out back and shot it!” I hear you saying.

Then good! You learned something!

You just need to make it today

Remember that it’s just one day that you’re doing this. And then when tomorrow comes, it’s just one day again. The great thing about thinking day by day is that it is always today! You always have the opportunity to get part of your project finished—to lay a stone. You don’t need to buckle down and stay disciplined forever. You just need to make it through today.

And then one day, before your head even hits the pillow—you’ll discover, ah! the project is finished! The castle is built. The day is done. And there’s still tomorrow.

IMG_4099One step at a time

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This is the third installment in a seven-part series on being disciplined. You can read each of the posts by clicking below:

 

Why writing about writing is stupid

E-mail is great. It’s like this worldwide network of virtual mailboxes where you can send and receive electronic letters from your very own little box—right in the palm of your hand. Actually, it’s exactly that.

In my magic little box I can sign up to be on the mailing lists of all kinds of different publications, for free. Heck, I even get sent thousands of letters a month from places I wouldn’t even have thought about for absolutely no charge. Add two inches, guaranteed! I’m a pretty lucky guy.

I get little electronic “howdy-s” from my boss at work. I get sparsely punctuated and over capitalized hand-typed messages from my mom. I even receive a weekly e-newsletter from the Professional Disc Golf Association, and it’s probably the best 4 minutes of my week.

Of all the mailing lists I’ve willingly submitted to, the strangest e-mails I get are from websites that are wholly dedicated to writing about writing. They’re vigorously set on talking the heck out of a subject without ever doing it—hell bent on a journey that will never reach its destination.

I’ve been receiving these e-mails about writing for months. By this point I’ve read a couple hundred articles. I always thought that these were my ticket to writing success.

After all, the best way to learn is to study. Except reading about writing about writing is one of the worst things you can do to learn how to write. (And now I’m writing about reading about writing about writing. Which, I suppose is one step better than what I was doing 15 minutes ago which was lying in my bed thinking about writing about reading about writing about writing.)

Hell—at the very least, just slash all of those steps except for the last one. Just write.

The proverbial writer’s…ball

Writing about writing is sort of like taking a basketball to the gym and then continually shooting baskets at your gym bag. You’re going through the motions. You’re just continually aiming for the wrong goal. Writing is supposed to be something, not just conversational chat about it.

Don’t get me wrong. These sites have been very inspirational. Inspiring and encouraging in the way your grandmother encourages you by liking every single one of your Facebook posts, no matter if they come at the hands of a less than lucid Friday night or a neatly cropped caffeine-infused selfie session.

Or think of it like going to flight school, taking a seat in the cockpit and instead of telling you how to turn the plane on, the instructors repeatedly bombard you with placards of motivational statements. You can do it! You’re a pilot! You just need to do pilot things!

You need something a lot more than just encouragement to put type on a page. Just because you write doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good. Just because you’ve developed a unique voice doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to listen to.

Picasso wasn’t good just because he painted and was different. Picasso was good because he knew what he was doing. It helped immensely that it was original and exciting. But it was first incredibly high quality work accomplished through years of study and practice.

The write way (ah—see what I did there?)

Here’s a better idea than reading writing about writing: read a ton of actual books. Pick a subject and read everything you can get your hands on. Read every day. You can even read your e-mail as long as you avoid ones about writing about writing.

You need to study the art and craft of writing, not have your ego stroked. When looking for instruction on how to write, find material that chooses real pieces of writing and analyzes it. If you need to dabble in writing about writing, say for a school project or something, write about the craft.

Don’t just publish article after article that says, “I’m writing about writing. I’m writing about writing. I’m writing about writing—see? Look! I’m writing! And if it’s this easy, you can do it too! Hurray for winners!”

A mouthful on writing

I read this stuff. I consumed it like regularly spaced meals. It left me with the feeling that I knew how to write, but when it came to sitting in front of the blank page I realized I had no substantial energy to even know where to get started.

I had dozens of little phrases telling me how to motivate myself to do my best work, but I had no idea what that work was to be. I had gorged myself on the shiny plastic fruit sitting in the middle of the writer’s desk and never developed physically as a writer.

If you want to develop as a writer, focus on your passion, your cause, your reason for writing. Create a subject matter that you truly care about and focus all your efforts there. Then find help with the craft of writing.

Just steer clear of the stuff on writing about writing. Which means if you’ve made it this far, you might just want to mark this article for the trash too.

Happy learning and writing. Now get to work.