On Thinking About Writing
I wrote a bit about this last year, when I talked about how Overthinking is Toxic. Let’s revisit that, but with some more concreteness to it.
My day job is as a software developer, and while I never talk about my work, I find parallels between software development processes & good writing processes often. Which is only natural, since that’s my paradigm. I’m in front of the keyboard between seven & eight hours a day, roughly, coding. But I’m not only thinking about work at those times. I’d say that around two hours beyond that, my mind’s chewing through work — during my commute, while grabbing lunch, taking a pipe break, etc.
So, on the top end, that’s ten hours that I’m chewing on work. My mind can’t not think about something, and since I’m partly geared as a puzzle-solver, I chew on things. It turns out that that time I’m away from the keyboard but still thinking is vital — that’s when I end up getting a different form of work done, where I’m reviewing in my head what I’ve just been doing because I am physically incapable of just rolling on. I have walked away from my desk for a few minutes of starring out into the bay, only to come back to a smart idea that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t given myself space to revisit mentally.
How does that relate to writing? Two points:
- My ratio of “thinking about writing code”-“actually writing code” is roughly 1:4.
- The fruitful time is when I’m reflecting on what I’ve done and how to proceed, not when I’m starting with a blank file.
Applying that to writing:
- How much time am I spending before I’m writing? Am I doing serious, productive thinking? Or am I really just expecting magical writing fairies to deliver me the goods before the pen hits the paper?
- What’s my ratio of time thinking versus time writing? When it hits around 1:1 or worse, I start considering “Well, guess I’m not really a writer if I’m not actually, you know, writing.”
The sharpest people I know in writerland seem to hit around what I do in softwareland above. They write, they take breaks — sometimes forced thanks to biology & life — and reflect on what they just did and what’s coming next, and they get back to writing.
What are you doing? What’s your “thinking:actually doing” ratio? Do you feel like you’re honestly a writer when you look at that?
 Interesting-to-me side note: the original title was “Overthinking is Masturbation,” which is actually how I remember the post. Then I’m all “right, I sanitized that.”
 Admittedly, there’s a little Mage: the Ascension fanboyism whenever I think about the word “paradigm”.
 Which is where public transit is way handy. Plus, working in San Francisco and all. Traffic is nuts here.