Undisciplined by choice

One of the most disciplined times in my life was at age 13.

My father had bought me a typewriter – promised to me if I came top of the class in my first year in high school. I did; so I got the typewriter.

Next step: learn to type. Dutifully, I bought the Pitman typewriter course book and proceeded to work through all the exercises – all of them! A proper 9-fingered typist I am.

One of the best things I’ve ever done.

Of course, if you remember old-fashioned typewriters, you’ll know you need strong fingers and patience. Any errors meant either start again, or cross out and leave the mistake visible, or apply increasing thicknesses of liquid paper to cover the typos.

Using carbon paper to get a copy made the task even more daunting. Fortunately though, I was a fairly accurate typist so the time saved on assignments, notes, and letters was considerably more than lost on fixing typos.

As a result of this skill, I wrote much better letters to home when I left for university than I would have by hand.

I typed my owned Honours thesis on a hired IBM golfball typewriter which was breathtakingly fast after the standard typewriter. I typed a friend’s Honours thesis. I even typed some other guy’s thesis for money. Only did that once!

But then … in 1983 I got my first computer, an Osborne which looked like a sewing machine when packed in its “portable” (not) case. Even with that machine with 128k floppy drives, producing text in Wordstar was a thrilling new experience: no more liquid paper, just backspace and retype. Bliss!

Now writing was easy. And over time it became much easier with fingers on the keyboard. It’s as if our brains and thought processes are extended and augmented by our bonding (my word) with technology. Andy Clark has a book about that.1 It’s a fascinating phenomenon. For example, I had no idea what title to use for this, but as soon as fingers hit the keyboard, there it was.

And so, the years passed and I persistently entertained the pretension of becoming a writer. I have written some things – here and elsewhere.2 However, it’s been sporadic depending on mood and whether I’ve been moved by the “spirit”. Actually, it wasn’t spirits on some occasions (too expensive), but some wine did help produce some of the darker work (for example).

But truth is, I’m easily distracted … especially by bright new shiny apps.

After the Osborne computer with Wordstar, there was the move to Microsoft Word (here insert the tedious TM thingy). Great program and on my way to appointments, I read the manual (printed) from front to back until, eventually, I knew it inside out. These days, I hate to admit, I owe, in part, the most profitable part of my career to MS Word. And, NO, I wasn’t an MVP.3 But Word allowed me, at the time, to do a considerable amount of scientific desktop publishing. Since then Word has become bloatware: it does to some things spectacularly well (e.g. paragraph styles) and other things in a manner that is too abysmal for words (e.g. sections and section breaks).

So, what to use for writing. Well, I turned to Google searching and Medium articles. So many … TOO many … options. Craft, Drafts, Ulysses, iAWriter, Bear, Byword, Obsidian, Notion, and many more I still don’t know about. Everyone has their favourite and good reasons for that; but, their favourite is different from that of the person writing the next review article.

But, I’m in ecstasy when learning to master new software. (Yeah, weird). So, an embarrassing numbers of months (er .. years … actually) later, I’m still deciding which app should be my “go to” app. It doesn’t help when many reviewers describe their workflow and it involves several of the above-mentioned apps.

Non sequitur (sort of). I have a dear friend who committed last year to practising his writing on a regular basis. A new epistle to selected friends every week. And, damn him, he’s done it. He’s up to Epistle (or Episode, as he calls them) 53. Talk about disciplined (here insert Grrrr emoji).

Meanwhile, I’m still attempting to decide on which app.

Now, there’s interesting research showing that if you offer people too many choices, they just get confused. For example, going beyond about seven varieties of strawberry jam on the supermarket shelf or the market stall just confuses people and they buy less than they otherwise might.

I can imagine that’s why some people just give up on writing apps and just use the only one they’ve ever known (usually MS Word, I suspect … sadly). In my case, it’s more like “Oh, wow, another app … and I love it”. I now love about 10 apps. But which one to write seriously in? Reading reviews doesn’t help, as you’ll already have deduced from above. Too much choice.

So rather than disciplined writing …. in anything that will get words from my unconscious to the screen (or paper) … I have been spoiled, literally, by choice.

But my dear friend has bugged me. He’s been so incredibly (and annoyingly) disciplined.

It’s got to me. So I’m writing. Curating the writing bits will be a whole other exercise: again so many ways to do it. But, in the first place, it’s more important to have something to curate.

You know those conversations you have with yourself? I said to myself, You’ve lost your discipline because of too much choice. Stop fussing about the “system” to use and the perfect app (which doesn’t exist!) and gets some ideas down. Just [ series of expletives ] do it!.

So here it is. Beware of too much choice. Choose the technology that facilitates the creativity. If you need/want to change to different technology later, then do so. Just make sure you: (1) have backups, and (2) can transfer from one technology to the next easily.

1: Natural-born cyborgs – it’s in my to-read-one-day pile

2: my writing site

3: https://mvp.microsoft.com/

Also posted on Medium.com

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