There are certain pieces that are a breeze to write – you start writing, the thoughts flow, the words flow, your fingers do the needful and before you know it you’ve written a thousand words. Once you’ve published you’re feeling all good and high and kicked to take on your next task for the day.
But then there’s writing that can drain you. For example I just wrote a piece on my policy blog. It took forty minutes to write. I kept hitting backspace and cancelling out sentences. It was extremely laboured. And having written that I’m feeling all completely drained out. This blog post on the other hand is unlikely to have that effect.
I realise that there are two kinds of pieces that I write – the first are “flow pieces” – where I do the thinking as I write. I start writing only with an initial sketch, or paragraph, or opening line. And then I build the piece linearly thinking as I write along. These pieces are a breeze and a pleasure to write. And it is incredible the number of insights I stumble upon while writing such pieces.
On the other hand you have “planned pieces” – where you know exactly what you want to communicate and how, and you only have to implement it and put it all together while you’re writing. The problem with such writing is that you would have imagined certain sentences at different points in time while thinking of the ideas and now you try and fit all those sentences into a coherent piece. And that leads to a lot of jigsaw-fitting and labouring and backspacing. It’s hell!
For a while I wanted to write Op-Eds, but I’ve now simply given up on those. It requires me to write in an impersonal formal voice which is something I find extremely hard to summon. And such pieces are more likely than not planned pieces, and writing them can be extremely draining. I’d rather write when I want to, building pieces as I please, and publishing them as blog posts! The effort to write Op-Eds is simply not worth it!
Andrew Gelman has a nice piece on why academic writing is bad. Basically two points – writing is hard, and academic pieces are not selected based on their quality of writing. So the quality of writing in such pieces is far inferior to say writing in a newspaper!