Why is so much harder to write for university assignments than for this blog? Recently, I’ve made it an aim to write for this blog daily, and I’m currently managing roughly every other day. It’s really not a chore at all — I either pick some topic that is bouncing around my mind, or choose something from my ideas.txt file that I find interesting at that particular moment. Either way, churning out a first draft is actually pleasant — it’s more of a problem trying to write *less*, and prevent a “oh I’ll just write a couple of paragraphs on this topic” turning into a 1000-word essay. And the first draft quality is not bad*. Most of the recent blog posts didn’t receive much rewriting, only a sentence or two being tightened up here and there.
*(It’s not great, either, and there’s a lot of room for long-term improvement. Still, people seem to enjoy what I’m publishing so far.)
Which I why I was so surprised when I sat down to write a 3000-word university assignment, and inspiration just would not come. The assigned topic was interesting — choose three from a list of ten emerging technologies, and discuss which are the most promising — and I thought I could find interesting things to say about my chosen three. Still, I find myself staring at a blinking text cursor, with no idea what the next sentence will look like. What’s the problem?
I thought of a few reasons why essay-writing is harder than blogging:
1. Knowing a piece of work will be graded is a great way to suck out all creativity. Instead of writing for an audience, you’re writing for a mark scheme.
2. Related to point 1, writing an “essay” sounds so much more serious than a “blog”, doesn’t it? Even the word “blog” is hard to take seriously. With an essay you feel like you need to have serious insights within every well-wrought paragraph. With a blog, who cares, just assemble some vague thoughts into joined-up sentences and hit “publish”.
3. Related to point 2, my blogging voice feels much more natural to me. When I’m writing an essay, I feel like I have one hand tied behind by back, unable to use certain words or stylistic tricks because they’re not “appropriate” for an essay.
4. With a blog post, I’m writing about topics I’ve been thinking about recently, and so I can just select some choice thoughts and opinions from the many bouncing around my skull. I write first, then do a bit of research to clarify some minor points.
With essays, I really need to do more upfront research — “let’s find out more about X” — but unfocused research is a black hole of productivity for someone like me. If I start by looking up companies working on gestural interfaces, I’ll end up spending two hours reading about the Byzantine empire. So I try and write before doing research, but I don’t have any strong opinions or insights about the topics in mind, so I get stuck.
There we go. 500 words in 20 minutes. Before that, I spent 40 minutes writing my essay and produced 200 words.
Aside from essay-writing, lots of exciting stuff happened yesterday, and I think I can now justify the “hustler” part of this blog’s tagline. Will write up details soon. Right this moment, I’m feeling a bit burned out on extroverted wheeler-dealing, so decided to write the above post about something purely introverted and analytical.