Monkey read, monkey write

Monkey read, monkey write

Do you want to write about a topic, but feel like you don't know what to say? You stare at the page, and throw words at it. But they don't form a coherent shape. You dip into the well of your thoughts, but the bucket comes up light or, worse, dry.

Today, my grandfather sent me a stack of poetry that I wrote in high school. One poem was called "Soul Collector". It presents the point of view of a demon who collects souls like Pokémon cards. "Anatomy of a Teenager" is about an alien carefully cataloguing the name brands and fashion fads that identify the teenage specimen on their dissection table. Creative stuff!

These days I mostly write about work things. Technical challenges and opportunities in the context of my employer's business goals. Planning documents and team processes. Performance reviews. And this blog! Crazily enough I enjoy these things, because they make a real impact on the people I work with and I like making a difference.

But those high school poems vibrated with raw creative energy. How the heck did I write that stuff back then? If I tried to write a poem today, it'd probably begin with an executive summary. Talk about a dry bucket.

As Stephen King advises in "On Writing":

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

The words we read catalyze our thoughts, and from that thought-stew bubble up the ideas that fuel our writing. If you want to write about a thing, you must read about a thing.

When I was a youngin', I ingested a strict diet of fiction and sci-fi – Robert Cormier, Tim Seibles, David Brin, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and of course Stephen King. So I wrote all kinds of crazy shit! Is it any wonder that the engineery-managery things I write today are reflections of what I read now?

If you're having trouble writing about a topic, take a good look at your reading material. I bet you just need some inspiration. I like the way Heinrich Hartmann phrases it in his "Writing for Engineers" post: "Heat the iron before working it." When I want to write on a subject, I find my thoughts flow more easily when someone else's thoughts (preferably many someones) have set my gears turning.

What should you be reading?

Show Comments