Mechanical Heat – friction in workflows

There’s a lot of advice on the internet about how to achieve a “frictionless workflow”, the seamless passage of ideas and text along a productivity chain that increases speed, maximises output and enables you to do more, quicker. I’d argue, however, that a little bit of friction is a good thing, and that speed is not always a writer’s best friend. This is particularly true when it comes to creative endeavours.

You’ve had an idea? Great. Start with a notebook – a proper one made of paper and card rather than a device of glass and metal. Write down the basic concept, the bare bones. Doodle. Flesh the thing out. Draw lines linking possibilities. Fill in some of the letters or use different coloured pens. Have fun! Or try a typewriter. Bash out some words. Enjoy the clickity-clack-ting of the keys and the chug of the carriage as physical impressions of ink are hammered into paper. Cuss and curse at all teh mistaks. Marvel that people used to write novels this way.

When you’ve written or typed the chemical soup in your head into something more tangible, cut up the paper. Savour the sound of scissors as you snip the extraneous, distilling the words into their most concise form. Screw up the remnants and throw them towards the bin. Miss, mostly. Move the rest around. Try various relationships between concepts or characters. Marvel as new possibilities form.

Only now move to the computer. Forget formatting – content is king. When your notes are transferred to the electronic realm allow the piece to rest. Go for a walk or bike ride. Take a long bath. Listen to music or watch a movie. Let your backbrain do its thing, for it is during these periods that further connections often become manifest – and these are sometimes the best.

While true that such an artistic approach may not be practical in the workplace or when a deadline looms, setting your text aside for even a short period is likely to reap benefits. And if the project is in no way time-pressured leave it for a week or a month, then return with fresh, more critical eyes. Rinse and repeat, until the idea begins to generate heat of its own, and allow the work to flow.


I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
Find out more, tweet me, or email.

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