Sketched Book: Write Faster, Write Better – David A. Fryxell

David A. Fryxell’s Write Faster, Write Better (2004) is a journalist’s collection of tips that might help you write faster. Fryxell focuses on eliminating waste: wasted research, wasted interviews, wasted notes, wasted words, wasted drafts. You can do this by organizing, planning ahead, keeping your focus in mind, and writing a good-enough draft the first time around (instead of revising loose drafts that run too long or circling around a never-finished perfectionist draft).

I’ve sketched the key points of the book to make them easier to remember and share. Click on the image to get a high resolution version that you can print if you want.

2014-12-14 Sketched Book - Write Faster Write Better - David A Fryxell

One of the things that I struggle with is that I often don’t have a clear idea of what I want to write when I start writing it. I don’t have a focused high-concept phrase that explains my angle and the surprise twist. I don’t have a clear outline that tells me what kind of research I need to do, who I should talk to, and how everything fits together. I don’t have an editor who’ll force me to come up with a clear concept.

Maybe I’ll get there with experience. It might be okay to do this kind of exploratory writing – a little like journaling in public – and then apply Fryxell’s techniques to extract and polish a chunk that would be useful to other people.

Curious about the book? You can get it from Amazon or other places if you like. (Affiliate link)

Like the sketch? Find more at sketchedbooks.com. They’re under the Creative Commons Attribution License (like the rest of my blog), so feel free to share it with people who might find this useful. Enjoy!

Weekly review: Week ending February 27, 2015

This week was about sewing. I made three tops, wow! I might go to the fabric store on Tuesday to see if there are other fabrics that I’d like to turn into tops using the same pattern.

Also, I made lemon meringue for the first time in ages. I tried another biscotti recipe, too.

My Samsung Galaxy S3 started power-cycling, so I replaced it with a Moto G. The Moto G is working surprisingly well. I thought I’d have problems with the small, non-expandable storage, but it works just fine. =)

2015-03-01a Week ending 2015-02-27 -- index card #weekly

output

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (26.5h – 15%)
    • Earn (10.7h – 40% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
      • Prepare invoice
    • Build (3.5h – 13% of Business)
      • Drawing (1.4h)
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (0.8h)
        • File payroll return
      • Figure out why library isn’t renewing
      • Fix color detection
    • Connect (12.3h – 46% of Business)
  • Relationships (12.5h – 7%)
    • Help Sean with Emacs
    • Print tickets
    • Hang out with Linda and watch Gabriel perform
  • Discretionary – Productive (24.1h – 14%)
    • Emacs (1.6h – 0% of all)
      • Help Sean with Ruby environment
      • Choose additional fabrics for Sorbetto top
      • Get 1.5 yards of cotton shirting
    • Sewing
      • Print out Colette pattern
    • Phone
      • Figure out what’s going on with my phone
      • Set up new phone
      • Buy Moto G from Staples
      • Upgrade to Lollipop
    • Attend Sketchnote Hangout
    • Read synopsis for Die Walkure
    • Read chapter 4 of Intermediate Japanese
    • Review Createspace
    • Investigate Powershell
    • Writing (2.1h)
  • Discretionary – Play (9.0h – 5%)
  • Personal routines (21.6h – 12%)
  • Unpaid work (16.3h – 9%)
  • Sleep (58.1h – 34% – average of 8.3 per day)

Back to sewing!

I’ve been thinking a lot about clothes lately. This was partly motivated by a dress-up extended family dinner. W- dusted off the suit that he hadn’t worn in years. I realized I wasn’t happy with any of my cold-weather dress options, so we checked out the shops. Dealing with the overwhelming array of choices, none of which I liked, I realized five things:

  • Because it’s difficult for me to find simply-styled, good-fitting clothes in small sizes, I should buy them when I find them, even if they’re at full retail price because the season has just started
  • Likewise, it’s probably worth increasing my clothes budget, considering things even if they’re more than a hundred dollars a piece
  • If I shopped more frequently instead of waiting until I needed something, it might be less stressful
  • Medium-term, I should learn what alterations can do and how much they would add to the price of an item
  • Long-term, I’m probably best served by learning how to sew. Then I can make the basics of my wardrobe in whatever styles and colours I want.

2015-02-10e Shop or sew -- index card #clothing #sewing #shopping

2015-02-10e Shop or sew – index card #clothing #sewing #shopping

2015-02-11d Do I want to invest in clothes or in sewing -- index card #sewing #clothing -- ref 2015-02-10

2015-02-11d Do I want to invest in clothes or in sewing – index card #sewing #clothing – ref 2015-02-10

I ended up wearing my office clothes (a blazer, blouse, and black slacks) to the family event, and that worked out just fine. But I didn’t want to end up in this situation again, so I decided to work on desensitizing myself when it comes to this shopping thing. After all, I remember going from “Waah, this is overwhelming!” to “Actually, this is pretty interesting” in terms of shopping at Home Depot, so maybe I could do that with clothes as well.

While organizing my wardrobe, I realized that I had donated many of the T-shirts that I used to pair with skirts. I had a lot of technical tops, but they didn’t go with slacks or skirts. For example, I didn’t have anything to pair with the purple skirt I’d stored with my other summer things. I added T-shirts to my shopping list. When I saw a nice relaxed-fit pink V-neck shirt at Mark’s Work Warehouse, I figured it would go with the purple skirt, my brown skirts, and my jeans. I also picked up an aqua shirt, a light blue shirt, and some khakis. Still couldn’t find any other items I liked, though.

Although there are quite a few beginner and intermediate sewing classes in Toronto, I decided to see how far I could get by learning on my own. After all, I’d already made a couple of skirts and dresses I was passably happy with. If I got stuck, I could always check Youtube for tutorials or reach out to friends.

I remembered struggling with sewing before. Sometimes I’d do something incorrectly out of impatience or ignorance, and then I got frustrated trying to fix things. It was hard to pay enough attention to details. But I’d noticed myself mellowing out over time. I felt more patient now; I acted more deliberately and spoke more slowly than I used to. Maybe it’s growing older, maybe it’s because of the abundance of time in this 5-year experiment, maybe it’s because I stopped drinking tea… Whatever the reason, maybe sewing might work better for me this time around.

2015-02-11c What were the friction factors for sewing last time, and how can I improve -- index card #sewing #kaizen #reducing-friction

2015-02-11c What were the friction factors for sewing last time, and how can I improve – index card #sewing #kaizen #reducing-friction

I knew I’d enjoy things more if I could start with a small success, so I looked for a simple pattern: cotton, no buttons, no zippers, nothing finicky. None of my stashed sewing patterns met those criteria. I thumbed through the patterns at the Workroom (a small sewing studio near Hacklab), but they were more complex than I wanted to start with.

Eventually I found the free Sorbetto pattern from Colette, which also served as my introduction to downloadable patterns. I printed it, cut out my size, and doubled the pattern with newspaper so that I didn’t have to mess about with folds. I’d previously decluttered my fabric collection, but one of the remnants I’d kept was large enough for the pattern.

I deliberately slowed down while making it. Instead of cutting around the pinned pattern, I chalked the outline of the pattern first, and then I cut that. Instead of cutting on the basement floor (where cats would definitely interfere), I cut on the large square coffee table in the living room. Instead of trying to use the sewing machine’s guidelines for my seams, I chalked all my seam lines. Instead of eyeballing the darts, I chalked the dart lines and the centre lines. I cut and picked out the mistakes I made in staystitching or basting. I neatened the thread tails as I sewed. Instead of using store-bought bias tape, I made bias tape from the same fabric. I zigzagged the other edges instead of using my serger.

2015-02-23 13.48.13It took me a while, but it was a pleasant while, and now I have a top that I’m happy with wearing either on its own or over a blouse. More than that, I have a pattern for as many tops as I want, and the knowledge that that’s one less thing I have to worry about buying when the stores have the right style, the right size, and the right colour.

I think I’ll make this in:

  • black (to pair with a black skirt, if I need to be more formal),
  • white (to pair with everything),
  • red (because that’s fun),
  • and maybe some geeky pattern that’s in line with my interests, to wear to Hacklab and events as a conversation piece? Even better if I could wear it to the office and still blend in as I’m walking through the corridor. Maybe a subtle print? Spoonflower has lots of geeky patterns, but none of them particularly appealed to me because they signal geekiness without actually being my flavour of geekiness.
    • Not really me: chemistry, circuit boards, moustaches, hornrims, calculators, video games
    • More like me: Emacs, tracking, cats, cooking, doodling, blogging, Greek/Roman philosophy

So maybe I’ll stick with solids for now. =)

I turned some scraps into a hair clip, since that felt like a more restrained way to match things than to have a scarf of the same print. Matching things tickles my brain – my mom can tell stories about how I wanted dresses with matching bags when I was a kid. Even now, I like it when people echo colours in their accessories. I’m looking forward to playing around with that through sewing, although maybe with more solids rather than prints.

Whee!

Related sketches:

Trying on common goals

I’ve been thinking a lot about goals lately, thanks to a few discussions with friends. I don’t feel particularly driven by big, hairy, audacious goals (BHAGs). Instead, I focus on small wins and low-hanging fruit, accumulating progress. I don’t have a clear picture of exactly where I’d like to be in 40 years. Instead, I have a multiplicity of posibilities.

But maybe I’m not a special snowflake, and I can learn from the kinds of goals many people have. It’s fun to put on a different hat and try things out. By trying on common goals instead of rejecting them off-hand, maybe I’ll figure out more about what I really want and how to get there.

2015-01-21 What if I tried on common goals -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 What if I tried on common goals – index card #popular-goals

Aristotle says that happiness is the ultimate goal.

2015-01-21 Playing with popular goals - Happiness -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Playing with popular goals – Happiness – index card #popular-goals

I find it helpful to think of happiness as a response to life instead of as an external state to pursue, so this goal feels a little odd to me. But it’s interesting to imagine a happy 90-year-old Sacha and what that life would be like. I think it involves building specific warm-and-fuzzy memories, maintaining a good perspective, and minimizing stressors.

Let’s take a look at other typical goals: wealth, power, fame, and knowledge/experiences.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Wealth -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Wealth – index card #popular-goals

This might be the easiest of goals to desire, since it’s popular and measurable. Based on my reading, I imagine that conspicuous wealth will bring more problems than I’d like, so I don’t aspire to high-flying lifestyles. I value freedom, so it makes sense to have a financial buffer and to avoid becoming too accustomed to luxuries. That increases my security, which allows me to do more experiments. (I’m already privileged as it is!) Tools can be good investments, and it’s great to be able to strategically use money to make a bigger difference. Money also makes decisions easier: instead of worrying about cutting into your safety margin, you can try things out and see what happens.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Power -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Power – index card #popular-goals

Power includes determining your life and influencing other people’s lives. I definitely care about having power over myself, but I’m not driven by the idea of making big decisions that affect thousands of people’s lives.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Fame -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Fame – index card #popular-goals

I think I care more about depth of connection (tribe) than about breadth of fame (celebrity). I’m not sure about legacy. On one hand, it’s good to do things that are remarkable enough to help or inspire people throughout the years. On the other hand, what do we do that will matter after a century, and how can we get things to even be remembered for that long? I’ll think about this a little more while reading history. What makes essays resonate with me even after all that time, and how can I also reach across the years?

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Knowledge or experience -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Knowledge or experience – index card #popular-goals

I like the goal of learning more so that I can appreciate life better, maintain my independence, contribute meaningfully, and make better decisions.

I focus more on knowledge in the sketch above, but I think the popular approach to this goal is to focus on experiences. Bucket lists are practically all about experiences: seeing this country, climbing that mountain. That’s why travel is so big, I guess. What kinds of experiences would I like to have if I were to travel more?

2015-01-24 Thinking about collecting experiences -- index card #goals #experiences

2015-01-24 Thinking about collecting experiences – index card #goals #experiences

I currently don’t like traveling, but it’ll probably be less of a hassle now that I’ve gotten my Canadian passport sorted out.

2015-01-23 What would help me enjoy travel -- index card

2015-01-23 What would help me enjoy travel – index card

Still, with J- in school and three cats at home, it’s hard to plan. Maybe this will be something for later.

2015-01-25 On the other hand - travel -- index card #travel #learning #cooking

2015-01-25 On the other hand – travel – index card #travel #learning #cooking

Besides, I’m not totally convinced that travel is the best way to learn these things. It was fun being immersed in a language and going to local shops. But traveling to learn more about cooking seems a little wasteful, since airfare alone will buy lots of ingredients (and even personalized cooking classes). Staying home means I focus on cooking dishes I can enjoy long-term, and I can take advantage of our kitchen setup. So there’s an advantage to staying home, too.

What about other intrinsic goals?

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Health -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Health – index card #popular-goals

Health makes sense, since your enjoyment of many things can be curtailed by poor health. I probably won’t strive for buffed-up awesomeness, though. I’m mostly focusing on functioning all right, with maybe a little effort here and there to do a bit better.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Meaning -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Meaning – index card #popular-goals

People want to make a difference at work and in their relationships. Many people feel that their work doesn’t matter a lot. Despite the abstraction of my work (I move bits around? I crunch numbers and questions? I write tools for a tiny, tiny fraction of the world?), I’m pretty good at convincing myself I have a small impact. =) Do I want to trade up by focusing on work that has a bigger impact (either for more people, or deeper in people’s lives? I don’t know yet.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - tranquility, equanimity -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Tranquility, equanimity – index card #popular-goals

I like this goal the most. Stoicism tells me that it’s the one thing under my control. It transforms the ups and downs of life into opportunities for growth. It doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy things, I just shouldn’t get so attached to them that I become afraid. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be sad, it means I can try to take a different perspective on things.

Hmm. Trying on popular goals helped me take advantage of the collective centuries (millennia?) of thought that have gone into those goals. I still have to come up with my own specifics, but it’s good to be able to quickly test what resonates with me instead of trying to formulate everything by myself. If tranquility, happiness, and knowledge are my major goals (with health as the goal I know I should have), I can focus on coming up with specific ways I want to explore those areas.

Do you resonate with some common goals? What are they, and what are you learning from that?

Tell the difference between diminishing returns and compounding growth when it comes to investing in skills

When is it worth improving a skill you’re already good at, and when should you focus on other things?

I started thinking about this after a conversation about what it means to master the Emacs text editor. Someone wondered if the additional effort was really worth it. As I explored the question, I noticed that skills respond differently to the investment of time, and I wondered what the difference was.

For example, going from hunt-and-peck typing to touch-typing is a big difference. Instead of having to think about typing, you can focus on what you want to communicate or do. But after a certain point, getting faster at typing doesn’t give you as much of a boost in productivity. You get diminishing returns: investing into that skill yields less over time. If I type a little over 100 words per minute, retraining bad habits and figuring out other optimizations so that I can reach a rate of 150 words per minute isn’t going to make a big difference if the bottleneck is my brain. (Just in case I’m wrong about this, I’d be happy to hear from people who type that fast about whether it was worth it!)

Some skills seem shallow. There’s only so much you can gain from them before they taper off. Other skills are deeper. Let’s take writing, for instance. You can get to the point of being able to competently handwrite or type. You can fluently express yourself. But when it comes to learning how to ask questions and organize thoughts I’m not sure there’s a finish line at which you can say you’ve mastered writing. There’s always more to learn. And the more you learn, the more you can do. You get compounding growth: investing into that skill yields more over time.

I think this is part of the appeal of Emacs for me. Even after more than a decade of exploring it and writing about it, I don’t feel I’m at the point of diminishing returns. In fact, even the small habits that I’ve been focusing on building lately yield a lot of value.

No one can objectively say that a skill is shallow or deep. It depends on your goals. For example, I think of cooking as a deep skill. The more you develop your skills, the wider your possibilities are, and the more enjoyable it becomes. But if you look at it from the perspective of simply keeping yourself fueled so that you can concentrate on other things, then it makes sense to find a few simple recipes that satisfy you, or outsource it entirely by eating out.

It’s good to take a step back and ask yourself: What kind of value will you get from investing an hour into this? What about the value you would get from investing an hour in other things?

Build on your strengths where building on those strengths can make a difference. It can make a lot of sense to reach a professional level in something or inch towards becoming world-class. It could be the advantage that gets you a job, compensates for your weakness, opens up opportunities, or connects you to people. On the other hand, you might be overlearning something and wasting your time, or developing skills to a level that you don’t actually need.

When you hit that area of diminishing returns – or even that plateau of mediocrity – you can think about your strategies for moving forward. Consider:

  • What kind of return are you getting on your time? (understanding the value)
  • Is there a more effective way to learn? (decreasing your input)
  • Can you get more value out of your time from this skill or other skills? (increasing your output)
  • If you learn something else first,
    • will that make more of a difference in your life?
    • will that help you when you come back to this skill?

These questions are helping me decide that for me, learning more about colours is worthwhile, but drawing more realistic figures might not be at the moment; learning more about basic Emacs habits is better than diving into esoteric packages; and exploring questions, doing research, and trying things out is likely to be more useful than expanding my vocabulary. I’ll still flip through the dictionary every now and then, but I can focus on developing other skills.

How about you? What are you focusing on, and what helps you decide?

Related:

Using Emacs to prepare files for external applications like Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

To make it easier to draw using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my laptop (a Lenovo X220 tablet PC), I’ve created several templates with consistent dot grids and sizes. Since I want to minimize typing when I’m drawing, I wrote a couple of functions to make it easier to copy these templates and set up appropriately-named files. That way, I can save them without the grid layer, flip between files using Sketchbook Pro’s next/previous file commands, and then process them all when I’m ready.

Index cards

I’ve been experimenting with a habit of drawing at least five index cards every day. Here’s a function that creates five index cards (or a specified number of them) and then opens the last one for me to edit.

(defvar sacha/autodesk-sketchbook-executable "C:/Program Files/Autodesk/SketchBook Pro 7/SketchBookPro.exe")
(defun sacha/prepare-index-cards (n)
  (interactive (list (or current-prefix-arg 5)))
  (let ((counter 1)
        (directory "~/Dropbox/Inbox")
        (template "c:/data/drawing-templates/custom/0 - index.tif")
        (date (org-read-date nil nil "."))
        temp-file)
    (while (> n 0)
      (setq temp-file
            (expand-file-name (format "%s-%d.tif" date counter)
                              directory))
      (unless (file-exists-p temp-file)
        (copy-file template temp-file)
        (setq n (1- n))
        (if (= n 0)
            (shell-command
             (concat (shell-quote-argument sacha/autodesk-sketchbook-executable)
                     " "
                     (shell-quote-argument temp-file) " &"))))
      (setq counter (1+ counter)))))

Afterwards, I call sacha/rename-scanned-cards function to convert the TIFFs to PNGs, display the files and ask me to rename them properly.

Rename scanned index cards

(defun sacha/rename-scanned-cards ()
  "Display and rename the scanned files."
  (interactive)
  (when (directory-files "~/Dropbox/Inbox" t "^[0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+-.*.tif")
    ;; Convert the TIFFs first
    (apply 'call-process "mogrify" nil nil nil "-format" "png" "-quality" "1"
           (directory-files "~/Dropbox/Inbox" t "^[0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+-.*.tif"))
    (mapc (lambda (x)
            (rename-file x "~/Dropbox/Inbox/backup"))
          (directory-files "~/Dropbox/Inbox" t "^[0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+-.*.tif")))
  (mapc (lambda (filename)
          (find-file filename)
          (delete-other-windows)
          (when (string-match "/\\([0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+\\)" filename)
            (let ((kill-buffer-query-functions nil)
                  (new-name (read-string "New name: "
                                         (concat (match-string 1 filename) " "))))
              (when (> (length new-name) 0)
                (revert-buffer t t)
                (rename-file filename (concat new-name ".png"))
                (kill-buffer)))))
        (directory-files "~/Dropbox/Inbox" t "^[0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+-.*.png")))

I might tweak the files a little more after I rename them, so I don’t automatically upload them. When I’m happy with the files, I use a Node script to upload the files to Flickr, move them to my To blog directory, and copy Org-formatted text that I can paste into my learning outline.

Automatically resize images

The image+ package is handy for displaying the images so that they’re scaled to the window size.

(use-package image+
 :load-path "~/elisp/Emacs-imagex"
 :init (progn (imagex-global-sticky-mode) (imagex-auto-adjust-mode)))

Get information for sketched books

For sketchnotes of books, I set up the filename based on properties in my Org Mode tree for that book.

(defun sacha/prepare-sketchnote-file ()
  (interactive)
  (let* ((base-name (org-entry-get-with-inheritance  "BASENAME"))
         (filename (expand-file-name (concat base-name ".tif") "~/dropbox/inbox/")))
    (unless base-name (error "Missing basename property"))
    (if (file-exists-p filename)
        (error "File already exists")
        (copy-file "g:/drawing-templates/custom/0 - base.tif" filename))
      (shell-command (concat (shell-quote-argument sacha/autodesk-sketchbook-executable)
                             (shell-quote-argument filename) " &"))))

By using Emacs Lisp functions to set up files that I’m going to use in an external application, I minimize fussing about with the keyboard while still being able to take advantage of structured information.

Do you work with external applications? Where does it make sense to use Emacs Lisp to make setup or processing easier?