The Case Against Writing Backlogs

If you have things you want to write about, I’ll make a case against keeping a large backlog.

Immediacy and Inspiration

It’s more useful to write about experiences at a recent conference right now instead of two months from now. The time delay not only dampens memory, it also weakens excitement. It definitely helps to write about things when I am first excited or think about them, because once the enthusiasm fades it feels more difficult.

Topics that I once thought were fascinating are no longer so after I have been exposed to them for awhile. Strike while you are inspired with learning, because after that energy passes, you are less likely to be interested in it because you have already internalized the concepts. It’s hard to get fired up about something that you see as obvious. Here is a great summary of this idea.

I internally model this as your brain being in roughly a steady state. Something comes around that shakes up your mental models, and the resultant attempt to put your brain back into equilibrium causes a great deal of energy to be put off. After this happens, it’s tough to recreate the level of energy that happened, and it’s also hard to difficult to remember what your brain state previously was.

This goes back to Steve Pavlina’s concept of writing within 48 hours of getting the idea:

I don’t maintain a list of article ideas, I don’t actively brainstorm ideas in advance, and I generally don’t ask for suggestions. I’ve done all of those things in the past, but they don’t work well for me in practice. At one point I had a list of about 200 new article ideas. When I scanned it for something to write about, I was usually bored by everything on it.

If I get a suggestion from someone for a new article, I’ll normally write about it that same day if it excites me. Otherwise I simply let it go. Ideas by themselves have no value to me. There’s an infinite supply of ideas. The present-moment inspired ideas are the ones worth exploring.

Inspirational energy has a half life of about 24 hours. If I act on an idea immediately (or at least within the first few hours), I feel optimally motivated, and I can surf that wave of energy all the way to clicking “Publish.” If I sit on an idea for one day, I feel only half as inspired by it, and I have to paddle a lot more to get it done. If I sit on it for 2 days, the inspiration level has dropped by 75%, and for all practical purposes, the idea is dead. If I try to write it at that point, it feels like pulling teeth. It’s much better for me to let it go and wait for a fresh wave. There will always be another wave, so there’s no need to chase the ones I missed.

Why Writing Backlogs Are Harmful

One problem with maintaining a backlog of things to write about is that the overhead of managing all of those ideas. There is too much work in process, and thinking about too many things causes thrashing. This reminds me of my post on limiting reading work in progress and books in progress.

Keeping a backlog of writing ideas becomes especially problematic when a long lead time between when the ideas are written down and when they are implemented occurs. Often I’ll forget what I was thinking about when I wrote a nugget for a post seed. Or I will read a book and have to re-read parts of it to get the context back. This process causes waste.

It’s certainly possible for cutting-edge ideas to become stale over time. This is also a form of waste.

Of course, it can be tough to get important things done while making time to write. Queueing by utilizing a backlog is one potential path, but a better solution seems to be more frequent and regular writing. By just sitting down and getting the ideas out there right after a new association is made, better writing can actually happen with less effort.

I think having less of a backlog contrasts a bit with the Fieldstone Method of Writing by one of my favorite authors, Jerry Weinberg. However, there seems to be some overlap, in that action with inspiration is easier than action without inspriation.

Do you find that you have too many ideas for posts, or too few? If too few, do you want some ideas? :)

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