The Fieldstone Method is Jerry Weinberg’s way of gathering material to write about, using that material effectively, and using the time spent working the material efficiently. Although I’ve read much of Weinberg’s work I’d never got round to Weinberg on Writing until last month, and after several prompts from one of my colleagues.
In the book, Weinberg describes his process in terms of an extended analogy between writing and building dry stone walls which – to do it no justice at all – goes something like this:
- Do not wait until you start writing to start thinking about writing.
- Gather your stones (interesting thoughts, suggestions, stories, pictures, quotes, connections, ideas) as you come across them.
- Always have multiple projects on the go at once.
- Maintain a pile of stones (a list of your gathered ideas) that you think will suit each project.
- As you gather a stone, drop it onto the most suitable pile.
- Also maintain a pile for stones you find attractive but have no project for at the moment.
- When you come to write on a project, cast your eyes over the stones you have selected for it.
- Be inspired by the stones, by their variety and their similarities.
- Handle the stones, play with them, organise them, reorganise them.
- Really feel the stones.
- Use stones (and in a second metaphor they are also periods of time) opportunistically.
- When you get stuck on one part of a project move to another part.
- When you get stuck on one project move to another project.
The approach felt extremely familiar to me. Here’s the start of an email I sent just over a year ago, spawned out of a Twitter conversation about organising work:
I like to have text files around [for each topic] so that as soon as I have a thought I can drop it into the file and get it out of my head. When I have time to work on whatever the thing is, I have the collected material in one place. Often I find that getting material together is a hard part of writing, so having a bunch of stuff that I can play with, re-order etc helps to spur the writing process.
For my blogging I have a ton of open text files:
You can see this one, Fieldstoning_notes.txt and, to the right of it, another called notes.txt which is collected thoughts about how I take notes (duh!) that came out of a recent workshop on note-taking (DUH!) at our local meetup.
I’ve got enough in that file now to write about it next, but first here’s a few of the stones I took from Weinberg on Writing itself:
Never attempt to write what you don’t care about.
Real professional writers seldom write one thing at a time.
The broader the audience, the more difficult the writer’s job.
Most often [people] stop writing because they do not understand the essential randomness involved in the creative process.
… it’s not the number of ideas that blocks you, it’s your reaction to the number of ideas.
Fieldstoning is about always doing something that’s advancing your writing projects.
The key to effective writing is the human emotional response to the stone.
If I’ve been looking for snug fits while gathering, I have much less mortaring to do when I’m finishing
Don’t get it right; get it written.
“Sloppy work” is not the opposite of “perfection.” Sloppy work is the opposite of the best you can do at the time.