Good writing and good conversation seem to have many parallels. In order to continue to write you’re basically having a conversation with yourself and you need to intuitively, or perhaps, sliently whisper the right questions to yourself to prompt an interesting recall or synthesis of information. Asking myself better questions is definitely something I want to improve on. I think this ability, whether conscious or not, underlies the development of long trains of thought. Personally, I don’t feel like I know what the best questions to focus on are. In conversations I can feel there’s a next level that I don’t know how to reach; a way to draw more interesting comments out of someone, if only I knew what to ask. I have the same experience with writing. I will generate a ideas but not be able to take it as far as I want to. I can feel there is a next level to go to, if only someone asked me the right question. Or better yet, if I knew how to ask myself the right question, a flurry of insights would ensue.
But is focusing on asking the right questions the right model? Perhaps this idea is breaking down train of thought too finely to render focusing on the right question paralyzing rather than catalyzing. Yesterday on Twitter I asked “When is the advice not to take it one step at a time? Or are those words of wisdom universally applicable?” I think the answer is that, yes focusing on the next step is always the right thing to do, but the size of the step varies. The extremities run from focusing on only the desired end outcome, while ignoring the process, to focusing on an infinitum of smaller and smaller minutiae like in Zeno’s Paradoxes. In this case, I’m trying to discover what the right level of conscious focus is, to extend the complexity and length of trains of thought.
In reading, for example, first we focus on reading individual letters. Then we graduate to reading individual words. Then a few people move on to reading sentences. And even a smaller select few claim to be able to read paragraphs the same way most people read words. This is essence of what most speed reading programs teach. Those levels are the “what” of faster reading but what’s more interesting is the “how”, because that allows us to know not just what’s possible but achieve it ourselves. I’ve been experimenting with some of these techniques and have been able to get up to the level of reading sentences and thus paragraphs in a few eye movements in situations with few distractions (though those are hard to come by lately). Reading with a purpose is one such technique, but more on specific reading techniques another time.
In writing there is a similar process. We start out with very simple ideas and then string them together to form longer, complex thoughts. What is the technique, the “how” that unlocks the potential to begin connecting multiples of complex thoughts together. I think focusing on the right questions might be one successful approach.
Ultimately, what I’m talking about here is consciously understanding and modeling what many elite figures do intuitively and unconsciously, so if you asked them there’s a good chance they couldn’t articulate how they do what they do. What I hope to talk more about is the tremendous power and flexibility in understanding consciously many of the processes that skilled naturals understand only intuitively.