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Hunt, Gather, and Build: A Review of “Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method”

Hunt, Gather, and Build: A Review of “Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method”

Fieldstone Wall

    Gerald M. Weinberg has written dozens of books and hundreds of articles on computers, technology, consulting, and the craft of composition.  Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method is an excellent survey of the methods he has used in order to produce this voluminous output.  The comprehensive table of contents provides the reader with a clear, useful map of what lies ahead, and the exercises sprinkled throughout this short, readable book make it a valuable addition to any writer’s bookshelf.

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    Weinberg on Writing cover

      (p. 6). Weinberg begins with a clear principle that we would all do well to take to heart: you can’t write about things you don’t care about.  You might be able to type about things you don’t care about, but if your heart isn’t in it, it is likely to be flat, boring, and uninspiring.  Thus, one exercise he suggests is to try to take assignments that don’t look very interesting at the beginning and turn them into things we would like to write about.

      There is a double benefit to taking this kind of risk.  First, we get to change the boring and uninspiring into the exciting and meaningful by applying a little creativity.  Second, we can separate ourselves from the crowd by turning in something important rather than something that is simply “assigned.”

      2.  You need to collect stones before you can build.  In other words, you need something to write about before you can start writing.  Most of these stones will be useful in one project or another: as Weinberg notes (p. 15), for people who are working on multiple projects at any given time, gathering stones and putting them in appropriate project-specific piles brings us closer to completion.

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      This can also be dangerous, though, because gathering stones can be a kind of unproductive procrastination.  Balance is the key, and you should work on projects with an eye toward completion rather than mere accumulation.

      3.  How we react to the ideas we have is what is important (pp. 18-21).  It isn’t that we have too many ideas, or even usually too few.  Organizing the ideas we do have (when we have too many) and finding new ideas (when we have too few) helps us break through “writer’s block.”  If we aren’t sure what to do with the ideas once we have them, we can start relating to them by writing “blah blah blah blah…” or “X X X X…” until we decide to start writing something else (p. 128).  A key to writing is to overcome the fear of engaging with our ideas.

      4.  Be an alert intellectual entrepreneur.  Weinberg “cannot take a trip anywhere–in real space or virtual space–without coming home with a collection of ‘stones.'”  Ideas are out there–we have to be on the lookout for them, and most of the work of gathering those ideas will be done incrementally.

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      5.  Learn by copying.  Hunter S. Thompson used to re-type the work of Hemingway in order to get a feel for great writing.  Weinberg suggests doing something similar: copy samples of what we think of as great writing, and then reflect on the process.  Over time, we develop a better feel for good and bad writing.

      6.  Practice continuous capture.  Being a fieldstone writer, according to Weinberg, is about constantly having the resources needed to capture ideas.  There are obvious parallels between Weinberg’s fieldstone method and the “collect” and “organize” components of David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done methodology.  Where Allen discusses these activities in the abstract, Weinberg offers concrete examples in the context of a very specific task: writing.

      7.  Recycle.  Weinberg devotes a lot of space to borrowing and stealing from both fiction and non-fiction and argues that both can be done very effectively.  Imitation is bad style, but a writer who steals from and improves on others’ work is advancing the craft (astute readers will note that I stole this from T.S. Eliot).

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      8.  If you’re passionate about writing, don’t skimp on capital (chapter 7).  Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s a bad investment if it really improves your writing.  Over the summer, I bought a MacBook Air that goes with me virtually everywhere and that is ridiculously easy to use.  It wasn’t cheap, but it has improved my productivity.

      9.  Just get it on paper already.  It won’t be perfect.  Nothing is, and nothing ever will be.  However, an idea that is written down is much closer to perfection–or at least completion–than one that isn’t.

      10.  Be merciless with revisions and criticism, but know when to stop.  On one hand, you should make every word prove itself.  If there is any doubt whether it should be invited to the party, remove it.  On the other hand, it is easy to turn this into an unhealthy obsession.  Compare marginal costs and marginal benefits: if the marginal cost of one more revision is higher than the marginal benefit, then it’s good enough.

      I have heard it said that the best way to learn to write well is to begin by writing poorly.  Just as one can’t learn to run marathons by reading about it or by watching runners on TV, one cannot become a writer by reading about writing or by watching other people write.  This might help, but the process of composition is a process of exploration and experimentation where the efficacy of a given phrase, sentence, paragraph, or chapter may not become apparent until after it has been written.  The method described by Weinberg brings this into high relief through an arresting metaphor and the use of clear principles, and the principles he discusses will prove a worthy addition to the writer’s toolkit.

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      Art Carden

      Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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      Last Updated on April 9, 2020

      How To Trust Your Intuition When You’re Making a Decision

      How To Trust Your Intuition When You’re Making a Decision

      When you have an important decision to make, what is the first thing you do?

      You want to know if your decision is right or wrong because, of course, you want to make the right choice. Do you go to friends hoping they will tell you? Do you agonize over it writing lists? Or have you ever tried to feel into the wisdom of your body? We all have the ability to read the body’s signs – inwards and out. But not everyone knows how to listen and trust your intuition.

      You may have noticed two voices in your head arguing back and forth. They can get loud and confusing because they both seem concerned for your well-being.

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      So which one is your inner knowing and which is simply resistant? You can tell through the simple exercise of slowing down, breathing deeply and tuning into your body. You will notice very real signs.

      Everyone can tune into their intuition with the simple exercise outlined below. If you want to know how to trust your intuition, read on.

      The Golden Rule

      A rising, light and expansive feeling in your heart is a yes. A sinking, contracting and heavy feeling in your gut is a maybe or a no, which are both a no. The best way to access these feelings is by slowing down with a deep breath.

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      Access Your Inner Guidance

      Think of a simple decision you have to make that has two sides to it. Forgetting your background stories, take each at a time and sort of role play as you alternate each option in your mind.

      Don’t go into the details of how you’ll get there or how a certain person might feel about it. Drop the stories and worries around it, simply be with one option, as though it is your choice. Remember, you can always pick up your concerns again right afterwards, if you want!

      Bring option A into your mind like you are already there. It doesn’t have to be super specific, just imagine it is the direction you take. Start with the breath because it is clearing, it resets your nervous system and brings you to be completely present. Begin with your long, deep breath, exhaling all the way out.

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      As you sit there and think of option A, notice what is happening in your body. What sensations are there, and where? Do you feel a buzzing in a limb or a prickling sensation? Maybe butterflies in your stomach? Sit with it, not judging it. Simply take note of what your body is telling you. If it is light and expansive then you have a good option. Now, take another breath to clear out option A.

      Next you will probably notice feelings in different parts of your body as you focus on option B. Again, drop the fear and doubt you might have around it. Let yourself imagine (just for now) that this is what you’re choosing. Your breath is so important in this because it slows you down and connects you with your inner guidance. Give yourself that few extra seconds to deepen your breath. It will help you feel incredibly clear.

      Become curious about the feelings in your body and how they are different from the last option. What do they mean? The answer is always in the weight of them. If they rise and feel light, you have your yes. The option that feels shrouded, heavier, contracted and sinking deeper in your stomach is the warning. It sounds simplistic, because it is.

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      Your body has a profound and simple wisdom. When you let go of old expectations and open up to myriad possibilities, you can easily feel the best avenue to take simply by following what feels best. This is an important key in manifestation because how you feel at the start of any endeavor is generally how it will play out. So the lighter you feel about a situation, the happier it will be.

      The Bottom Line

      A special thing about intuition is that it never explains, it simply points the way. It may not always seem logical, but if it feels best then it will lead you to your success.

      Remember, you need not to explain yourself either. Your internal yes will always be with you. The more you practice this and follow your internal yes, the stronger it will become and the more confidence you will gain! Soon you will notice it to be second nature, and the answer will come to you in a heart beat.

      How have you connected to your intuition? We would love to hear how this exercise works for you. Where did you feel the yes or the no in your body? 

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      Featured photo credit: Adrià García Sarceda via unsplash.com

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