Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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.

      Advertising

      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.

      Advertising

      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).

      Advertising

      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.

      More by this author

      21st Century Opportunities Learning from A Master: Review of “Bear Bryant, CEO” On “The Substance of Style” Productivity Hints from Booker T. Washington Get Rich(er)

      Trending in Communication

      1 How to Practice Positive Thinking And Change Your Life 2 12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life 3 What Makes a Good Leader? 10 Essential Leadership Qualities 4 How Not to Be Boring (And Start to Be More Interesting) 5 11 Tips for Maintaining Your Positive Attitude

      Read Next

      Advertising
      Advertising
      Advertising

      Last Updated on September 12, 2019

      12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

      12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

      Even the most charismatic people you know, whether in person or celebrities of some sort, experience days where they feel lost in life and isolated from everyone else.

      While it’s good to know we aren’t alone in this feeling, the question still remains:

      What should we do when we feel lost and lonely?

      Here are 12 things to remember:

      1. Recognize That It’s Okay!

      The truth is, there are times you need to be alone. If you’ve always been accustomed to being in contact with people, this may prove difficult.

      However, learning how to be alone and comfortable in your own skin will give you confidence and a sense of self reliance.

      We cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to become self reliant when we look for constant companionship.

      Learn how to embrace your me time: What Your Fear of Being Alone Is Really About and How to Get over It

      Advertising

      2. Use Your Lost and Loneliness as a Self-Directing Guide

      You’ve most likely heard the expression: “You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.”

      Loneliness also serves as a life signal to indicate you’re in search of something. It’s when we’re in the midst of solitude that answers come from true soul searching.

      Remember, there is more to life than what you’re feeling.

      3. Realize Loneliness Helps You Face the Truth

      Being in the constant company of others, although comforting sometimes, can often serve as a distraction when we need to face the reality of a situation.

      Solitude cuts straight to the chase and forces you to deal with the problem at hand. See it as a blessing that can serve as a catalyst to set things right!

      4. Be Aware That You Have More Control Than You Think

      Typically, when we see ourselves as being lost or lonely, it gives us an excuse to view everything we come in contact with in a negative light. It lends itself to putting ourselves in the victim mode, when the truth of the matter is that you choose your attitude in every situation.

      No one can force a feeling upon you! It is YOU who has the ultimate say as to how you choose to react.

      5. Embrace the Freedom That the Feeling of Being Alone Can Offer

      Instead of wallowing in self pity, which many are prone to do because of loneliness, try looking at your circumstance as a new-found freedom.

      Advertising

      Most people are in constant need of approval of their viewpoints. Try enjoying the fact that  you don’t need everyone you care about to support your decisions.

      6. Acknowledge the Person You Are Now

      Perhaps you feel a sense of loneliness and confusion because your life circumstances have taken you away from the persona that others know to be you.

      Perhaps the new you differs radically from the old. Realize that life is about change and how we react to that change. It’s okay that you’re not who you used to be.

      Take a look at this article and learn to accept your imperfect self: Accept Yourself (Flaws and All): 7 Benefits of Being Vulnerable

      7. Keep Striving to Do Your Best

      Often those who are feeling isolated and unto themselves will develop a defeatist attitude. They’ll do substandard work because their self esteem is low and they don’t care.

      Never let this feeling take away your sense of worth! Do your best always and when you come through this dark time, others will admire how you stayed determined in spite of the obstacles you had to overcome.

      And to live your best life, you must do this ONE thing: step out of your comfort zone.

      8. Don’t Forget That Time Is Precious

      When we’re lost in a sea of loneliness and depression, it’s all too easy to reflect on regrets of past life events. This does nothing but feed negativity and perpetuate the situation.

      Advertising

      Instead of falling prey to this common pitfall, put one foot in front of the other and acknowledge every positive step you take. By doing this, you can celebrate the struggles you overcome at the end of the day.

      9. Remember, Things Happen for a Reason

      Every circumstance we encounter in our life is designed to teach us and that lesson is in turn passed on to others.

      Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to figure out the lesson to be learned, while other times, we simply need to have faith that if the lesson wasn’t meant directly for us to learn from, how we handled it was observed by someone who needed to learn.

      Your solitude and feeling of lost, in this instance, although painful possibly, may be teaching someone else.

      10. Journal During This Time

      Record your thoughts when you’re at the height of loneliness and feeling lost. You’ll be amazed when you reflect back at how you viewed things at the time and how far you’ve come later.

      This time (if recorded) can give you a keen insight into who you are and what makes you feel the way you feel.

      11. Remember You Aren’t the First to Feel This Way

      It’s quite common to feel as if we’re alone and no one else has ever felt this way before. We think this because at the time of our distress, we’re silently observing others around us who are seemingly fine in every way.

      The truth is, we can’t possibly know the struggles of those around us unless they elect to share them. We ALL have known this pain!

      Advertising

      Try confiding in someone you trust and ask them how they deal with these feelings when they experienced it. You may be surprised at what you learn.

      12. Ask for Help If the Problem Persists

      The feeling of being lost and lonely is common to everyone, but typically it will last for a relatively short period of time.

      Most people will confess to, at one time or another, being in a “funk.” But if the problem persists longer than you feel it should, don’t ignore it.

      When your ability to reason and consider things rationally becomes impaired, do not poo poo the problem away and think it isn’t worthy of attention. Seek medical help.

      Afraid to ask for help? Here’s how to change your outlook to aim high!

      Final Thoughts

      Loneliness and a sense of feeling lost can in many ways be extremely painful and difficult to deal with at best. However, these feelings can also serve as a catalyst for change in our lives if we acknowledge them and act.

      Above anything, cherish your mental well being and don’t underestimate its worth. Seek professional guidance if you’re unable to distinguish between a sense of freedom for yourself and a sense of despair.

      More About Finding Yourself

      Featured photo credit: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com

      Read Next