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

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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.

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      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 July 20, 2021

      How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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      How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

      You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

      Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

      Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

      Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

      1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

      According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

      “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

      Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

      Warming up

      If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

      If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

      Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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      1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
      2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
      3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

      Stay hydrated

      Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

      To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

      Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

      Meditate

      Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

      Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

      Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

      Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

      2. Focus on your goal

      One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

      Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

      Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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      Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

      If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

      3. Convert negativity to positivity

      There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

      ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

      It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

      Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

      Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

      Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

      4. Understand your content

      Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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      However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

      “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

      Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

      Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

      One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

      5. Practice makes perfect

      Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

      In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

      Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

      6. Be authentic

      There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

      Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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      Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

      To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

      With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

      Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

      7. Post speech evaluation

      Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

      Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

      We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

      You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

      Improve your next speech

      As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

      Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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      • How did I do?
      • Are there any areas for improvement?
      • Did I sound or look stressed?
      • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
      • Was I saying “um” too often?
      • How was the flow of the speech?

      Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

      If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

      Reference

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