writing / note-taking / living in the tropics

Our first task manager

Five notebooks: one each for maths and science, two for languages--English and the mother tongue. At times, the school may require another notebook for physical education or the arts or religious teachings. But the last one, the most important, is the assignment notebook.

The assignment notebook was our first task manager. It collects everything that must be done by the students and must be known to the parents. It was where the teacher would staple or paste the class requirements (bring colors tomorrow, answer this math homework, sign this waiver for a class trip, topics to review for exams). Where we, the young lucky learners, were required to copy what the teacher had last written on the board before proceeding to the next subject. Its crumpled pages1 were what the parents or guardians habitually check after their kid's classes are over for the day.

Those grade school days are already over but I still use an assignment notebook. Transformed many times to implement other techniques I come across--David Allen's GTD, Mark Forster's Autofocus System, and lately the Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll2--to shoulder the growing responsibilities of an aging human, these assignment notebooks now feel difficult to dispose of. No longer limited to a kid's or a teen's early responsibilities of completing homework and projects, it now holds memories of when I last did a task, how I felt during an event, what I thought I might do. I've grown used to planning, reviewing, and reminiscing. Jotting down thoughts, capturing the moments and expanding them later. It reflects what I want to do (what I'd rather do) alongside the tasks others want me to do.

The assignment notebook is my first step to productivity, my first task manager. And despite the abundance of todo apps and project managers3, it's still my preferred method in making the most of this one life.

  1. As a kid still learning how to write and regularly making mistakes on the shapes and order of letters, I did erase a lot and the pages ended up crumpled since I wasn't that gentle. 

  2. These are major ones that I've tried. The GTD didn't work well because I keep tweaking it. Autofocus was great, but it became harder to just be. So far, the Bullet Journal Method is mediating well between rest and responsibilities. 

  3. Oh, I tried a lot of these too, for collaboration and because "shiny new thing I saw a friend use". I still kept returning to paper. 

Learning to Write Again: Resources

I hope these books, selected from a longer list of recommendations by friends and search results, will guide me as I learn to write again.

  1. Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters by Harold Evans
  2. Reading Critically, Writing Well by Rise B. Axelrod, Charles R. Cooper, Ellen C. Carillo
  3. Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
  4. The Artful Edit by Susan Bell
  5. The Editor's Companion by Steve Dunham
  6. The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing by Michael Harvey
  7. The Writer's Practice by John Warner
  8. Why They Can't Write by John Warner
  9. Writing Science in Plain English by Anne E. Greene
  10. They Say/I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein
  11. Fundamentals of Good Writing - A Handbook of Modern Rhetoric by Cleanth Brooks
  12. Have You Eaten Grandma by Gyles Brandreth
  13. How Writing Works by Roslyn Petelyn
  14. What Editors Do by Peter Ginna (Editor)
  15. What Is Good Writing by Geoffrey J Huck
  16. Writing to be Understood by Anne Janzer
  17. Writing Without Bullshit by Josh Bernoff

I also received some recommendations on must-read essays and essayists based on my response: "Oh, I liked Virginia Woolf" despite remembering only one essay of hers--"The Death of the Moth" as it was included in an English class.

  • Think, Write, Speak by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Literary Education by Joseph Einstein
  • Joan Didion
  • William Safire
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Zadie Smith
  • Audre Lorde

I forgot some authors and collections, but that's alright. As long as I continue my learning, I'll eventually encounter them.

Learning to Write: Into the Land of Writing

During my schooling, I sometimes felt disappointed by the grades I received for what were essentially drafts, early exercises of compositions. Some were marked high because, despite some errors, I managed to argue for the same stance my teacher would take. Some were low because of those errors and because my thinking was not in line with my teacher's preferred thoughts. So hampered by the institutional measures of intellect, I did not learn to write to improve my thinking; I learned, admittedly not well enough, to write to appeal to one audience: the giver of grades. Believing that this failing can still be rescued, I am learning to write again. Not for a teacher, but for my thinking; not to have a good grade, but to have a good skill.

So where do I start?
Finding the way to anywhere involves four questions:

  1. Where are you right now?
  2. Where do you want to be?
  3. How many routes are there to get to your desired destination?
  4. Which route do you want to take?

The fourth is the easiest to answer. People often look for the "best", "easy", and "quick" ways to do things. I'm the same. So I searched online, read through a lot of hacks and tips and how-to articles. They're not all bad, and most make sense since they simply repeat other people's best advices. But I got too full too fast, and still without an inkling of how to write my thoughts my way. Should I hire a coach? Another possible answer to question three. Other than the obvious "write a lot", being taught to write again will probably be the most helpful. But it's not something I can afford, so it's a quick no to that. Join a writing community? Possibly maybe. Workshops and all that. Still, the cost. The Pressure. All the musts.

In the end, I can only turn to books. They contain more knowledge, are a lot cheaper than paid-by-the-hour coaching, and less demanding than a writing community. But which books to read? English is my second language and I learned its rules of grammar. I may lack practice, may forget some rules, but these are remedied by more practice and quick search. What I want is to think sentence after sentence, to work through ideas one paragraph to the next and, the most crucial for me, be understood.

Many writing books advise you on how to start, format, finish, and get published. Are there any books that will guide you to write so readers understand you? Yes, fortunately. Editing books tell you to cut the unnecessary so the main points are easy to see, clear up the clutter so readers see the ideas you have. Writing guides by editors also emphasize writing that is read well.

Knowing this, I can start.