I wish I could write this well

“I really connected with your writing. You are such a talented writer. I wish I could write this well.” Ah, the praises of the internet comments can really make your day. “I laughed out loud while reading this,” said another. Yeah me too, except I was the one writing those sentences.

I am sure my high school English teacher would have something entirely different to say about that. “Maybe writing is not for you,” would probably be her words. Maybe not in a such direct down-putting tone, since teachers are in general not supposed to discourage people from trying, but you get the idea.

Which got me thinking, why do we refer to someone as talented when we know that they weren’t born with this skill? You weren’t born with the ability to speak, write stories or make computer programs. It’s a skill that you have have learned over time, mostly due to spending a lot of hours in that particular field. Sure, natural capabilities matter when you are competing with the best in the world, but for most people competing with the best is not a part of their daily job.

I started learning English in primary school. I had an English teacher that tried her best to teach English, except her best way of teaching was often quite the opposite of what is best for learning a foreign language. She followed the iron practices that were recommended by the board of education, but after years of following those practices, my ability to write in English came down to jotting down a few lousy sentences and eventually I ran out steam. The only thing that I can remember from those practices, was filling in thick workbooks full of exercises. And papers. So many exercise papers still warm from the printing.

Moving up into high school was a big shock. Somehow, everyone in the room was able to articulate their thoughts on any topic and with such pretentious words, like woefully. I was woefully unprepared for this and I could barely follow the discussion that was going on in the classroom. Despite all the best practices and endless teacher seminars about the best way to learn, following their instructions and filling out tons of exercises somehow didn’t translate into getting better at articulating myself in English.

I was extremely lucky that the internet was already there at the time. The infrastructure was slowly moving from dial-up to broadband connection and I could spend hours reading things from this magic portal of infinite knowledge. The internet itself without knowing English is close to useless today 1. It was completely useless at that time, since the amount of information you can get is directly correlated with the amount of people speaking the language; more people will create more information.

Obviously, due to spending so much time in an English speaking environment, I picked up the missing vocabulary and ways of formulating the sentences. It just came down naturally without having to learn one thousand grammar rules and all their exceptions 2. I doubt anyone can learn a new language by learning everything there is to know about the grammar. Toddlers don’t learn the rules, they learn the language by living and interacting with the environment, so why do we think older kids should learn a foreign language in a different way?

Eventually, my English got to the point where the native speakers didn’t suspect that I was writing in a foreign language. Today, I can’t imagine being a software developer without knowing English. All the documentation, articles, source code and online discussions are written in English. If you don’t understand it, that’s too bad; you are limited to the much smaller world of your local community.

Bragging about how I got from zero to hero that is writing lengthy articles written in a foreign language is not the point of this story. The point is that if someone, who was struggling to write a few sentences, can get to the point where people are happily reading and sharing their articles, so can you. You don’t have to posses magical abilities to be able to write, type or program. This natural ability or the so called talent simply boils down to how much time you’ve spent doing those things 3.

Lately, everybody seems to be looking for ways to increase their productivity. Time has become our most precious resource, due to all the attention grabbing websites that filled our daily life. Online forums are littered with various methods and advertisements for the best software that will help you on your crusade towards a more productive life. Nevertheless, this newfangled research and endless discussions are akin to snacking while you are in the middle of your diet. You won’t lose weight if you snack and you won’t become more productive by using a new productivity tool.

I only know one cure for increasing your productivity. It’s not a new technique and it’s surprisingly unpopular, but it will make you a better programmer, writer, typist or whatever you are trying to get better at. This technique will get you to the point where people will praise you for your talent, that you were obviously so lucky to be born with. It’s a technique that works 100% of the time and can quickly turn a young inexperienced person into someone that towers over professionals with 20+ years of experience.

Best of all, this methodology does not require any prerequisite skills, certified AGILE consultants or expensive software. If I was an ex-Google engineer, I would immediately create a single page website, start collecting emails for a free productivity oriented newsletter and offer a productivity course costing just 2 coffee cups per month. Since I am not one of those mystical creatures, I am letting the cat out of the bag for free.

The secret technique for improving your productivity that everybody is looking for is called Ass In Chair methodology or AIC for short. The way it works is pretty simple: You sit on your chair and you don’t move from that chair until you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish 4.

If you are trying to write a blog post, you sit on that chair and write until the post is written. If you are trying to launch a new product, you sit on that chair and work until a new feature is done or that hairy bug is squashed. If you are trying to learn a foreign language, you sit on that chair and… Well, you are on your own here. I don’t know what is the right approach for learning a foreign language.

Notes


  1. For example: China and Russia have their own bubble in which the primary language for communicating is not English, but unless you are part of that community you won’t even know it exist. ↩︎

  2. I am sure you can find mistakes and poorly written sentences, but it’s improving over time. ↩︎

  3. The reason why Stephen King became a popular writer is not due to his natural ability to write good stories. It’s because he wrote every day for multiple years, despite not seeing any success. If he approached his writing with: “I want to be a famous book writer by tomorrow,” he would most likely get discouraged and give up too soon, and the world would spin without another talented writer on board. ↩︎

  4. That doesn’t mean you can’t visit a toilet from time to time. Your pants will thank you. ↩︎