Michael Ashcroft

September 4, 2021

All at once or not at all

This is how I seem to work. 

I can write a note like this, with 500 - 1000 words, in about 45 minutes and then it’s done. I mean, done enough that I can publish and feel satisfied. 

It’s both a blessing and a curse that my first drafts are largely immediately publishable. A blessing, because that means I have sufficient writing skill to be able to do that, and a curse, because it means I’m stuck at a local maximum of never editing my work.

If I look around my life more broadly, this is not just constrained to my writing of little notes. It seems the phenomenon of “I can either do it all at once or not at all” shows up in quite a few places, so I tend to struggle with bigger, more complex projects. It’s common for me to start many things and make good progress on them. Yay, great. But then I stop, put my work somewhere and experience aversion whenever it occurs to me that I could go back to it.

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Hmm, Michael, I don’t know much about ADHD, but this sounds suspiciously like ADHD”. Maybe, I don’t know. I often think there’s something, but I’ve also never really resonated enough with the image I have in my head of what ADHD is. 

Have you noticed how the last five paragraphs started with the letter I? Neither had I until just now. That’s the kind of thing one might otherwise edit out if they were fond of editing, but no, I shall leave it.

Whether it’s ADHD or something else, it’s there, and I’m keen to find ways to navigate through or around it. All at once or not at all is surprisingly effective in many circumstances, but it relies on being able to capture a spark of creativity in the moment and make a thing with it. I would like to be able to chip away effectively, relentlessly, and patiently at something until one day a vast and epic creation appears before my eyes.

Writing is a good playground for this. I know I can put decent words on a page without much difficulty, but I struggle with longer form writing. Anything that requires planning, structuring, restructuring, writing, rewriting, editing and polishing, that’s where my existing methods break down, so that’s where I need to go.

Write of Passage is coming up. It’s a little embarrassing, as an alumni mentor, to admit that I suck at this crucial aspect of writing. I’m going to lean into it though and use Write of Passage to give myself permission to write longer pieces. 

Perhaps a way forward is this. I won’t allow myself to publish my first draft of anything that I intend to be an essay. It’s fine for notes — these are designed to be high velocity anyway — but essays are where the craft and art of my writing will be cultivated.

Then, once I’ve proven to myself that I can maintain focus on a single project over time, I can expand my ambition. I’d like to be able to spend a few weeks really diving into a topic and then compile my explorations into a solid essay. And then to repeat that, over and over again. If I could become that person, wow, that would be exciting.

And to close, I remind myself that the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona has been under construction since 1882 and is still not finished. It's a masterpiece, though, and I'm grateful for the people who have worked on it consistently for so long. I take inspiration from them, their vision and their persistence.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash