Fear and Loathing of Writing Long Reads – Coding Ninjas
Coding Ninjas
July 2019
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Fear and Loathing of Writing Long Reads

Andrey ZagorodniyAndrey Zagorodniy

What’s the problem with long reads?

 

There is none if you are a patient reader willing to throw yourself onto the embrasures of plain text. Or, if you are a dedicated writer, easily producing over 5,000 words before it’s lunchtime.

 

For other people, long reads can be exhausting. Of course, lengthy articles contain more information and usually cover complex and intricate subjects. But let’s be honest: it is much easier to read (and write!) short, neat chunks of text with pictures and pretty formatting.

 

So, when we see an article longer than 1,000 words, we are often like, “Nah, I’ll simply not know that then.”

 

Things changed a lot for me when I got to write my longest long read so far.

 

Denial

 

My task was to write this overview of the conferences on digital marketing taking place in 2019.

 

I love to write. So, the perspective of writing a potentially huge article did not scare me off. I thought, “Okay, this shouldn’t be too difficult.”

 

I kept thinking this way even after I realized there were more than 100 conferences going on this year. So naive.

 

Anger

 

“Why the hell do people need so many digital marketing conferences within just one year?”

 

Occasionally, I would shout this question out so loudly that it scared people away from me.

 

I am not lazy. But I simply could not imagine how I would force so many words out of myself within a deadline. And the obligation (and inevitability) of doing so felt the worst.

 

I punched trees for having to read through tons of conference materials. I spilled coffee on my keyboard, subconsciously resenting the fact I needed to actually write that overview, and do it well. I hated all those conference speakers’ smiling faces. THEY loved digital marketing, you bet. I didn’t.  

 

Bargain

 

“Okay, this is not that bad. At least, I can learn something new.”

 

This was true. Before getting to write the article, I knew much less about digital marketing. While doing my research, I read a lot about conversions, leads, ROI, data analysis, advertising in social media, and so on.

 

Now I believe I know more about digital marketing, and this knowledge is likely to prove useful in the future.

 

Depression

 

Bargain did not help, after all. There were days when I could not write a single word.

 

I wanted to make a description of each conference sound more or less unique. But the problem was that all the events revolved around the same topics. Try describing the same thing 22 times, each time in a different way. I felt exhausted.

 

Besides, I didn’t make it within the deadline. One week was not enough for me, and it made me feel unprofessional.  

 

Acceptance

 

“This thing is not going to write itself.”

 

The only way for me to deal with this task was to finish it. I decided to take one step at a time. If I felt stuck, I would move on to the next paragraph, or even to the next conference without letting myself stall.  

 

Somehow I started feeling less overwhelmed with the article. It was large, but working in portions, taking baby steps helped me feel less burdened with it.

 

And when I wrote the final sentence, I felt satisfaction–just as I always do when I finish a job.

 

Break on through (to the other side)

 

Now, I feel like it is important to elaborate on the writing process. Feelings that occur during the work is one thing, and actually completing the job is another. So, here is what I learned while writing 5,000 words long read. You may take is as advice, or as my personal experience: the main point is that it helps you get through your first long read safe and sound.

 

A detailed outline does 50% of the job

 

I know, right. I always write outlines for my articles, but I rarely saturate them with details or bother myself with exact wording. Usually, it is enough for me to note the general meaning I want to put into a certain part of the text.

 

With long reads, it is different. A scrupulous, detailed, and well-structured outline can help a lot.

 

Have a realistic daily plan

 

When every day feels like you need to write the whole 5,000 words at once, it’s tough. Break the task into smaller chunks, and distribute them on days left until the deadline.

 

Be realistic about your capabilities, and set yourself achievable daily goals.

 

Headbanging against the wall is useless

 

When I feel stuck during the process of writing, I often try to force myself to find the right word, or to finish the sentence or paragraph. It can get pretty stressful. Especially when someone asks, “Hey, how’re you doing with that article?” and I haven’t written a single word in an hour.

 

What I discovered, though, was that I could omit difficult places in favor of other parts of the article. When I could not find the right words for a description, I would switch to writing easier parts of the article.

 

Talk about your work

 

I am the kind of person who likes to work in silence. Once I focus on the task, I prefer to not be distracted until I complete about 80% of work. Although I find this approach effective, it has a downside: isolation.

 

I discovered that sharing my concerns and complications about the article with my colleagues, I could receive a lot of support and useful advice on how to write it.

 

Let it cool down for a day

 

When I finally finished the article, I rushed into editing it immediately, head-on. This was a mistake: the article alternately looked either decent or awful. One minute I wanted to delete everything, and the other one I could not cut out a single phrase.

 

When I returned to editing on the next day, I found the process to be much easier.

 

In a nutshell

 

If you have never written a long read before, the task may look daunting. It will indeed require all of your persistence and put your writing skills to test. But you can write it. In general, it is not too different from writing shorter texts: it just takes more time and stamina.

 

Hopefully, my experience will be helpful to all of you struggling with long reads.

 

Take care.

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