On Writing

In two months, this blog will see its ninth anniversary.  In well over 100 postings, I have discussed enterprise transformation and fundamental change, often in the context of academia, healthcare, transportation, and other domains.  What motivates these musings?

First and foremost, I write to discover my position on issues, challenges, etc.  Rather than trying to convince readers of my position, I am trying to find my position.  Thus, to a great extent, I am writing for myself.

I have authored and edited quite a few books.  Fairly often, someone asks me why I pursued a particular book project.  I tell them that writing books is how I make sense of topics that interest me.

I have approached the non-fiction books I have authored or coauthored as research projects.   I usually consume hundreds of relevant publications, typically journal articles and books.  I draft reading notes on these publications, with emphasis on why and how they should be cited.   I organize the notes into topical electronic folders.

Sometimes I encounter interesting graphics that I intend to cite.  More often, I create graphics to summarize what I am learning.  These graphics become central to a detailed outline of each chapter.  With the outline and illustrations done, I then draft the book.  The outline and illustrations may morph a bit as my writing proceeds, but seldom dramatically.

I have written a bit of fiction as well, but with little publishing success, mostly because I never share these pieces with anyone.  They are my fantasies about sleuthing intrigues and crimes.  I do not outline these pieces.  Instead, I start with an imagined intrigue or crime, and simply let the story happen.  This leads to interesting surprises about what the characters choose to do.

I approach edited non-fiction in a different way.  The key, I have found, is to recruit thought leaders on a topic to contribute their latest thoughts, or sometimes a reprise of their thinking over a number of years, or perhaps decades.  I write an introduction and overview, often with co-editors. Usually, I contribute a chapter on my research.

The purpose of these non-fiction collections is to bring coherence to a topic where there are many puzzle pieces but the overall picture is unclear.  They can be somewhat frustrating projects, typically because there is always a couple of authors who are quite late, often authors whose contributions are central to the book.  Eventually, of course, the book is finished, appears in print (and now electronically as well), and marks a step in making sense of a topic.

For me, writing is about sense making.  This involves juxtaposing various threads, understanding the connections and distinctions, and communicating a coherent story.  It is about sleuthing in real world domains involving physical, human, economic, and social phenomena that underlie problems and opportunities of great interest.

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