The Art Of Trying Things Out


Saturday, 8.50pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To be a comedian, you gotta jokesmith, there’s no way around it. – John Leguizamo

A comedian on stage can deliver a fluid, effortless performance – one that makes you wonder what it takes to be so naturally funny.

The show you see, however, is not the one they started with. If you listen to comedians talk about how they developed their material you’ll hear stories about how they tried out jokes in small venues and pubs, refining and reworking their material and keeping the best stuff in – the stuff that you saw in the show.

I attended an academic conference in person for the first time since the pandemic and realised that they offer the same kind of experience to a researcher.

These are places where you can go and try out your material on a community of peers – smart, sharp people with opinions and expertise who will ask questions that test your understanding of your material. It gives you a taste of the feedback you’ll get when you try and get your paper accepted by an editor of a journal.

In my last post I wrote about the importance of rewriting. The conference experience taught me about the importance of feedback – showing your work to people who will give you their honest opinion and reaction.

It can be tough to hear, especially if it’s work that you’ve spent a lot of time developing. But you need to hear it – you want to see what reaction your work gets.

The worst thing is to be ignored. A reaction, good or bad, is information you can work with.

An idea that falls flat, just like a joke, is one you need to rework, retry, or abandon and move on.

The ones you are left with will be all the more powerful as a result.


Karthik Suresh

Just Writing In Contrast To Good Writing


Sunday, 8.09am

Sheffield, U.K.

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers. – Isaac Asimov

I have published 1,213 posts with 868,016 words since 2016. This has been a labour of quantity over quality, but it is now time for a change.

My aim with this blog was to practice writing. The way to get better at writing, I believed, was to write. I hoped that by writing every day and making progress towards writing a million words I would develop the skills needed to produce words and find a unique voice that I could use to explore interesting ideas.

In this post I’m going to tell you (briefly) about what I’ve learned so far and what I’m going to try next.

You must get started and produce words

Every writer faces the challenge of the blank page. How do you start your piece? What’s the first sentence? The fear of getting that right can stop you starting at all.

The approach I take is to start with a technique called freewriting. Just start writing – begin with whatever is on your mind. An observation, a worry, thoughts about what you watched last night. Put anything down, even if it’s a rant about how hard it is to get started.

Do this for two or three paragraphs. By the fourth you’ll feel ready to move on to your main post.

Freewriting greases your mental wheels, allowing them to start turning. In order to produce the 868,016 words I published I threw away 588,267 words of freewriting. That was worth it to get started.

You must finish what you’ve started

Once you start writing you need to finish. Anything that slows you down is a problem.

I, like most if not all of you, don’t have time to waste. I decided my posts would be simple – a hand-drawn visual and minimally formatted text that could be produced in a single writing session of an hour or so.

This creates constraints that you need to work within. 1,000+ words posts are too hard. 300-600 words are a nice, easy length. The key is getting done and publishing the piece.

Having a plan can help

It’s easier to write when you have some idea of how your post fits into a larger plan. Creating an outline for a book project, for example, helps you pull out key themes and an outline structure that can make it easier to write. If, when you sit down at your desk, you already have a topic in mind it’s easier to get on with the task of creating the words you need.

Prepare for bumps on the road

Over the last couple of years, in 2021 and 2022, I have struggled with figuring out what I should do. Should I work on images? Complete book projects? Keep writing about concepts or models?

In 2022 I have published much less. August 2022 is the first month in five years when I haven’t published a single post. So is that it then for the blog?

Work on improving quality

If the secret to writing is to write, then the secret to good writing is rewriting.

I’m trying an old school approach to rewriting by first creating a draft in longhand and then typing it up. This sounds like it is going to be slower than just working straight on the computer, but it does force you to rewrite rather than just fiddle with what you’ve already written.

I have already found that this approach creates better quality material when working on my thesis. This post is my first attempt at using the same approach for the blog.

We’ll see how things pan out.


Karthik Suresh

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