Allegedly, Stoyan Stefanov, the creator of AsciiDoc, once said:

Most people are OK with writing e-mails. They don’t consider this writing. There’s no writer’s block. Someone asks you a question, you [press] reply and type away.

I think that this observation is true, but I don’t think that his conclusion – that our writer’s block is caused by distracting WYSIWYG word processors – is true, because I think the observation holds even for those who write e-mails in HTML using their e-mail client’s WYSIWYG editor.

Rather, I think we should compare the nature of the e-mail with that of the document. Even before it is written, an e-mail is short and precise, especially when it’s a response to another e-mail, whereas a document is of unknown length and scope.

Simply put, when we are about to write an e-mail, we have a very clear picture of what to write and how much to write. But when we sit down to begin writing a Microsoft Word document, we know that the journey ahead is long and obscure – no wonder we get writer’s block!

The reasonable conclusion is that, in order to make writing documents as effortless as writing e-mails, we should try to emulate writing e-mails when writing documents. And what better way to do this than literally writing e-mails?

Ironically, my e-mail client just broke, so it’s hard for me to put my theory into practice, but I imagine that a workflow like this could be useful:

  1. For one idea, write one e-mail. Address it to yourself.
    • For extra points, address it to a sub-address of yours and sort it into a folder automatically.
  2. When reworking that idea, either:
    1. reply to the e-mail, or
    2. edit the e-mail and re-send it.

Replying is a good method to annotate your document with comments or to suggest, but not finalize, changes.

As a final step, it would be nice to have some sort of interactive program to weave together all bits and pieces to a one finished document.