The Wander Notebook

A personal journey of lifelong learning, sharing resources, creating things, and trying to be better.

Tag: Ideas

Why I Write

Writing Hand, Black & WhiteSource

Death, Meaningless Ideas, Timeless Work, and Paper

Perhaps the first thing that I’d like to write after the obviously required navel-gazing of yesterday is more navel-gazing today — but of a different flavor. Perhaps a bit more morbid.

I enjoy the metaphysical writing about writing, as though if I meditate on the topic enough, I’ll somehow garner the skill to masterfully execute it. As though I’m trying to bend the spoon with my mind, just looking at it. I don’t think it’s truly any sort of specialty, though.

Yet, despite the fruitlessness of particular topics — such as this one — writing does help me in a multitude of ways.

Death Writing

As I’ve written in the past, I often think about the legacy that I’ll be leaving behind. What sort of impact am I having on the world, if any? And if I am making a dent in the universe, is it for the better?

Contrary to what you might think, those questions are irrelevant. Trying to setup all the pieces of a future you aren’t apart of is a fool’s errand. There’s no point in hoping for the best, because that doesn’t change what’s going on.

Instead, there’s only right now.

“Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.” — Robert Kiyosaki.

Sometimes I find myself worrying what’s ultimately become meaningless in a few months or less. When I do, I try to take a step back and look at the larger picture. That’s where meditation on death is both important and helpful.

If I only had a few months to live, what would I do right now in this moment?

When neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks received a grim prognosis two years ago, his response was to write with a fervor. The subsequent result being his last book, The River of Consciousness, which has since been published posthumously.

Though I am nowhere in comparison with such a gifted man, I’ve felt a near-identical pursuit since I wrote my real first post: To write standalone essays on — what I believe to be — important topics. But what exactly are important topics? And how am I supposed to separate my good writing from my bad writing?

Trying to answer those questions is, again, just a fool’s errand.

Everything I have inside of my heart and inside of my head needs to be written down — without prejudice. It is a well-known fallacy within programming to try to optimize prematurely. The act of trying to fix things before anything is even completed. I take a similar approach to writing.

The act of iteration. To publish multiple revisions publicly.
To publish what could potentially be drivel. To turn past mistakes into better futures.

That’s why I’m writing right now. Two days ago, I didn’t really know what I was going to write about this month. I had no clue how I was going to reach 50,000 words by the first day of December! But now I have eight different articles already in the works, and it’s only day two. You can push yourself far harder than you realize. And actually throw yourself out into the wolves.

“Ideas” & Suck

You might think you can, but you actually aren’t able to see inside your head. Ideas you let linger for too long without writing down will eventually fade away. It’s akin to the longer you stay in bed in the morning. It gets harder and harder to finally get up.

Ideas are cheap, anyways! Anybody can say that they’re an “idea person”. It takes far more skill, far more discipline, and far more patience in order to be a storyteller. To take the seeds of concepts and germinate them in the real world, and let others see what you’ve made. It takes deep vulnerability — a lot of would-be storytellers have too much pride to start. Because when you start, you tend to suck:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass

Current Events vs. Timeless Work

The world is volatile — we live in interesting times. The exciting — and at times terrifying — hyperactivity of information and happenings seem endless. But they really are not. It’s only a matter of time before things start to settle again. Whether the bar is raised or lowered, new normalcy always finds its place. We will adjust to a new paradigm in politics, and we will adjust to our science-fiction technology.

This is important to note, because so much work is created that only makes sense in the context of right now. An endless stream of often-times white noise that is only valuable for this week, or just today. Good work is work that can stand on its own. Good work transcends trends and current events. While past and topical content might invoke a nostalgia in some, it ultimately becomes foreign and faded.

As we see an evolution in differently growing media, a new era of democratic art, we still look back at the good work that was created centuries and millennium ago. Understand the difference between writing a shallow piece that tackles onto something popular, versus engaging it. Make great satire, critically analyze, share emotion. The important thing to remember, though, is a sense of universality. The commonality between all of humanity is the secret — and clearly simple — ingredient.


Why? Paper.

In order to finish this arbitrarily long and disjointed post, I want to talk about paper. Paper is truly a magical thing, and I think that — more than anything else — it best answers the question of why I exactly I choose to write:

“Why do you write?”, they ask. I pause for a moment before answering.

There are times where all I have is a few pieces of paper. Paper that understands me — that can understand things that I don’t yet. Any mistaken ink I spill on this page results in no consequence.

The paper listens carefully — it does not throw harsh insults at my stupid thoughts. The paper just lets me be. In return, I give it a story — an identity. And when it is finally and totally filled-up, I know there will always be more.

There will always be more paper, so I will always have to continue writing.

Current Word Count: 3,365

The Craftship Workflow

Arrow Inside Black CaseSource

Idea → Prototype → Product

When you’re creating anything, it can feel daunting to try to go from an initial idea to a finished product. We think we have these fantastic ideas for things in our work or personal life, but they suddenly become vague and murky when we sit down and try to actually hash them out on paper.

In my previous post, I wrote about the difficulties in trying to find a balance between creating and planning. In this article, I’ll discuss how to make a more fluid transition between planning and creating. In other words, doing both simultaneously.

Craftship is a termed for the creative work done by someone who practices a trade or handicraft — it is the act of doing. This is exactly what this workflow is about: taking action instead of contemplating taking action.

This workflow is heavily inspired by the UX design lifestyle, as well as agile management, but has been adapted for personal use and general creativity.

Setting Ideas FreeSource

Craftship Overview

1. Brainstorming

Before anything, figure out a problem that needs to be solved, or a question that needs to be answered. This doesn’t need to be groundbreaking — it can already have a solution or an answer, instead, try to focus on alternative ideas. Create a hypothesis to solve it and start brainstorming.

Allow yourself to open up when brainstorming, don’t stop yourself from writing anything down, no matter how silly it might seem. Research and study. Look at interesting and obscure books and articles. Try to look at the issue from a completely different point of view.

Start jotting down ideas, try to connect similar ones together. Digital platforms are a great way to coordinate concepts and objectives. Using microblogging platforms like Twitter to write out these ideas is a great idea, whether publicly for receiving feedback, or privately just to have a collection. Utilise #tags or a good search function for organisation.

Don’t go overboard with this, stick to one objective or concept. Trying to execute too many ideas at once will cause you to ultimately not fulfill any properly at all. When you come across a new and exciting train of thought, separate it into it’s own entity. Don’t wait until what you have developed is perfect in any form, settle for good enough and move on to creating.

2. Creating

Once you begin your first draft, the most important thing is to simply do it. Write out the long, technical details from the short, conceptual ideas. Create an outline and fill it in. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted, don’t try to edit the minor details while you’re initially hammering things out. Just do it.

When the first draft is finished, open yourself up to allowing others to help collaborate on it, to give you feedback. Understand how your ideas and intentions are perceived by others. Start making changes to your prototype. Develop cycles of iteration. Figure out what needs to be added or removed.

There are often times when, sometime during the process, you’ll realize that what you’ve created essentially falls flat. Just as it’s important to open up with creating ideas, you also have to open up to discarding things when they don’t work. See if you can pivot what you’ve created into a new direction, explore new ideas that can be worked into it.

3. Review

One of my favorite quotes is by Paul Valéry, which is that a poem is never finished, only abandoned. It’s easy to feel that after the hard work of a few drafts, that you have a completed work. The reality is, though, that everything you make can always be improved upon in some way.

Reviewing what you’ve already created is vitally important to progress forward and improve your skills. Think about how you can repurpose content — not for the sake of milking it, but instead to explore how different mediums could add to how to your ideas.

Would you be able to better explain your blog post as a chapter in a book? Would you be able to better explain an idea if you provided visual graphics? Don’t be afraid of delving deeper into the complexities of something once you have a handle on it.

Using metrics is also helpful, figure out what work people respond to and what they ignore — what separates them? When you figure out what works, double down on it. Invest on effective measures and discard what doesn’t work.


Summary

  • Take action with your ideas, don’t wait until they’re perfect to start.
  • Iterate on those ideas, make incremental changes in a positive direction.
  • Adapt what is useful, disregard what’s ineffective.

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