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Getting Good at the Wrong Writing

Nat Eliason has an excellent article about writers getting good at the wrong type of writing. He specifically calls out writing on the web, be it in the form of newsletters or blog posts or social media posts. One key question is:

How many newsletters have you printed out and put on your bookshelf?

This feeling is one I’ve had. I have time to write this newsletter, and my member stuff but after that I’ve got work to do so that my kids can eat. I’d like to write something that takes more time, that I get to dig into more, something that’s worth others purchasing and putting on their bookshelves.

One thing I’m attempting is to serialize the first draft of a book, which is found below as I write about tips to get more time to think.

For many of us, it feels so urgent to get stuff online so that it can be seen, but I think much of the lasting work of history will still be found in a physical long form medium.

Does writing shorter stuff online yield shallow thinking as we race to hit deadlines? Would thinking be better if we focused on other forms of expressing our ideas?

More Arguments for Books?

Yes I’m still thinking about why you should own books, and came across some more reason that owning physical books is a good thing. From The Lost Art of Reading, the only way someone can really peruse your shelves and happen across random books is if they’re on a shelf[1]. People don’t pick up your Kindle or iPad and scroll through the digital copies of books you have, but they do take a look at your shelves and this does prompt conversations about different topics.

You also can’t pass on your digital library. You don’t own the digital copy of a book, you purchased a license to read the digital copy of the book and that license is non-transferable. This means your family would have to keep your device around logged into your account to be able to access your library of books.

This also means that the monetary value in your books is gone. You can’t resell a digital book like you can with a physical copy. No book store is going to purchase your Kindle so they can sell the books contained on it, but they can and will do that for physical books. This is one way that capitalist companies steal value in a product for themselves, and leave you out of the equation. They want your family to have to purchase another copy instead of getting the copy you had.

You Don’t have to Be Productive

This is another installment in my writing about Getting more time to think.

One big caveat to trying to get time to think is understanding that you don’t always need to be productive. Hundreds of years ago the Puritans believed that hard work was Godliness and if you were idle clearly you were a bad person of faith. They felt that the more you got done the more religious you were.

Yes that was a thing and it’s turned into the productivity culture we have today. I often tag content with Puritan Work Ethic because it’s work for work sake to look good.

We also get all these stories of rich white dudes that could take a walk every afternoon and would pile stones for each lap they did while thinking. We idolise their morning routines as we lament the fact that we can’t go for that brisk morning swim before we think for hours and then have a brandy then go for a walk while thinking more. It was unthinkable to possibly interrupt a man that was thinking and didn’t want to be interrupted.

But I’m not a rich white dude that has staff to take care of the house. There is no servant to watch my children for me. I have no slaves to pick my fields. I’ve got to get up every morning and work for a few hours before I get kids to school and walk the dog. Then a few more hours of work, and if I’m lucky I get a bike ride outside.

99% of the time we don’t have anything resembling the lives of those we idolise for their uninterrupted thinking time but somehow we feel bad about this lack of time. So,, let yourself off the hook if you don’t have hours of time to do whatever you want. That’s a pipe dream that doesn’t exist anymore.

Much of society also has the faulty belief that we can be productive all the time. That we need to be running at full tilt all the time. That taking the foot off the gas for a week is a sign of our inherent weakness.

I ride bikes around 10,000km a year and I spend most of that time riding at a fairly leisurely pace. A pace where I come home and feel like I’ve been out riding, but I didn’t work all that hard. I spend much of December barely riding and de-training, because to train well you need to give your body a break. I could never do my hardest workouts all the time and if I tried I’d never be able to achieve the hardest efforts that are required for training well. I’d get slower if I worked hard all the time.

Your brain operates the same way. We need breaks. We need times in our year where we are okay with sitting back and smelling the roses. Where we’re reading fiction and not trying to extract the deepest darkest secrets from the hardest books around.

I spent most of 2023 not reading hard books, in fact I read less than half the books I normally read in a year. Out of those 30 books 12 were “thinking” books, and only about 5 of those were hard reads. The rest of my reading has been fiction, from Invincible Comics to adult fiction like The Librarianist. I don’t feel bad about this year of reading at all, in fact I feel like it was a very good year of reading as I branched out into fiction areas I haven’t previously been interested in.

If you’re busy and not getting time to sit and think without interruptions, it’s okay. You don’t need to feel bad about it. Take a look at your life and ask yourself if you’re really in a portion of your life where that is possible. I spent 10-years not being able to play video games because my kids were little and needed a lot of time. Now that they’re older I have a 10-year backlog of games to play. Give yourself the same freedom with your thinking time.

Remember, the lives you see online of current influencers (including myself) probably aren’t as carefree as you think. We’re probably just as busy as you and you only see the highlights instead of living in the reality of cars breaking down, house plumbing needing fixing, and a dog eating a wall in the shop.

Open Source Notes

I very much enjoyed this video on open source plaintext notes. I do love Obsidian, but I also love Open Source software, I’m writing this on Fedora Linux and I use NeoVim for all my coding. Part of me always feels like I should just use NeoVim and some plugins for all my notes, but I also don’t feel like I’ve got the time to figure that crap out. I also love the rants about productivity bullshit as watching videos like this.

Something Interesting

If you have the ability to tinker, building tools and automation can help save lots of time. Just remember not to spend all your time doing this. You do need to do work as well.

This was a sobering article about luxury surveillance. We pay for the privilege of being tracked by devices. Society also imposes a similar style of tracking on people waiting for immigration hearings or just out of jail to help control their movement. It makes me wonder how big the step is to monitoring everyone all the time at a government level. The government only needs to get a handle on 2 – 4 companies and they could do it.

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  • [1] The Lost Art of Reading Page 125

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