I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate. – George Burns
On a warm, fateful, July day, about 7 months ago. I started this blog. I was filled with a sense of excitement; the starry eyed wonder at beginning a new project, not knowing it would take me. Such charged moments, filled with equal parts anticipation and nervousness, are some of my favorite ones to experience. I set out with just one goal: to write.
Since then, in the 218 days that have passed (at the time of writing), I have
struggled with happily written 7 posts. They aren't perfect, but they're real and that's what matters. It's all too easy to fall for the trap of perfection, which I've found doesn't actually help you be any better of a creator. All it does it make it harder to get words out from your brain and onto the page. In this way perfection is kind of like an optical illusion, you can't look directly at it without being blinded.
My keen eyed readers will notice that this comes out to slightly less than 1 post a month, something which I am not too pleased about. One of my long term goals with this, and I think any creator shares this dream, is to amass a large body of work so that I will one day look back on it with satisfaction. It's been over six months since I started this blog and by now I think I'm pretty committed to sticking with this for the long haul. Although there have been rough patches, for the most part I've always felt motivated and engaged and there's something really satisfying about putting stuff up on the internet where it will (hopefully) last forever. The more I write, the more I realize I want to keep writing.
My pace so far is respectable, but I think I could do better. Not by pushing myself to exhaustion, as that road leads only to burning out and disappointment. Rather, I think I have a way to harness the natural curiosity and rhythms of my brain to create even more prolifically than I already have. I'm excited to show you all the solution I've been working on, but first I'd like to take a moment to remind myself, and all of you, about part of what inspires me to write.
Writing That Transcends Time and Space
"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic." - Carl Sagan
Like I said once, I write primarily for myself. But, as a very close second, I write for others like me. Whether they are alive today, or will see these words after centuries, they are my people. Whether they are other people around me or future versions of myself, I think about them every time I click post.
I've been reading history recently, mostly Roman. Some of the words I read have been written over two thousand years ago. These thoughts have escaped these ancient people's brains and have transcended so many barriers to reach mine. Culturally, linguistically, technologically; it's a miracle I can know what Marcus Tullius Cicero, a man who lived over 2000 years ago and before Christianity was founded, liked to do for fun. Could my thoughts make the same journey someday? Are some of them already doing so? It's intoxicating to think that in a hundred or a thousand years some future generations, some of mine or your descendants even, could be reading these very words.
I guess I've been thinking about legacy lately. Not in a oh no we're all going to die soon way but more of a it's such a privilege that we each are able to leave our unique and special impacts on the world. Not as something that happens in one grand event at the will reading after you die, but instead as small pieces you build around you each and every day. I like to think that no matter how small and insignificant a life, every person's actions leaves an indelible impact on the world around them and permanently changes it for the better, butterfly effect style. We are all small but essential notes in the great symphony of humanity.
What will I leave behind? Well I used to feed squirrels, maybe some of their acorns will be moved to spots they otherwise wouldn't have and sprout into a great oak tree. I enjoy playing with children, maybe as they grow older the shadow of a memory of the kindness I showed them will spur them to be just that much more gracious. And, most importantly, there is this very blog (and other associated writing I'm sure) that I have to believe will reach the ears that need them.
Anyway, I digress. I don't want to get morbid, but I hope now you have some context for why I'm doing this. Why I want to increase my writing output, why I want to become a better writer. The flame in me burns hot and bright. If you lean in, you may yet feel its warmth.
Quantity over Quality
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit" - Aristotle.
So, I want to write my way to a legacy. What exactly does that mean? I want to write more, and I want to write better. Ideally in that order. How do I intend to reach that goal? Well, as with all difficult endeavours in life, there is only one solution: practice.
In other words, the more I write then theoretically the better I become. There's only one problem with that, which is that I'm already writing as much as I enjoyably can. Yes, it's true that I could shift my schedule around or I could force myself to buckle down like I would have for a tight university deadline, but that just simply would not be fun. There's a fine line all of walk between indulging our passions and burning out; no matter how passionate you currently are, ceasing to enjoy something you once loved is a horrible feeling. I think I'd rather tread lightly around such high stakes.
So it seems like I can't really increase my writing output, at least not without compromising on quality. I'm afraid that leaves me with only one option: compromise on quality. Now, slow down for a moment before you get worried about missing out on your
weekly monthly fix of the blog. Some of you may be inclined to send me an irate message, demanding that nothing happens to this writing that you undoubtedly now cherish. Well, I have good news. I don't intend for posts like these to go anywhere. In fact, counterintuitively, focusing less on quality might actually help get more of it.
There's a famous story from Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland about focusing on quantity vs. quality when observing a ceramics class. I wish I could say that I'd come across this delightful anecdote myself, but unfortunately this book is still sitting untouched on my shelf. Instead I found this except on a blog somewhere, and I'll share it with you in the same way:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Truly a fascinating tale. This is part of what got the wheels in my head spinning. That perhaps I harbour a few grandiose theories myself about what it takes to write well, without enough actual work to show for it. By worrying too much about the standards of what I put on here, have I deprived myself (and of course the rest of the world) of more, better writing?
I don't know, but there really is only one way to find out. I decided I need a new section of this website. While my high effort, edited, and presentable content can stay where it is, the new stuff should be kept somewhere safe. A kind of experimental idea lab, where I can get my hands dirty and splash around a little. That way, people would only be exposed to the raw miasma of my mental sludge if they intentionally waded in behind me.
Yes, this plan already was already quite appealing. My main concern now was forcing myself to write more. If I do let my hair down, so to speak, and start writing less carefully, what would that actually look like? A post like this but with more typos and less flow? Well, somewhere deep inside my I already knew the answer to that question. I'd like to introduce you all to someone who I like to refer to as the :beast.
Knowing The Beast
“Until you make peace with who you are, you'll never be content with what you have.” - Doris Mortman
There is a wild beast inside each of us that is impossible to tame. It will want to run in circles, complain about the temperature, chase pigeons, and will sometimes want nothing more than to scroll TikTok or binge Breaking Bad for hours on end. At least, that's what mine tends to want. Some of you may refer to them as your inner child.
Even if this beast cannot be entirely civilized, their path of reckless whimsy can be loosely guided. The key is not to fight them head on, as they will always outlast you in a battle of perseverance. Instead, like the graceful matador with his bull, you must master the art of misdirection. Trick the monster into stumbling in the direction that have chosen, while, crucially, making them think it was their idea.
For example, I sometimes get an urge to purchase an overpriced drink of some kind when passing a fancy, hipster coffee shop or a nice bubble tea place. I do indulge myself occasionally, but I couldn't help feeling my inner child was more drawn to the aesthetic and novelty of those colorful concoctions than to any specific product. So, I sat him down at the negotiation table and we made a compromise; I would experiment with making some unique and quirky drinks at home, and he would no longer bother me when walking down the street. It worked wonderfully - now I can occasionally pretend I'm a mad scientist brewing up a delicious potion, while he gets as many bubbly, polychromatic, frigid, or swirly beverages as he can stomach.
So, how does this relate to my writing? Well, I once wrote about how nothing helps me generate creative ideas better than doing other creative things. That's very convenient for when I want more ideas, but when I want to focus on one thing and bring it to completion it can be a little bit distracting. My diagnosis is simple: I needed to sit down at the table and have a negotiation with my inner beast. If a fleeting feather takes his fancy and suddenly he has 500 words to write about birds, then who am I to stop him.
The only problem with letting him chase down every stray thought is that these typically tend not to work well for a full blog post. I put a lot of effort into writing and editing these posts to maintain a presentable level of quality, and I can't just post whatever random topics that bombard the old brain. On the other hand, if I truly do intend to indulge myself then all of these thoughts have to go somewhere. Luckily, after a little bit of brainstorming, my beast and I have come up with the perfect solution.
I already know I'll be making a new section here, and now I know what to fill it with. Low quality, high quantity, unedited, rambling stream of consciousness. Again, it's not meant to be pretty; just to give me a place to explore rabbit holes and keep some unused, unneeded thoughts. Credit where credit is due, I was once again very inspired by Visakanv's version of this idea, and who coined the phrase word vomits to describe them. I like the way that sounds - it gets across the idea that they are more a spew of thoughts than any coherent product - so I will borrow that as well. Welcome to my word vomit arc!
Dare to Dream Bigger
"I would much rather be disappointed from occasionally not getting what I want, than living a small life where I refuse to allow myself to want anything." - visakanv
Something that you should know about me, if you don't already, is that I love commitments, challenges, bets, oaths; all of that stuff. If someone asks me to do something I might otherwise be uninterested in, but they frame it as some kind of contest or challenge, I will be hard pressed not to accept. I use the same trick with myself when I want some motivation; I bet myself I can't finish this chapter before bedtime, or that I can't lift 10 extra pounds of weight.
Because the entire plan centers around quantity, and I'll need to write lots of lots of these word vomits, I feel like a challenge is once again appropriate. Once again I am saved by the admirable example of Visakanv; he has challenged himself to write 1000 word vomits of 1000 words each. Essentially, to hit a million words total of unrefined and crude thoughts. I hereby announce that I intend to attempt the same challenge - I would like to write 1000 word vomits of at least 1000 words each.
So the first thing that comes to mind is whether this is even possible. I don't write that quickly, and even accounting for the lower quality nature of these it's quite a monumental feat. Let's figure this out with some math. If I write 1 of these per month it will take 1000 months, or 83 years. That's longer than I'll probably live for! But that's being pessimistic - I think I can probably get one of these out every 2 weeks at least which would only take 42 years. I'd be done by the time 70, and I could spend my retirement looking back on my success in life.
Ok, that's still a bit much. What if I write one a week? Then I'd be done in 20 years, by the time I'm in my early 40s. I'd have enough time left for an whole midlife crisis! We're getting better but it's still a little bit rough. What if I really really want to be done by the time I'm 35? Well, I have 606 weeks until my 35th birthday, which means I'd need to write a little bit over one and a half word vomits per week. You know, that doesn't seem too too bad. Still a daunting task, but a possible one. I don't want to commit to finishing before I'm 35, but it's nice to have this sort of perspective to view my next 10-15 years through.
Alright let's get to the real elephant in the room. All of you readers are here for these posts - high quality and edited ones like these. To make the math really work for this, I think I'll have to try to sit down and bang each word vomit out in one sitting, ideally in under an hour. Will that take away time from the main event? As sad as it is to admit, probably yes it will. The cadence of new posts being released will most likely slow down, at least for a little bit, while we adjust to the new system.
However, there is a bright side. I really do think that doing this will make be both a faster and more interesting writer. The word vomits will be the fertilizer that new, polished posts will grow out of. If any of them are received well or have a particularly profound idea, then I wouldn't mind using it as a seed for a full post on the regular blog. And if this really does make me faster then I think everybody will benefit.
I talk sometimes about how other people inspire me to do things, like Visakanv with this idea. When I am truly inspired, it means more than just thinking hmm that seems interesting, I should try that. When I am truly inspired by someone, I am standing in awe at the enormity of their soul, wondering how it is humanly possible to do what they do. In moments like that, I pledge to myself to take a few steps in their direction. It is a powerful and humbling experience to encounter greatness in others; to be warmed by the roaring fire within them in such a way that it brightens your own as well.
This is a big goal for me. It's intimidating and scary, and I could very well fail. But, that's exactly what it means to be ambitious; it wouldn't be a very good ambition if it didn't have a chance of going poorly. And
if when I do succeed, it will be all the more satisfying knowing what it took.
Committing like this is also scary because there's no guarantee writing is something I'll still enjoy in 5 or 10 or 20 years from now. However I don't think present me should be beholden to what future me may or may not want. It's better to pledge myself today - to wholeheartedly fling myself in the direction I want without holding back out of fear, whether real or imagined
So, once again, I pledge to write 1000 word vomits of 1000 words each. I hope to be done before I am 35, but I acknowledge and accept the fact that I may fail at that. If you'll notice, there is a new link in the top of the site, that should look like 1000. That should take you to the new page where I will host all one thousand of these. The placeholder post there will soon be filled out as well.
Wish me luck as I embark on this journey. I'll see you all on the other side.
No, not this guy! Read on to find out.