charlie's blog

Saturday, November 22, 2008

articulation

I started this blog not having any clear plan or direction. I knew I wanted to write something, partly to develop and improve my writing skills, but also just because I had been reading a bunch of other popular blogs and part of me kept saying "I want to try that too!". It didn't hurt that some of these blogs were coming right out and telling me to start my own.

The idea of actually doing it was pretty daunting, though. My biggest concern was that I wouldn't have much to say. I'd like to think that I'm not a boring person, but I wasn't so vain as to assume that whatever I wrote about would be interesting. So I didn't know what I could fill this new blog with that would be worth reading. Even so, I decided to give it a try anyway.

Having been at it for a few months now, I still don't know if what I'm writing is worth reading, but I actually haven't had any trouble coming up with ideas for posts. The real trick seems to be figuring out how to actually articulate those ideas.

A good example is the post I wrote last week about unexpectedly locking the bathroom door. It immediately struck me as interesting, but when I imagined sitting down at the keyboard to write about it, I realized I had no idea what to say. I knew there was something there but I didn't know exactly what it was or how to put it into words. So I had to take a step back and think about it for a while, and figure out why anybody should care about me and my door-locking.

Over the next few days, I tried to keep it in the back of my mind, and think about it whenever I had a few minutes. At the very least I wanted to figure out why it seemed so interesting to me in the first place. I also wanted to see if I could come up with some plausible theory for why it would have happened, since any good question is worth at least an attempt at an answer. Neither of these was at all obvious at first; all I had was a strong intuition that there was something unexpected going on.

Eventually I just decided to start writing, and after a few hours of thinking and typing, I had something publishable (in a loose sense of the word). I actually think the writing process itself helped the ideas gel. Apparently I'm not alone on that count: I found some similar ideas in a Steve Yegge post I was recently reading, where he opined that "writing an essay is one of the best ways to pull your ideas together into a coherent and useful form". For me, writing feels a bit like having a conversation, and I do a lot of my best thinking when I'm having a discussion.

In the end, I was reasonably satisfied with my work: I felt like I had successfully developed the intuitive nugget of "interestingness" into a coherent piece of prose. I also enjoyed taking the time to explore and savor the experience more than I otherwise would have. Had I never attempted to write about what happened, I probably would have forgotten about it in short order, and never taken the chance to try to understand it.

Postscript: There's a fun bit of self-referentiality about this post: shortly after I thought of writing it, I realized that once again I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to say. I'm happy to report that, as with the last post, it all worked out.

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