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Getting Shit Done Learning Writing

A note-gathering and idea-making process

Anna Havron gives tips on managing your note-taking and calls out:

The magic is in the fact that writing is a transit system, which transports little electrical sparks in your synapses into things that affect shared reality.

Keeping a focus on what purpose a note serves — logistical, inspirational — can help you discard less useful information:

Be picky about what goes into your systems.

I have several paper notebooks I just scribble down ideas in. Each day I look them over for actionable notes, and scoop those out. Otherwise, when they are full, I scan them over, and only a few more notes get entered into my systems.

(My poor digital gathering practices means this article’s been open in my tabs for six+ weeks 🤦‍♀️ The actionable bit is the sticking point for me: I leave tabs open as a reminder because I don’t trust my systems or backlog.)

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Cory Doctorow enumerates his blogging process and how he uses his blog as a digital garden:

Far from competing with my “serious” writing time, blogging has enabled me to write an objectively large quantity of well-regarded, commercially and critically successful prose…

The genius of the blog was not in the note-taking, it was in the publishing. The act of making your log-file public requires a rigor that keeping personal notes does not. Writing for a notional audience — particularly an audience of strangers — demands a comprehensive account that I rarely muster when I’m taking notes for myself.

Every now and again, a few of these fragments will stick to each other and nucleate, crystallizing a substantial, synthetic analysis out of all of those bits and pieces I’ve salted into that solution of potential sources of inspiration.

I love thinking of information as a nucleation site.

In the (my) blogging method, the writer blogs about everything that seems interesting, until a subject gels out of all of those disparate, short pieces.

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Matthias Ott elaborating on Doctorow’s piece:

[Rick Rubin’s] approach is to not limit his input at all, meaning that he curiously allows to enter his mind whatever draws his attention, regardless of whether it might seem relevant or “useless” in his current situation. There is no such thing as useless information, because you never know which new ideas will emerge as a synthesis of all the individual fragments of creative input you were exposed to in the past.

(I bailed on The Creative Act because I didn’t like the way he framed his ideas around “Source” but I keep encountering interesting thoughts gathered by others who persevered 😂)

The thing is: This process isn’t a science. The only thing we can do is to be curious, keep a record of the things we deem to be significant, and constantly look for clues pointing to new ideas, for fragments of thought suddenly turning into something bigger.

See also: Foraging for insights

Discerning the value of note-taking

Categories
Learning Writing

Foraging for insights

Alicia Kennedy describes gleaning insights, but foraging feels better as a metaphor for me.

Foraging is also the metaphor the lead in Uprooted uses to describe her approach to magic: that no one gets to the good spot for berries the exact same way every time, that you need to pay attention to the landscape and think about what feels like the right way to go.

Kennedy separately describes her approach to writing on a topic:

By mess, I don’t mean something like a spill on the floor to be mopped up, nor do I mean an entangled mass of cords to untie. I mean starting from a place of curiosity, of unknowing, on one subject and following all the places it leads.

This feels akin to foraging, where you don’t know exactly what you’ll find, but if you’re hoping for chanterelles you’ll start looking where you’ve found them before, or ask a friend for a tip, but if you come home with fresh nettles you’re happy as well. (I wouldn’t be pleased about eating nettles myself, but when I went foraging with a friend he was 😉)

By the time I sit down to write a short essay, specifically, I will ideally not look at my notes except briefly and I will go back to texts for specific quotes—the need for the quotes will basically burst into the text as I go.

On encountering the same concept again and again:

…it seems like my research is telling me something, like I’m onto something, like these threads I’m grasping about the everyday in the endless work of a writing life (of an artist’s life) are leading to something…

Categories
Culture Featured Technology Writing

Mining intellectual value

Liked Television writer on fight with studios, networks: “We’re looking at the extinction of writing as a profession” (World Socialist Web Site)

The executives, the management and their attorneys have taken the Writers Guild minimum basic agreement [MBA] and they’ve gone through it with a fine-tooth comb looking for every conceivable loophole, and exploiting those to the hilt. Basically, these companies would like to view us as Uber drivers.

But when you go into this mini-room and commit to this time, you don’t have any guarantee that if the show does go ahead, you’re going to be on the show, because those kinds of commitments are part of the “old model.”

The companies are saying: we’re not going to do that anymore; we’re not committing to you. We’re not promising you anything. We’re just saying, come in, we’ll pay you like piece workers, give us your best ideas and then get the hell out.

This is all part of the same business perspective that rejects artistry, rejects art, rejects the value of teamwork, rejects originality. This is the mindset that cancels once-flagship shows before their final season because the profit margin’s not high enough (Westworld) and writes off completed movies for tax reasons (Batgirl). There is no respect for the human creators who contributed to the show; they got their money, isn’t that enough? As Doctorow calls it, this is the enshittification of the entertainment industry, and in this case of culture itself, all for short-term shareholder value.

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Fun Websites

Fun personal website pages

Abecedarium (Randy J. Hunt)

Personal canon (Brendan Schlagel)

Categories
Getting Shit Done

Designing your system for creativity: Inputs

Watched Designing Your System for Creativity | March 2023 by Oliver Burkeman from Oliver Burkeman

Build a personalised practice for getting creative work done, consistently and enjoyably, in the face of distraction, procrastination, and endless competing demands on your time.

Agenda:

  1. A road map for imperfect creativity
  2. Finding the time
  3. How to think about ideas
  4. Building an idea farm: collecting
  5. Building an idea farm: planting

Guest speakers:

Tools he uses:

Organizing approach:

“You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps.”
— Richard Feynman

Overnight challenge:

Choose one to do before second half of talk tomorrow:

  1. begin a 30-day challenge
  2. cross a creative bridge — make a significant transition — something that closes some options
  3. let go of a project or idea

Day 2:

Designing your system for creativity: Outputs

Categories
The Internet Writing

With a blog, everything is a prompt

Liked Derek Powazek 🐐 (@fraying@xoxo.zone) (XOXO Zone)

The reason why retweet-style post creation is important is because it turns every post into a prompt.

Normal people need prompts. And social tools like Mastodon need normal people participating.

A blog with IndieWeb tools means that everything on the internet becomes a prompt. The entire Internet is my fuel for thought and writing, not just whatever people shared today on the socials. Everything is part of the “conversation” I’m “participating in” — just today, I’ve used a Mastodon post, email newsletters, and blog post as prompts — all from my home base online.

Of course, anyone on social media can pull in content from outside the silo — but that extra step adds friction. There’s a reason so many people are lurkers.

The practice of writing builds and reinforces an engaged, participatory mindset. The more you write commentary on whatever you feel like, the more comfortable you feel doing it: a virtuous cycle of writing and thinking.

In reading others’ debates over QTs in recent months, I’ve realized this is one of my main ways of interacting with content online: the quote as inspiration for another train of thought. “Reply” is not a good description of much of what I write here; I’d class most of my posts more as commentary than direct response. (To that end, I often post writing others might consider a reply as a like instead. My blog isn’t synced into the Fediverse, so this comment won’t feed back there — but that’s fine because I’m treating his post about QTs as a QT 😉)

A blog also feels like a safer place to write than social media; it’s a space I control, I’m not constrained by character count so I can add nuance, and it’s less subject to context collapse given the formats readers consume it (directly or via RSS). Sure, I reach fewer people, but virality is not something I want. Quality over quantity. (I might prefer a little more feedback than I get now, but I love my current approach to blogging too much to quit at this point.)

Categories
Art and Design Music

Want to watch: OK Go TED Talk

Bookmarked

I wanted to watch this the other day but it wasn’t on YouTube so my husband and I just wound up rewatching all of their music videos 😂

Categories
Learning Meta

Building maps of notes helps synthesize ideas

Liked Maps of Content (notes.linkingyourthinking.com)

Whenever you start to feel that tickle of overwhelm (Mental Squeeze Point), that’s when you need to become a cartographer of your own content and create a new MOC.

MOCs are nondestructive, non-restrictive, non-limiting perspectives… MOCs are “overlays” that add relevant information but that don’t affect your base level notes.

I like the framing of making a map of thoughts and notes. I’ve been feeling like I want another way to organize and collect information, this might be one way to think about it.

Categories
Writing

Idea-first or word-first writers

Replied to What are some tips for advanced writers? How do you push your writing into by Venkatesh Rao (Quora)

You could divide the world of advanced writers into a 2×2, based on whether they are prioritizing developing their thinking or their writing, and whether they are focusing on fiction or non-fiction.

Prioritizing thinking or wordcraft is an intriguing way to divide writers. (I usually find what Venkatesh Rao has to say interesting, though I often disagree with him.)

This mind garden is thinking-focused, often an unrevised braindump (sorry anyone reading 😅). I revise as I write, the writing process being largely a thinking process for me as well, with most of my edits to reflect changes in my thinking as I draft. I try to cut out my pet issues, which are usually asides tangential to, and distracting from, my main path of thought (of course, always after I’ve spent ten minutes writing a rant 😉) — although in casual writing like blogging I do like a more stream of consciousness, conversational style.

In my fiction, too, I’m an idea-focused writer. One of my friends writes lyrical prose that casts  mood beautifully — a writing style that serves her well for short stories. I don’t care enough about wordcraft to put in the work to develop gorgeous prose — and fortunately my workman prose is suitable for the commercial genres I write in, romance and science fiction. (I wonder if my indifference to finely crafted prose contributes to my distaste for literature 🤔 Other readers derive a lot of value from beautiful writing, but I’m honed in on the action and skim-read on fast forward to get to the good stuff, so the prose doesn’t really register for me unless it beats me over the head like Raymond Chandler 🤷‍♀️)

What matters to me in both my fiction and nonfiction writing is clarity — a mark I miss more than I’d like in first drafts 😉 In fiction I tend to write in a reverse order from what makes sense to the reader, so revision involves a lot of moving sentences around. In non-fiction, I tend towards overlong, overcomplicated sentences. Em dashes, semicolons, parentheticals, give em to me 😉

Learning to recognize your personal writing patterns and tendencies is a key aspect of getting better at revision; when I worked as a writing tutor we listened for patterns we could point out to a writer, so they could focus on spotting and revising those in future works.

How much, and how quickly, does practicing revision improve your first draft writing? In fiction writing I can focus on improving one aspect of my drafting at a time. Gradually, my initial versions need less attention. I’ve focused this way on dialogue and visual / sensory description (my fiction suffers from white room syndrome 😂) — but also know to put extra emphasis on checking for these in planning and revision. Part of becoming a better writer is adapting your process to suit your style and weaknesses — the quality of your first drafts is less important than the finished work, as long as you’re actually revising 😉

Categories
Getting Shit Done

Collecting thoughts

Liked The Imperfectionist: How to have ideas (and other ideas) (ckarchive.com)

A simple system for having good ideas:
I learned to keep an ever-expanding list of random thoughts, adding to it indiscriminately, never holding back because an idea seemed mediocre, stupid, or derivative.

Simple. Love it.

Also like the meta of combining several smaller thoughts into a list rather than dismissing them as too small.