A Year of Writing

December 11, 2022 [reflections] #writing

This is the most I have written publicly in any year. It has mostly been book reviews. Despite the lack of quality, the overwhelming feeling I have is that it has been worth it. It seems like I have made learning an active choice, rather than leaving it to chance. In fact, a major regret I now have is not just that I didn't write more this year but that I didn't start writing publicly earlier in life.

Here are some reflections about the process from the past year.

  1. The inertia to write is immense. I try putting it off till I can't any more, till I am compelled by some inner force to do it. I am unable to explain what this inner force is.
  2. I am never happy with any of my posts. Even after I publish them I continuing tweaking the structure, changing a word here or a paragraph there. This usually continues for a few days.
  3. Paradoxically, there is a feeling of satisfaction when I finish writing a post, even before I have published it. The very act of grappling with words and text and trying to make sense makes all the effort worthwhile.
  4. I only stop the tweaking drafts when I grow tired of it after a few days and I convince myself that it is a waste of time. This is preceded by the thought that no one cares. I find the fact that most people will not read what I write freeing. It means I do just enough to not be too ashamed if a friendly stranger does happen to chance upon my posts while also having the freedom to write about anything I please. Writing in public is also a forcing function to produce what others might consider useful. For everything else, there's journaling.
  5. While I am never happy about the quality, seeing the number of posts is satisfying. Writing is proof of work, evidence that I have worked through some books and ideas.
  6. A few years ago I read Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue. It clearly had some effect on me because I remember recommending it to at least two friends. I now can't recall what the central point of the book is except that evolution has got to do why humans care so much about virtue. I have read some longer and harder books since then. There is David Reich's book on population genetics, Andre Wink on the Indo Islamic world, and John Stratton Hawley on the Bhakti movement in India. Then there is David Gaeber on debt. Thanks to writing about these books, I can recall what exactly their major theses are and what I think about them. I can now articulate some of my worldviews in a manner I find persuasive and can explain where these ideas that I hold dear could have possibly originated.
  7. Even when I feel I have nothing to say, it seems that I can force myself to write and discover what I really think about something. This has happened with all of the posts. I never know the shape these would eventually take. I just start writing and in the act discover the form and arguments. I do need an initial impetus though, a spark to trigger the writing. This has taken the shape of books, mainly. For this current post though, it was the question "What did I learn from a year of writing?".
  8. Producing 700 or 800 words, which is not much, takes a lot of my time! 2 or 3 hours, for the first draft and initial editing. Once I start, I am pretty absorbed by the process and I am not even aware of the time passing by.
  9. Lowering the friction to write has helped me produce more. I have had wordpress blogs and squarespace sites before where the editor is in the browser. Now I write markdown files on VSCode or iA Writer. I find writing with these tools to be a more pleasurable experience. I generate a static website automatically with a commit. No more login issues, or dealing with two factor authentication. Now that I think about it, I hated working with squarespace editor.
  10. When I write, I am creating a narrative. I am telling a story that feels coherent to me. When I do this, I choose to engage with only some parts of the book. I am aware I am ignoring other sections and ideas from the author. I don't feel too beat up about this curation process. The author also does the same thing with the subject matter and with the evidence they have marshaled. This is the narrative fallacy. I am at peace with the fact that we can never know everything about any thing. Each of us choose to connect dots in ways that makes sense to us conditional on what we know of the world. Only after I started writing and making these editorial choices did it sink into me how much this is baked into everything we do.
  11. Bonus: It seems true after all, that the more one writes, the more one can write.

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