I’m normally not one for new years resolutions. I usually have my head so far down through the busy month of December that by the time the new year rolls around, I’m just happy to catch a breath before it starts all over again.
Still, the new year happens to be a good time for reflection—particularly for teachers starting new semesters and business owners tallying up last year’s performance for tax season. This is where I find myself this year: reflective more than resolute.
My prevailing feeling from 2013 was want of change, despite not knowing exactly what change that might be. (Start a new company? Work for a big company? Go back to school? Move to New Zealand? Brew beer or make whiskey for a living?)
So, while I’m not going to say it’s a resolution—it is my goal to write more this year. I’ve got a stockpile of about 50 half-written articles between Evernote and WordPress drafts, and another bulleted list full of (mostly bad) ideas for about 100 more. Plus, I can recall saying, “man, I really should write up that tutorial” more times last year than I can count.
I’m not sure exactly why I want to write: it’s a mix of feeling like I have some contributions that others could benefit from, and using writing itself like the design process: iterating through ideas to arrive at better ones.
While I’m not sure what to write, necessarily, I know precisely what has prevented me from writing until now: the feeling that everything I publish needs be professional, insightful, and polished. But that has prevented me from publishing just about anything, and that’s just not how the design process works—we need feedback and critique of our imperfect work to improve upon it.
This particular post then, serves as a reminder to myself that I will write.
Stop worrying, love the “blog”
Blog. It’s weird word, right? It has mixed connotations today. Part of it feels not quite professional—rough, incomplete. (After all, I’m not writing about cats, what most recently happened in the life some celebrity, the latest episode of some sitcom, or with the sole intent of climbing search results to serve ads.) Somehow, the term “blog” became synonymous with that sort of writing in my mind.
And that’s totally unfair, because there are lots of blogs out there that I read, and respect (even if the authors don’t actually refer to their own writing as a blog—perhaps this is why I’ve called this section of my site “articles” or “writing” until now). I realized though, that I respect their writing, and it has helped me in my professional journey as a designer, freelancer and entrepreneur. And? I referred to their sites as blogs. This is how I learned to stop worrying and love the blog, if you will.
Plus, quite by definition, Wikipedia tells me that this is, in fact, a blog:
“A blog (a truncation of the expression web log) is a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first).”
Why write? Questions, not answers.
And in thinking about it, there is something great about writing that is “in the moment”. Lacking the formality of other writing styles, blogs (can) feel honest. They are part of a conversation—the writing poses questions instead of claiming to have all the answers. This thought reminded me of something I read a long time ago in The Blues: A Musical Journey, a collection of essays that accompanied Martin Scorsese’s The Blues documentaries.
There is an essay—or rather, a riff—in that book by John Edgan Wideman called, “A Riff on Reading Sterling Plumpp’s Poetry”. It’s about how Plumpp’s poetry reads like, and sometimes honors, blues music. This “riff” has always stuck with me, and it transformed my opinion about what writing could be. I had no idea who Wideman or Plumpp were before I read it—but when I was through, I had to dig deeper. This writing was a motivator.
There is one sentence that I could not get out of my head:
“Paradox: part of what he knows about himself is, of course, the blues—the blues forever mysterious, irreducible, open-ended, Promethean, in-progress, questions not answers.”
At the time—for a teenager infatuated with and discovering blues music—this blew my mind. Learning more about Wideman and Plumpp inspired me to write, and to read as much as I could.
To understand why that has inspired me to write (and in a way, gives me blessing to write imperfectly), perhaps that sentence needs a little more context:
“He [Plumpp] knows exactly who he is, where he’s from—even when (especially) he poses as somebody else. Not that he uncritically approves or romanticizes. Or brags. Or is blasé. Not that he doesn’t brag or profile or strut or seem quite satisfied with himself. Point is he doesn’t stand still. He owns up to paradoxes and inconsistencies, the flat out wars within his heart, soul, body, and mind. Because that’s the portable place he really comes from. His unfinished business on the planet. The song he keeps on singing.
Paradox: part of what he knows about himself is, of course, the blues—the blues forever mysterious, irreducible, open-ended, Promethean, in-progress, questions not answers. You never get the sense the poetry or poet claims to know what’s coming next, nor that the past, intimidating as it can be, is a done deal. Performance embodies tension—the troubadour moving on down the line. The mode of discovery of blues is checking what might work this time out. The poet or singer shares with the audience the particulars of a fragile truce he or she has achieved at some moment or another and seeks to reanimate the feel of that experience.”
Mmmhmm. Writing became something that could feel as exciting as live music, and music could make as much sense as prose when framed in this light. Wideman won me over.
A blog it is, then.
Since then, I’ve written many, many things. Reports, proposals, tutorials, emails, tweets, documentation, articles, presentations. Somewhere along the way, I lost the style that I had back then. I transferred the sentiment about writing into other creative outlets—design made more sense because of it. But now seems like the time to bring that back to writing.
Like the poet or bluesman trying “what might work this time”, this will be a place for me to experiment and discover.
It is an imperfect, in-progess, open-ended, humble… blog. I look forward to the discussion.
I’ve been coming around to another definition of blog lately: unrestricted social networking. The self-expression layer is there, of course, but the self-identification isn’t quite there yet. I like what the indieweb folks are doing, vs other decentralized social experiments–the goal isn’t to replace Facebook or twitter, per se, as to empower users to stand on their own two feet, and the lowly ol’ weblog is an interesting starting point for those conversations.