0493 – suspend judgement of low-res work, increase resolution through practice

I’m writing this one while I’m on the train, taking the Green line (east-west) from my workplace to my parent’s place, across the whole of Singapore. It’s been amusing to me how much I’ve had to travel across and around the island since getting married. When I was younger, I’d spend pretty much 99% of my life in the Eastern quadrant, and even then the most number of train stops I’d typically have to travel was 3-5, tops. How things have changed.

I’m starting to get a sense of the stories that I want to write. I’ve started printing my word vomits (have I already written about this? This is the weird fragmentation that happens when I don’t do proper version control while writing, and have a bunch of fragments sitting around….), and the first 450 vomits or so make up a thick stack of A4 sized paper books. The average vomit takes 2 pages, and I print them single-sided so that I can write notes on the back if I want to. I bundle 50 vomits at a time, which is 100 pages– it doesn’t sound like a big deal when you think of a thin-ish paper novel, I’m talking 100 tall pages of thick essays. 50,000 words per bound copy– that’s a short novel, isn’t it? Novels are typically around 70,000 words to 120,000 words or so, maybe. Once I cross 1,000,000 words I’ll know that I’ve basically written all of Harry Potter, in terms of length.

All of this is giving me a confidence that I didn’t have when I was writing my first few vomits. My wife decided to give it a try herself, committing to 1,000 words in a single session. And interestingly, she was plagued with constant self-interruptions, double-checking to see how far along she had gone. It reminds me of Benjamin Zander talking about impulses in classical music playing. It’s when you bounce off of individual thoughts over and over again, a little too mechanically. Experienced musicians play through the entire phrase, going from A to Z without worrying too much about the stepping stones in between. They focus on the overall journey, the Line of Action. This takes a lot of practice to develop.

Very interesting to witness this in real time. Interesting to watch somebody doing it for the first time. Interesting to see how I did it before, and to observe how I’m doing it now. It’s quite a trip. Which is a nice segue to a point I’ve been wanting to make, about how Facebook allows us this really unique, kaledescopic experience of time– I can revisit an older friend’s Facebook pictures from years ago. This affords me multiple experiences. I can re-experience what I felt as a younger person 5 years ago. I can experience a new interpretation of the pictures I’m seeing of the younger version of my friend. I can experience what it’s like to feel older than a person in a picture, and yet I can relate that picture to the person who is still older than me (assuming they didn’t die– which everyone does eventually, and some people do far too early).

It’s a hell of a trip, I’d like it to do it more justice in writing. I’d like to explain and explore the idea through fiction, rather than explain it. Think about what Inception did for the perception of the passage of time, with multiple layers. We do something similar every time we look at old pictures of our older friends, old videos of artists we loved as kids, when they were younger than we are now.

The more I look at my writing, the clearer the picture gets. I’m going to keep getting better as a writer. I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to eliminate the bad stuff. I’m going to double down on the good stuff. I haven’t even really been going all out yet, I haven’t been totally crazy about it. It’s been something that I’ve been trying out in my spare time, after work. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me now that I will write for a living. In the mean time I am more than delighted to continue working where I am, learning and growing and contributing as much as I possibly can. I was the first content hire, hired to write blogposts. Now I work with designers and manage other writers, which has been a very interesting, enlightening, horizon-broadening experience. I can see a path to growth and learning. I can see what I’m supposed to be doing next.

But I’ll keep writing, too. I’ll write better stuff for work. I’ll write better stuff for pleasure. I’ll write better stuff for practice. I’m convinced that I can get good enough to be internationally significant, which is what I’m really going for. I’m starting to be able to see flaws and chinks in the writing-thinking of people that I used to admire. I still admire them, but I no longer see them as Gods. I see them as peers, to eventually be surpassed. And of course this isn’t a zero-sum game. Getting overly focused on other people is tedious and it is wasteful. All that matters is that I get better at expressing myself. I need to get more efficient at saying what I want to say.

I was talking to my wife earlier about her own struggle with writing. She has a brilliant mind, but she feels stifled by her inability to replicate her thoughts in writing. It always looks wrong to her. But that’s the whole thing, I told her. That’s the Gap. She has an uncommonly high-resolution mental picture, and a frustratingly low-resolution “printer”. So every time she tries to print a picture that’s in her mind, to her, it looks like nothing like what she intended. That’s what happens when you have taste but no ability (yet). [1]

So the challenge for her is to suspend judgement of her low-resolution writing, and practice. The amazing thing about all forms of expression is that we can get better. We can improve the resolution by becoming more nuanced. Consider how we can go from being bumbling babies to being brain surgeons. Even touching our own noses with a specific finger is remarkably more nuanced than a baby’s wiggling. We can all stand, and walk around, and those things were initially hard to do. Some of us just stop there, while others keep getting more refined and go on to do trapezes and unicycles.

There’s really no reason to stop. Don’t stop. (Believing. Hold on to that feeling.)

Lol k bye

[1] And taste is something that’s tough to teach, if it can be taught at all. The most you can do is guide people’s attention, point them to this and that, and if you’re lucky they’ll make the leaps and connections themselves. Plato said something about how learning is ultimately a sort of madness, you get the idea.

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