0582 – think strategicially about writing projects

While I haven’t been writing, I’ve definitely been doing a lot of thinking – at least subconsciously, or semi-consciously, or pre-consciously… well it’s been simmering on my backburner. I’ve been thinking about what my future is going to be like, and actually what the future of my writing is going to be like. I feel like I’ve achieved a bunch of things that I had set out to achieve with my word vomit project, with my marriage, home ownership, and at work. The overarching question weighing on my mind in all cases is, “Well, now what? What next? Where do we go from here?”

With my word vomit project – I’ve grown rather weary of thinking out loud about myself, examining my own habits, my lifestyle, my day-to-day life, my identity performance, my existential woes and so on. I want my writing project to serve my future writing projects. I know I want to become a published author. I’m not yet 100% sure if it’s going to be fiction or non-fiction, but I know that it’s going to have narratives, it’s going to have characters, it’s going to be about events, it’s going to have settings, it’s going to challenge and move readers to think in somewhat new and interesting ways. So I have to work backwards from that. I’m not particularly obsessed with the idea of having a physical copy of a book published, although that would be a nice tangible output. It’s possible to overoptimize for that and write something not-great for the sake of it just to publish something. I definitely don’t want to do that. What I want is to write something that satisfies my own taste. And that’s where the gap comes in – it’s possible to use “this doesn’t satisfy my taste” as an excuse for never publishing anything ever. That’s sad and unproductive and misery-inducing. So… no. What I want to do instead is publish lots of little experiments in writing that get me closer to what I want to do. I know that on my deathbed I’m still going to think, “Ah, that stuff I published wasn’t nearly as perfect as I wish it were.” It’s going to be 10% of what I wanted it to be. That’s just a limitation of reality and I’m going to have to work with that. Let’s just get that out of the way as early as possible.

I want to write essays, trains of thought, assessments of things, evaluations, interpretations, what-ifs, observations, hypotheses. I also want to develop a taste for… describing tangible things. I read somewhere that some author would spend his days verbalizing whatever he was doing. I guess you could call this the development of a narrator’s voice. How do I describe people? How would I describe my colleagues, my commute, my work, my marriage, my home, all of those things? I don’t have a lot of practice doing that. I write in a somewhat abstract way, describing concepts and ideas rather than details. So I guess I want to get better at describing details. Maybe I should take a few vomits just describing objects. That does sound like fun to me. Although I’m not sure if it makes sense to devote an entire vomit to a single object. That sounds like it would be stretching it.

Well, that last paragraph was me taking something wispy and vague in my mind and making it precise by putting it to pixel. I appreciate that. I think that’s one of the coolest, most magical things about writing. I want to keep doing that over and over again. I find myself thinking “I would like to spend a year doing nothing but that.” To which my second thought is “I better be careful what I wish for, because that might just get boring fast.”

Which makes me think about this interesting tension between committing to a project and seeing it through (which I am doing with the 1,000 vomits – I’m going to finish it even though at times it felt like I should abandon it to do other things) and allowing yourself to change and adapt and evolve your idea about what you’re doing. It’s the challenge of project management, and I see my boss and colleagues doing it every day over the course of months and years. Some things just have to be abandoned, but other things have to be revisited over and over again even though it’s tedious. How do you find a balance?

Well, you need to have a vision of what you want, where you want to go. That can change over time, but you shouldn’t change it every day. You should figure out what your invariants are. So if you want to build a great software business, and you’re committed to doing that, you shouldn’t change your mind next week or next month and decide to do a consultancy instead. Well… it’s complicated and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do justice to the nuanced system of thinking and planning within the context of a single vomit. I’m not sure my mind is clear enough about it.

But here’s what I think I know. I know that I want to be a writer, for example. I’m quite comfortable saying that that’s never going to change. I may eventually develop into becoming a screenwriter or a playwright or something specialized like that, and that will require developing some specific skills that I might not foresee. But the grander vision that contains all of that is – to develop myself in the art of seeing, in the art of thinking clearly, in communicating effectively, and to use those skills to say things that aren’t being said well, to say things well in a way that moves people, that helps people see things in new ways, do new things, transcend old ways of seeing and being. That vision is pretty much unchanging, I can commit to that. So the devil really is in the details, which I’ll get into in another vomit.

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