Showing posts with label meta-. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meta-. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

(Much Delayed) Reflections on a Month of Blogging

Last month, I wrote 24 consecutive days, missed one, and finished out with a small bang on Sunday. I still have a dozen more ideas for posts, and plenty more to say. I am not entirely sure where to go from here, however.

Blogging takes time. Even a short post demands a certain amount of mental energy, and producing 500 words takes me at least 20 minutes. That's a bare minimum: depending on the 500 words in question, they might take me an hour to whip into a satisfactory shape. I might be able to push out 1000 words in 35 minutes—but only if I refuse to edit the piece, if I intentionally let the written record be simply what I thought at first. As any good writer—and especially any good editor—will tell you, that's a terrible strategy. So, given that I was publishing posts between 500 and 1000 words long every day, that was an average of 45 minutes each day that I spent on blogging. That, in turn, was an average of 45 minutes each day I did not spend on other things.

As it turns out, I didn't particularly miss most of those things. While there were a few days I didn't want to put out a blog post, by and large I enjoyed writing far more than I missed any of the other things I wasn't doing with that time. Halo: Reach is fun, but not nearly as enjoyable as thinking through interesting concepts, synthesizing ideas from the books and articles I'm reading, and generally forcing myself to grow by forcing myself to write.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. Like many others before me, I find that I learn by writing. I start out with a rough idea what I think on a subject, and tease out its intricacies, its twists and turns, its interesting corners by writing about it. Sometimes I find that I have to rewrite the opening of a position piece because, by the time I finish it, I have changed my mind. The process of wrestling through ideas and their consequences is transformative. At its very best, it forces me to distill vague notions down to concrete terms, forcing the vapor of my original conception to materialize into a solid shape.

Add to that the challenge of saying something meaningful day after day, and writing proves the best sharpener of my thought—and indeed, the best means of provoking careful thought throughout the day—that I know of. I enjoy writing not only for its own sake, but because it forces me to think throughout the day, not merely to drift along in the current of consciousness but to seize a paddle and force a direction through my stream of thought. It forces me to take hold of a notion and grapple with it until I understand it well enough to say something about it to others.

On the whole, I loved blogging every day last month. It was draining at times, certainly, especially when combined with a busy schedule and another major project running simultaneously. (You can see the results of that project here.) That sort of busyness is not itself a problem, at least from my point of view. My time was being spent productively and effectively, and I enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed any of the purely entertaining alternatives.

For my beloved wife, however, the month was a bit different. She was not inside my head, enjoying the adventure of thinking, processing, understanding with me. Much as I try, I can never quite communicate the thrill I get from thinking and writing—to anyone, even her. For her, those hours not spent playing Halo were hours not spent playing Halo with her. She felt separated from me, isolated by my tapping away at the keyboard. We are different, she and I. I feel happily connected if we are sitting near each other, occasionally pausing from our own tasks to talk, or share a quiet moment of holding hands, or an amusing thought or idea from a book or our own musings. She feels connected when we are sharing the activity itself. In short: I like writing side by side, she likes watching movies together.

While there are several reasons I haven't written a post since the start of November, one is that I haven't yet worked out the balance here. On the one hand, blogging is good for me. For all the reasons outlined above, it benefits me deeply. It sharpens my thinking and forces me to think, and in the sheer mundanity of my daily routine, that's important. At the same time, my relationship with my wife is exceptionally important. If I value my own intellectual satisfaction over caring for her and making sure her emotional needs in our relationship are met, I am just being selfish. When you add in all our other activities, especially in the evening, it is easy for her to feel disconnected (even if I don't). That is not a situation I can or will tolerate. As such, I am chewing on how to both serve my wife and achieve the ends that blogging helps me reach.

When I figure it out, I'll let you know. Until then, I will be here, fitfully and irregularly as ever.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Writing about Writing

For the first day since starting this project, I am not really motivated to write. The last several days, even when I had little to say, I felt motivated to put words out, and so was able to find something to say. Not so today. Yet here I am anyway: it would hardly to do fail my project only four days in.

Art is interesting that way (and under art here I include everything from writing to painting to singing). To do it well requires not only or even mostly inspiration but rather discipline. The two go hand in hand, of course, but one of them is an intangible, ethereal thing that can burn away like mist in the sun, and the other is something we can choose to engage. Without that choice, inspiration often fails us, because inspiration is often the product of hard work.

Yes, sometimes melodies or posts leap into my head fully formed, needing only to set them down, but far more often the best work I do comes out of the steady discipline of working despite the apparent lack of inspiration. Some of the very best orchestral writing I have ever done seemed rather dull at the time—it was solid, but did not feel very interesting. The perspective of history grants a different view, however, and usually a truer one (at least for those of us without a penchant for coloring our pasts the color of a Colorado sunrise).

So here I am, writing. And the words are flowing. They flow not because I had some well-formed plan for this post, but because I chose to sit down and write anyway. That is simply how art works. Will I look back on this post in a year and think it one of my best? It's unlikely. (Among other things, it's far too self-conscious and self-aware; metacognitive approaches have to be done exceptionally well to stand up to criticism, including the criticism of history.) Nonetheless, I will have achieved a few things when I set aside my computer and turn to other tasks.

First, I will have met the goal that I set for myself: to write every day. Let that goal slip just once, and the project has failed—perhaps not irretrievably, but it has failed nonetheless. I might still make 500 posts by the end of October, and I might even manage to write every other day this month, but success in a project like this is a matter of consistency. Letting a post go by means letting my discipline slack, and even if I "made up" for it later, that would miss the point of the project.

Second, I will have written a post. Not a terribly interesting one, perhaps, though those who enjoy commentary on the artistic and creative process may find a few interesting things to note here, but a post nonetheless.

Third, I will have had the opportunity to sharpen my thoughts on a few interesting points: the role of discipline in the creation of art, the strangeness of writing about writing (and especially writing about the writing that you're currently doing: writing about the writing that you're writing, so to speak), and the general nature of projects like this one. In short, I will have gained something even if no one reads this post.

In some ways, I think that's not unusual. Many people learn by writing. I know that in fleshing out responses to questions I often solidify my own thoughts. It is as though putting pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) acts as a lens to sharpen existing ideas, or a crucible through which those ideas have the dross expunged until what remains is much clearer and cleaner than what I started with. Strange, perhaps, but I think many people work this way. Otherwise, journaling in general and blogging in particular would not be so popular.

Finally, I will have laid the groundwork for a future and more detailed discussion of writing, and even of writing about writing. I promise not to spend too much time on metacognition, though, as I think the subject would quickly grow stale. In fact, I will make a commitment to myself as well as to you, my readers, not to discuss the issue again for two weeks. That should help keep things interesting.

Now: off to take care of a few things before Jaimie and I drive up to Tulsa to see the inimitable Trace Bundy in concert tonight. It should make for an excellent date!