My friend and colleague Vern used to joke that it was more fun to write code to help you write code than it was to actually write code. Except that it’s not just a joke, it also contains a truism: if you like to create things, it’s really easy to find things to put off the actual act of creating. Especially if that involves creating something else.
Exhibit the first: When I started hacking on gsc , I didn’t do it because I wanted to dig into version control. I did it because I wanted to blog more, but I “really needed a great theme first”. And I knew that doing it from scratch was foolish, so I decided to base it on Carrington . But Carrington uses subversion, and I wanted to track my local changes, like any competent engineer. And none of the DVCS tools I found handled
svn:externals, so there I was, writing a tool to help me develop a theme, so I could actually get around the writing (creating) something. Let’s be honest, hacking on gsc didn’t motivate me to write more. It just let me put off something I wanted to do, in the name of perfection. [NB: I’ve since just given in and begun using Carrington Text ; I have a few local modifications, but until they grow sufficiently large, I’m not going to worry about them]
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of spam here that gets caught in the moderation queue. This has actually been nice in one respect: I get to go back and revisit some of the things I wrote in 2003-2005. One thing I’ve noticed is how awful a lot of that writing is, but also how frequent. It’s like it just kept coming and I had to let it out. In contrast, I wrote 14 posts in all of 2009.
I should point out that it’s not that I’m not writing these days. I started journaling again back in 2006, writing for an audience of one. I have a shelf in my bedroom with my journals on it.
Since moving to San Francisco, my writing on the blog has declined, and my writing in my journal has picked up more than proportionally. On that shelf, June 2007 through 2009 dwarf 2006 (I think 2006 has one or two notebooks on that shelf; the rest are post-move). One of my hypothesis about the reason for this is about the tools: all I get to pick are a notebook and a pen (or pencil, occasionally); once I’ve done that, I stop thinking about it until one or the other runs out.
This hypothesis is supported by my other writing experience of late; during the fall semester I took a writing class at City College of San Francisco — “Creative Writing: Autobiography”. I didn’t take the class because I wanted to write my autobiography, I took it because I wanted to try writing in a more structured way, and it turned out to be a really enjoyable, productive experience. But when I sit down to edit things on the computer, I immediately start mulling over “Emacs or OpenOffice.org? Should I be using DVCS to track my changes? Maybe flashbake ? And if I do, is that one repository per piece, or one for the entire class?” This sounds ridiculous as I write it, because it is; those questions are really entirely irrelevant to the work I want to do. They’re just ways to distract myself from what the actual desired output is.
I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions; reading my abortive journal from 2004, I found a “resolutions” entry containing things that never happened, or that only happened years later. I guess my intention for 2010 is to try and focus on the desired outcome, what I actually want to do. I discovered in 2009 that I like to write. And I’ve known for a while that I like to make things. Maybe one day I’ll have the perfect toolkit, framework, theme, or workflow for that; right now, I can do far, far worse than just focusing on the task at hand.