February 22nd, 2021

📝 Starting a Public Notebook

Can I write public texts on the web?


Hey, I'm @meekaale from Twitter. This is me:

Inspired by @DRMacIver's text 📰 A Guide to Starting a Daily Writing Practice, I'm launching this Daily Public Notebook as a Roam graph, aiming to write something here almost every day.

The daily writing practice I’d advocate for is to write at least one sentence, as close to every day as you can manage, in a location that gives you the opportunity to easily write something closer to a short essay should you choose to do so. *

I'm doing writing coaching with @sashachapin and I got stuck on the fourth draft of the article I tried to write. The first three drafts were fun to bang out, but as I started trying to synthesize them and edit the result into an article worthy of publishing, I started feeling stressed and anxious.

You are probably much better at writing than you think you are, but writing feels hard not because writing is hard but because you have a lot of associated anxiety with it (school does that to you). *

These days I have only a few hours per week to write. I need a practice that's forgiving, relaxed, enjoyable, while still encouraging me to write and publish. And MacIver's advice leads me to choose Roam, because I already write there all the time.

You should avoid any nontrivial activation energy for getting started and just start. Pick wherever to write is the lowest effort for you to do so, don’t try to do anything complicated to get set up. *

Deep Laziness, Structure-Preserving Transformations, and Elaborated Time

I'm reminded of Sarah Perry's article 📰 Deep Laziness, inspired by Christopher Alexander, about better living through Structure-Preserving Transformations.

A “structure-preserving transformation” does not impose arbitrary (conscious, legible) order on the system, but takes its cue from the existing structure, and elaborates and strengthens it. *

This article is on my mind lately because we're trying to find ways to make our home life more beautiful. But only now I realized I can apply it to my writing project, transforming my private journalling into public writing—and it feels like a revelation.

Just an hour ago I was thinking about WordPress and feeling nauseated and bored, the feeling of doing something I know that I don't want to do, that I'm going to abandon.

But now, I miraculously find myself already having a daily public notebook that makes sense within my life. I can do my writing as part of what Perry calls Elaborated Time:

Elaborated time is reached in easy steps, a natural progression arising from each particular context. Its essence is doing the most natural, lazy thing that accords with the context of the whole person and all of the accompanying circumstances. *

Realizing I can do it like this, I felt what Eugene Gendlin in 📙 Focusing calls a Body Shift, the "feeling of coming unstuck inside":

You often can see it and hear it when it happens in somebody else. There may be a long audible sigh of relief, a sudden loosening of some tight facial grimace, a quick, comfortable relaxing in the posture. *

The Roam Style and Referential Richness

I'm used to writing my own private research journal in Roam, and I've always gotten stuck when I've tried to write blog posts, articles, essays, or whatever, but this feels like a fascinating hybrid activity.

Just the outline structure feels cool as a way to structure an article while still maintaining a linear sentence narrative.

It's like sections but without titles. I feel encouraged to nest more deeply than I would with sections, and this seems like an improvement on conventional article formatting.

It makes a lot of sense as a drafting structure, and maybe this notebook is actually a kind of public draft workshop.

I would normally judge the quality of private journaling and public writing in very different ways.

In my private journal, there's almost no concern with legibility, keeping the reader's attention, and such writerly qualities; it's just a second brain for my own use.

In an article, those concerns are paramount and perfectionistic.

But in this Roam notebook, I feel attuned to a different vibe, a middle way.

Roam really started to unlock new levels of generativity for me when I realized I can automatically get all my highlights from Kindle and Instapaper imported automatically via Readwise.

All the highlights I've made casually over the years are now suddenly available with fantastic ease to reference on the fly while writing.

Since the day I found this pipeline, I've started to read books in a different way, with a primary focus on identifying good highlights to bring into my graph.

And so I've already been privately doing what 📰 A Guide to Starting a Daily Writing Practice recommends:

My favourite prompt is to find some interesting passage of writing, copy it out, and add commentary. *

One benefit of the daily writing practice, according to MacIver, is that

by writing daily you’ll start to notice themes across your writing, and you can begin to draw them out, connecting up your knowledge and thoughts better. *

Needless to say, this is the essence of Roam.

What I'll Write About

The article I've been trying to write is about drawing connections between Eugene Gendlin and Christopher Alexander.

Can I keep my intention to compose a decent article about that topic, while also shifting towards writing in this notebook?

Well, I've got three different drafts already. I can just import those, and then tomorrow I can synthesize them into a notebook post, using the great feedback I got from @sashachapin.

This also seems in tune with 📰 Deep Laziness.

It's interesting that in this first post I've already referenced both Gendlin and Alexander without really intending to, just because they were both relevant to the meta-writing project of starting this notebook.

They are two of my favorite thinkers, so I'll be referencing them all the time, I'm sure.

Another theme on my mind these days is a philosophical exploration that broadly has to do with motivation, virtue, phenomenology, mental health, and religion.

And I also want to write more personal stuff—about life with a Toddler, what's going on in my life, reflections from my messy basement workshop, and so on.


Great, that's it!

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