One Million Words to Nowhere?
There is a saying about writing that’s attributed to Ray Bradbury that one needs to write a million words to get the awful stuff out before you can write the good stuff. This observation seems especially appropriate to me today, because it’s my 10 Year Blogging Anniversary. I hit the million-word mark quite some time ago, and my feeling that I haven’t yet accomplished anything significant with my writing seems to corroborate the saying.
On the plus side, I’m ready to move forward and change things up a bit. I’ve been well aware that for the past few years I’ve been writing in an increasingly inward-looking manner. I don’t feel bad about it, because I have been working through interesting questions to harvest new insights. As a result, I’m feeling pretty confident with regards to knowing myself. On the other hand, what I’ve been writing about has not been particularly fun. On top of that, I’ve even been finding my personal projects—the ones that are supposed to grant me all kinds of wonderful freedoms—are not particularly fun at all. Re-engineering my website, for example, is something that’s part of the Future Freedom n’ Fun Plan but I don’t really enjoy it. Almost all of my projects fall into this category of necessary tedium, not particularly fun in the moment.
A related insight is that while I now have confidence in my ability to be productive in the face of uncertainty, thanks to adopting a more proactive experimental mindset, I still expect that these projects are “fun”. Since they are not, I get frustrated and impatient as the delay in gratification reinforces just how little fun I’m having. I’ve started to develop a far more serviceable attitude toward time, that time should serve my art, not the other way around.
Armed with self-knowledge, a realistic assessment of the nature of my projects and their relationship with my frustrated ambition, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s very little else I need to know in order to start grinding my way toward those goals that I haven’t dared wish for out-loud. I wrote about them last week in the post Daring to Realize My Master Goals, and after mulling them over I’ve decided to make them the focus of a blogging reboot as well. The goal? Write about what I’m doing as much as what I’m thinking. Those million words have just about gotten everything I possibly want to think about out of my head, and as a result my mind is clear. For the next million words, I want to be focused on directing my attention toward projects that, despite their daunting nature, inspire me to write, share and do. In other words, I am hopeful the the writing will be fun again because it’s facing outwards toward new horizons of understanding.
The Six Big Goals
Illustration is something I am not very practiced at, and so to kick off this new phase of directed experimentation, I decided to draw some pictures, which I’ll explain as I present each of the six (plus one) goals:
Make a Video Game – Technically I’ve made video games since I’ve worked in the industry professionally, but I’ve never made my OWN video game as an auteur expressing my own aesthetics. This has been a half-desire for 35 years, and I think I need to put it to rest.
The image is of a fanciful space game that uses a second monitor for “stuff” that I imagine being a very cool social UI. My confidence level is fairly high on a technical level; I have worked all my life to master graphics and programming skills. It doesn’t have to be a very original or large game, but it has to be complete in every detail.
Illustrate a Book – I really love illustration and illustrators, but have found it daunting for all my life. I’ve recently come to believe that the only barrier has been my reluctance to practice drawing as a mindful exercise in problem solving on paper. This is quite a long term, time-intensive goal that may take me 10 years to get down. I’ve seen people do it. Instead of shying away from an art form that is really close to my heart due to frustration, I want to embrace it! I want to make images that make me happy!
The image I drew is just a frowny stick figure portrait in a frame. I couldn’t think of anything else at the time.
Creative Independence is the ongoing goal of making a living from my own design work, under the conditions I described here.
The image is of a fruit tree bearing fruit; this is the mental model that fits my style of productivity. There was a time where a factory assembly line was my model of productive efficiency, but it doesn’t apply very well to creative tasks where solving new problems and working through uncertainty is a major part of the terrain!
Music Composition – Like illustration, I really like music. However, my love tends to be more about the structure of sound and the connection with emotion. I actually can’t hear lyrics very easily, as the vocals tend to dissolve into pure sonic impression without any verbal content, which is really fascinating to me because I’m such a verbal person to begin with. As I can’t play an instrument, learning to compose and arrange music might be quite a challenge, but I’m confident that I can cobble-together a non-traditional approach to music education that will advance my understanding. This is another long term goal.
The image I drew hints at the approach I’m thinking of, which is to use software trackers and digital performance tools to manipulate soundscapes. I have a decent ear, so I should be able to accomplish something.
Develop Thinking Tools – The various productivity tools I have made just scratch the surface of what I’d like to do with a unified thought processing system. What’s held me back is a reluctance to be a software developer as opposed to being a game designer, as it’s a discipline which requires a considerable time investment. These day, though, I’m seeing programming mastery not as a time sink, but as an opportunity. I have very strong opinions about software design, and it will be good to put my money where my mouth is and see if I can pull something off. However, the goal is the production of a tangible system you can hold in your hand, because I like physical stuff.
The image is of a hybrid physical notebook + digital system filled with cool graphics. There is quite a lot of structure required to support thinking, and I think this will be a fascinating project to pursue.
Fabricating Physical Goods – I wish I knew how to make stuff out of circuits, wood, and metal. Despite having an electrical engineering degree, I’ve never had the skill to hack together a circuit that does anything remotely cool, using my knowledge of the CONCEPTS behind them to support my work as a programmer. This has worked out well, but there are all kinds of things I’d like to make for various reasons. I have a sensitivity for materials and physical structures, and I want to build beautiful little gadgets that I can sell. But to do that, I need to become familiar with precision wood working, metal smithing, adhesives, casting, and so on. Where to start? I find this very daunting.
The image is a fanciful mechanical element that enhances another element. It is in fact something that’s been on the drawing board for a number of years that might actually be really cool.
Although there are six official goals, I added a seventh one to serve as a hobby, because I am spending a lot of time on it:
Cooking Science – I love tasty foods, and spend a lot of time either looking for the best authentic food experiences and recreating them. If a food item has a story behind it, I want to experience it. My approach to cooking is intuition backed by cooking science and food lore, and I’m constantly looking for ways to reproduce a perfect sear on a lovely piece of meat. I have a zillion food thermometers and do experiments on heat transfer between different pans given a specific food type.
The image is a beaker with a chicken drumstick in it on a heating element that is using temperature control to keep it from getting over 150°F, which is the temperature that a piece of chicken might overcook. It’s not a very hygenic scene I’m depicting, but it has roots in my fascination with Sous Vide cooking, and temperature control in general.
Changes to the Blog
To track all these projects, I’ve added a new section to the home page that takes to six project focus pages, which will curate all topically-related posts in one place so it’s easy to follow along. Right now it looks like a row of blue blocks; clicking on them will take you to the related page. It’s kind of similar, conceptually speaking, to the Productivity Tools page, which concentrates the more popular forms into one place. I’m also hoping that these project focus pages serve to provide context for some of my past content, conveying my creative explorations in more topical form. We shall see!
Right now, the project focus pages are pretty bare, but over the next few weeks I’ll start working on them. I need to add a rollover effect to the images so they are more obviously clickable. I’ll also be cleaning up the existing categories which are visible on the Grid View of the blog.
So that’s it. For my 10th Blogging Anniversary, I’m shifting my writing focus to writing about my “big dream” projects as I start to fully engage the work with a better-tuned attitude toward difficulty and uncertainty. What was missing before was a strong sense of mission. Here, the mission is realizing that these are indeed goals I’ve always wanted to pursue, but have been too chicken to really admit that I wanted to do them in the face of possible embarrassment, discomfort, inconvenience, and wasted time and energy. The path to achievement is paved with that stuff. There’s no avoiding it. Intelligence and cleverness have granted me a little bit of an advantage, but the over-application of it has, in my case, led AWAY from achieving this set of dream goals. Instead, I’ve achieved RELATED goals that are of high value to other people, but do not light up my own soul.
I’m both exciting and scared. That’s a good sign.