You may have noticed a pattern in my posting over the last few months. There was a lengthy quiet period at the end of last year, followed by many posts so far this year. You may also have noticed that I’ve been clearing a large backlog of book reviews, but with each separated by a non-book review post.
Well, of course the dry spell was caused by complaints. Apparently I was posting too many book reviews, my blog had become too much of a book-blog. It’s funny the effect that complaints and criticism can have. When you have to work out if everything you write is something that someone else will want to read, the effort of making that decision on top of the effort of writing can very quickly become pretty expensive.
It’s stupid to complain about this though. That kind of complaint is something everyone has to go through as soon as their output is read. If you want readers, then expect that, and if you’re not after readers, then don’t publish. Pretty simple. At first I kept writing my reviews without publishing, but that wasn’t enough, so they’re now back. But it doesn’t really work to say I want to publish this and readers be damned. So, a compromise. I’m interspersing my book reviews with other posts, like this one. Stories, photos and good old rants. The backlog of reviews will eventually clear. I’m not sure what will happen then…
But I also wanted this post to be some sort of explanation for why I have continued the book reviews. Originally, I said that I just wanted to keep track of what I’d read and any first impressions. But, I’ve found that planning to write a review changed the way I read and, for me, in a good way.
I found I was reading books a lot deeper. I was predicting plot twists, noticing intentional coincidences and becoming more involved and aware of the atmosphere the author was trying to create. I also started to notice the techniques the author may have used to achieve this. Turns of phrase, pacing with a description at a well-timed juncture to set the mood. The language they use and how it might affect your impressions. I found that this closer reading managed to significantly increase my enjoyment of a book - even a not particularly good one. I can’t promise it’s for everyone, but I’ve got a lot out of it and it will continue.
Everything that appears on this blog is written twice. Well, most things, like longer posts such as this and all my book reviews. The first writing is done in long hand using a fountain pen in a journal of some sort (currently, an unruled, leather wrapped Corban + Blair given to me by a couple of friends.) Then I type the entry out using Emacs and post from MarsEdit. A combination of old and new technology that I like. So why do I have this involved writing process? Why not just type directly into Blogger’s text edit field?
Well, there’s a couple of reasons. Some apply to everyone, and others apply only to me. Firstly, Blogger’s (and all web app) text fields suck. You’re just far to exposed too exposed to bugs in too many different pieces of software. If I’m going to write a long post, I want some more confidence that it’s going to survive to be published. Secondly, I live inside Emacs and I’m officially Emacs-retarded; I want my reflexive editing keystrokes to do what I expect.
But those are just technical reasons and only apply to the MarsEdit/Emacs parts of my process. Why the long-hand? The fountain pen?
In truth, I don’t really know. And to be honest, ‘affectation’ would be the biggest part of the answer. It’s hard to justify a fountain pen and a leather-bound journal any other way.
But, but, but… a blank computer screen has never been a very creatively inspirational sight for me. Even when programming. I just can’t start thinking when I’m staring at a blank text window. I need to get away from a computer and into a garden and then I can start to think.
That was without planning or thought. While living in Darwin, when doing any programming I’d figure something out - and then find myself in some part of the garden. I’d got up from the computer and walked around the garden on auto-pilot.
Anyway, a journal and a pen get me away from a computer. And once you’ve written with a fountain pen, you’ll never be able to write with any other pen again. There’s just something about the way the ink lays down while the nib glides effortlessly across the page…
But there’s also something about the act of writing for me. It’s just a great way to crystallise and direct my thinking. Of course it largely comes out as a mess on the first pass. Incoherent sentences, the same word repeated over and over again. The typing it all out again is a fantastic editing process. I can’t help but fix up all those little problems. In the end, I enjoy the writing process, much as I enjoy reading. These are things that work for me, with how I want to read and write. Always make sure you do what works for you.
Finally, in all my talk about what I write in my blog you may have noticed that there was no mention of the computer science that used to be a staple of this blog. Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. My new work project is intensely interesting and gives my a lot of scope for thinking about comp. sci. and experimenting with ideas: the sort of thing I used to do here. But the damn, freaky secrecy of my work prevents me from talking about that. There is a slight cracking of the paranoia though, and hopefully at some point I’ll be able to write about that here.
Also, hang around on reddit enough and you see a veritable flood of badly written tutorials on the latest programming feature to catch the eye of the blogosphere. I choose not to contribute to that until I have something substantially interesting to all. Surprisingly enough, my lament about protoypes fell into that category. I believe Shrew also will; there will be more about that at some point.