One of the reasons I find it so difficult to get more than a couple of entries in per year, is that I know they aren’t going anywhere after I post them. They’re sticking around for a while, and if they’re full of trivial crap then that doesn’t reflect very well on me. Posting about trivial stuff was ok when I was still trying to establish a sense of identity. These days, when I write something public, say on a mailinglist, I agonize over every detail because I know that this digital breadcrumb with my name attached will be around forever. So I keep raising the stakes to myself, neurotically checking over every possible extra whitespace in a patch I send in, sinking hours into something that should have taken 15 minutes.
I’m finally getting to the point where I realize it’s a problem that, for example, even when I’m texting someone, I try to get all of the spelling and punctuation correct.
It’s slowing me down.
I’ve had a lot of half-written blog posts that, after stepping away from them for a short while just don’t seem significant enough. I try to only publish pieces that either I think about for a while, or that I’m not hearing/reading others write about. But I’m always mindful about adding noise. The way I see it, when it became super easy for anyone to publish online, a lot of content flooded in that I simply don’t care for. Same idea with web 2.0 – because of Ruby on Rails, Django, and other web frameworks, writing a fancy (but useless) website became super easy – and now we’re oversaturated with them1. So there’s this internal tension: I think there’s too much crap-content out there but at the same time my internal filter keeps me from publishing anything. I rarely express my thoughts about what I find important in writing anymore. Others don’t seem to make such a big deal about self-filtering, and are much more prolific writers/bloggers/coders, etc.
So here’s a new acronym-sized motto to help correct this behavior, which is starting to get sprinkled in comments in the software I’m writing for my research: LTS. Life’s too short.I use it as a reminder of what in the past was one of my frequently used maxims: most things in life are pass or fail. This doesn’t mean that it’s ok to do a half-assed job on everything, but given that there’s a limited amount of time, I should focus my efforts only on that which is truly important. Typos in a text message or extra trailing whitespace do not qualify as such.
I wasn’t always this careful about what I publish. I’ve had some form of internet presence (as embarrassing as it may seem now) since I was in middle school. It started in one of those geocities neighborhoods, I don’t even remember any details right now, probably because my brothers helped me to set it up. I didn’t use my real name until I started a poetry website freshman year in high school.
I used my full name, because I wanted to express my thoughts and have them be connect back to my persona, not a pseudonym that I might grow tired of. I was quite explicit about this at the time. And I didn’t filter myself, I just counted a total of 20 poems on there which were written in the course of a year. None of them really make me cringe, and some I’m still quite proud of.
I had nothing to gain by hiding behind an alias. I think that attaching my real name somehow made my thoughts sincere. I started blogging socially my senior year in high school (livejournal), and looking back on the first entry there, I was just trying to capture day-to-day events and thoughts. Vim, THE editor, is mentioned five times in the first two entries . But there are some very candid and thoughtful remarks in there, too.
It’s kind funny to have your more than 10 year old website cited in a Yahoo! Answer to the question: “What is the best way to live life to the fullest?”.I mean, it is yahoo answers, we’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to content2 , but it’s still cool. Yeah, ok, so it’s doubly embarrassing because the citation is just for the lyrics to “The Sunscreen Song”. I’m ok with that.
And I’m very grateful for my many friends and colleagues who, by their example, continue to give me the courage to release my thoughts and code out in the open. Thank you.
As I was putting my finishing touches on this post, I found a recent entry on Scot Hacker’s blog titled “(I Don’t Care About) Facebook and Privacy” that covers similar ground: “For me, it’s simple: If what you have to say shouldn’t be said to the whole world, then don’t say it online.” I agree, and it’s a more sensible standard than my “everything you say will forever be connected to you, so don’t screw it up!” But just to be clear, this should only apply to things you intend to write up and release: I absolutely oppose Eric Schmidt’s dismissal of privacy. Eric says, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Due to its construction, it bears striking similarity to Scot’s quote above with which I mostly agree. But to me, Eric’s statement is a 1984-sized world apart.
Anyway, hopefully I’ve adequately explained my “publisher’s block”, and there are many related topics left to explore, but this is where I’ll have to end this post for now. LTS.
- Though this problem will probably sort itself out with time. I didn’t intent to write about this now, so I’ll just keep that remark without developing it further↩
- in fact, Elaine absolutely refuses to read anything on that site anymore, despite the fact that frequently, her google search string is verbatim the same as the question which comes up as one of the top results↩