Year Number Six

Another year, another retrospective post. Today marks the sixth year since this first post, and the start of a new decade – the Twenties! This decade will be much nicer to refer to casually than the Two-Thousands or the (Twenty-)Tens. Which should go some way to softening the impact of the global pandemic and subsequent economic depression I’m sure.

2019 was a more eventful year on this blog than 2018, partially because it involved me actually finishing a bunch of posts I’d started in 2018. The post people engaged with the most was this one about the IndieWeb, which was useful for testing out the Webmention implementation it introduced. I don’t see federated social networking overtaking FaceTwitGramTube anytime soon, but it’s good that it exists.

2019 was a year of some experimentation with eclectic content. While none of that gets as much traction as practical articles about GPU passthrough and wiki setups (let alone as much as snarky articles about RSS), the point of this blog has always been to write about stuff I find interesting and think could be interesting to at least one other person. Emphasis on think. A personal blog is necessarily an exercise in self-indulgence.

My posting schedule has been erratic, varying between three posts per month to three months without posts. There’ve been times when I’ve felt like it would be better to post on a more consistent schedule – at times I’ve tried to stick to a schedule of one or even two posts per month, but I’ve never managed that for very long. Although lately I’ve had a lot of time to build up a buffer, so expect more frequent posts in the short run.

I’ve decided this irregular schedule isn’t a bad thing. The dominant feature of the modern social media internet is the endlessly scrolling feed, with its emphasis on freshness. People who make YouTube videos talk about the importance of a regular update schedule to appease the mighty algorithm. Marketers and SEO gurus talk about “content”, which has become some kind of commodity. The web is replete with articles and entire books exhorting the reader to create, to make things, to develop a productive habit, but many focus on the mechanical act of creation as an end in itself. Which makes me think of the story of Master Wq and the Markdown acolyte:

A Markdown acolyte came to Master Wq to demonstrate his Vim plugin.

“See, master,” he said, “I have nearly finished the Vim macros that translate Markdown into HTML. My functions interweave, my parser is a paragon of efficiency, and the results nearly flawless. I daresay I have mastered Vimscript, and my work will validate Vim as a modern editor for the enlightened developer! Have I done rightly?”

Master Wq read the acolyte’s code for several minutes without saying anything. Then he opened a Markdown document, and typed:


HTML filled the buffer instantly. The acolyte began to cry.

A few years ago I read a short ebook that excitedly proclaimed it would teach the reader to write a book in a weekend. From what I recall of the content, the idea was to do a bunch of research on Saturday and then go for a walk on Sunday and narrate your book into a recorder app on your phone for later transcription (perhaps by a gig worker in SE Asia). Bam! You’ve written a book! You’re a writer!

A blog post I read recently proposed getting into the writing habit by assembling articles through (1) copy-pasting a whole bunch of paragraphs from your research about some topic, (2) ordering them and (3) systematically paraphrasing each one. Bam! You’ve written a series of regular blog posts! You’re an influencer!1

I question the value of a book written in a weekend or a series of articles assembled through paraphrasing. In an overreaction to a perceived passivity in culture,2 the act of creation is fetishised even when the product is worthless. Writing down things you learn is often a useful way to properly understand and internalise them, but there’s more to creation than watering down things extracted from elsewhere into a shallow soup. You have to actually bring something of your own. And that’s hard work that most people can’t do on command and with regularity.

My favourite comedic webcomic is Anthony Clark’s Nedroid. This is a consistently hilarious comic with an entirely irregular update schedule. Clicking random comic on its site will just about always turn up something funny. In comparison, the rigidly MWF-scheduled xkcd is only occasionally funny, because no-one can come up with a good joke three times a week forever – this is why newspaper cartoons tend to rely on minor variants of the same joke about Mondays or lasange.

Don’t feel bad about irregularity. Unless it’s your job, you don’t need to fetishise productiveness in creativity – on a long enough timeline, consistent quality holds up better than consistent quantity. After all, you’re not a number.

  1. Or you would have been, in 2007, when blogging was culturally relevant. ↩︎

  2. This is overblown: more people can be considered creators now than in the era when TV was the dominant media. The internet, despite increased corporatisation, is still an enormous well-spring of creativity from a great multiplicity of voices. The mere existence of Twitter means that we have more writers active now than at any previous time in human history. ↩︎

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