alan little's weblog

on writing trivia

3rd December 2003 permanent link

I’ve been thinking about what I’m actually doing with this weblog. Writing-wise, it’s not as good as the one I kept a couple of years ago when I was studying yoga in India. That one had a coherent theme — yoga studies plus the adventures of Alan in a strange land — and a clear target audience — initially my friends & family back home, and gradually a worldwide audience of yoga students who, I could safely assume, at least had some common grasp of what I was writing about. And I had abundant time. All the actual typing was done in short bursts at internet cafés, but I had plenty of quiet time outside of yoga classes to allow things to compose themselves in my head.

I was quite an internet hit du jour at the time among the limited circle of web-surfing ashtanga yoga students, and I still get a certain amount of mail about it. It’s certainly the piece of writing I’m most proud of ever having done.

This weblog, on the other hand, isn’t. There’s no coherent theme to it, and I find the things I’m writing are mostly unrelated scraps of trivia.

The lack of a coherent theme is a deliberate experiment. I used to have several pages maintained via blogger that I used as semi-private notebooks for various projects. Semi-private in the sense that I made no effort to publicise them or to ensure that what I wrote in them made sense to anybody but me, but they were on the web and anybody else who stumbled across them was welcome to read them. Now everything goes in one bucket, with subject archives to maintain some illusion of coherence for those who value that sort of thing.

Putting everything in one meant-for-public-consumption weblog is different from just merging what what used to go in the notebooks – it’s different when I write as if I actually think somebody else might read the stuff. So this isn't the amalgam of the old notebook pages. (Unfortunately, nothing else is a solution to the old notebook problem yet either. The current experimental approach is sending myself email, which then gets filed away in a folder and never looked at again. Not a huge success. There has to be a solution to this one, and one day I’ll think of it and build it.)

Meanwhile back at the weblog, I have a full time job and a six month old baby. Writing is something that takes place half an hour at a time on the train to and from work, or ten minutes at a time in the office after lunch. Half an hour, or ten minutes, is enough to keep up with the email backlog (just about) or write a throwaway paragraph about something I saw on the web. It doesn't allow for a great deal of carefully considered soul searching. I do have some ideas and perpetually-unfinished drafts of deep soul-searching, but the likelihood that I’ll find the time and mental energy to get many of them into publishable form in the foreseeable future is small.

I’m not obsessed with any single topic – US electoral politics, say, or the war in Iraq (for the record, I think deposing Saddam by force was a good idea. Most of my friends disagree). I don't have time to maintain several weblogs, and contribute to others, with long and interesting essays on a variety of subjects like, say, Michael Jennings or Brian Micklethwait. I've a feeling I should perhaps write more about things I do care deeply about, yoga for example – but I barely have time at the moment to even do a rudimentary yoga practice, much less write about it.

So why am I doing this?

Partly because I'm building my own publishing tool in parallel with with wriitng the stuff I’m publishing. I’m doing that as a way of learning the lovely python programming language, and it’s (mostly) fun. I don’t believe in wasting my time doing abstract programming exercises to learn things - far better to have a real project with a result that you actually want to achieve. That way you’re motivated to keep going – and to fix bugs and care about quality, if you’re publishing the results on the web for all the world to see.

And I like writing. I often find little things composing themselves in my head while I’m walking or cycling around; having a weblog is good motivation to write them down and put them out into the world on the offchance that somebody else might find them interesting too.

Also, short + written quickly does not necessarily always = trivial. The little piece I wrote a little while ago about Pattabhi Jois’s yoga teaching style is not trivial in my opinion, even though it’s (a) short and (b) originated as a comment on somebody else’s weblog.

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