On Reading and Writing

I may be a huge geek and a hacker type, but I'm a writer and reader first, and although while I'm blathering on about my setup it might seem like all I do is tweak my systems, the writing and reading are really more "my thing."

I wrote that sentence a few weeks ago, and I've written a great many more sentences since then, but I've felt that that sentence needs some more exploration, particularly because while it seems so obvious and integrated into what I do from behind the keyboard, I think it bares some explanation for those of you playing along at home.

What "I do" in the world, is write. And that's pretty clear to me, and has only gotten more clear in the last few years/months. There are a couple of important facts about what "being a writer" means to me on a "how I work" on a day to day basis. They are:

  • There's a certain level of writing output that's possible in a day, that I sometimes achieve, but it's not sustainable. I can (and do) do the binge thing--and that has it's place--but I can't get up, pound out two thousand or more words every day on a few projects and go to bed happy. Doesn't work like that.

  • Getting to write begets more writing, and it's largely transitive. If I write a few hundred words of emails to blog reader, collaborators, and listservs in the morning, what happens in the afternoon is often more cogent than if I spend the morning checking twitter.

  • Writing is always a conversation, between the writer and other writers, between the writer and the reader, between the writer and future writers. I find it very difficult to write, even the most mundane things, without reading the extant discourse on the subject.

  • Writing is an experimental process. I've said at work a number of times, "you can't edit something that isn't there," and in a very real sense, it is hard to really know "what you want" until you see the words on the page. Written language is like that I suppose. That's what the blog is about, I guess.

  • Ideas aren't real until they're written down. I'm not much of a Platonist, I guess, and I think writing things down really helps clarify things, it helps point out the logical flaws in an argument, and it makes it possible for other people to commend and expand on the work that you've done. That's a huge part of why I blog. It's very much not publication in the sense that I've created something new and I've finished and I'm ready for other to consider it. Rather, I blog what I'm thinking about, I use the blog to think about things.

    Though I think it's not clear to me (or to you) at this point, I'm very much in the middle of a larger project at the nexus of open source software communities, political economies, and units of authentic social organization. The work on free software that I've been blogging, the stuff about economics, the stuff about co-ops. I'm not sure how that's all going to come together, but I'm working on it. Now, four months into it, it's beginning to be clear to me that this is all one project, but it certainly never started that way.

The technology that I write about is something that I obviously think has merit on it's own terms--hence the Cyborg Institute Project--but it's also very true that I use technology in order to enable me to write more effectively, to limit distractions, to connect with readers and colleagues more effectively, to read things more efficiently. Technology, hacking, is mostly a means to an end.

And I think that's a really useful lesson.

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