The regularity of less

I started this blog five months ago with the intention of posting “small wins, delivered weekly.” I meant for these to be useful within the quaint topics I’m interested in, but sticking to the schedule would itself be a kind of victory.

Such a scatterbrained project seemed plausible during the lazy Christmas break, but soon fell by the wayside as professional obligations took over. The weekly schedule turned bi-weekly before collapsing altogether. As some of you have noticed, it’s been over a month since I’ve posted here.

Over the last few months I’ve been spending a lot of time developing the website of AMICAL 2015, a higher ed conference that wrapped up this weekend. Although there is still post-conference tidying up to do, most of the desperate deadlines have passed.

And thus I’m starting again, which is the same as starting, only harder.

At the outset this blog was meant to fill a gap.

While my professional writing has readers, my personal writing was entirely private. Writing without regard for an audience was, to paraphrase Robert Frost, like playing tennis with the net down. I had grown dissatisfied. This blog provided a space for writing that was at once personal and public.

At first, I kept up both the public and the private writing, but soon blogging won out and my journalling collapsed. And then, as other work became more pressing, the blogging flagged as well.

Luckily, I happened to be reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. He offers a great piece of advice for keeping a journal consistently:

Write less than you feel like.

Following this advice I reconstructed my journalling. Some days I would tap a sentence or two on my phone before falling asleep, other days I might spend 15-20 minutes musing on a difficult problem or sketching a brief vignette. (One such became “Enough”.)

The one criterion was to write every day and to stop before it became a chore. On average I wrote 116 words per day and missed one day in ten.

It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. Last year there was a period when I cranked out 750 words a day. But boy was that a slog. I journal less now, but the habit is easier to keep and the words more intentional.

I once received a yogic fortune cookie:

In the scheme of spiritual life, the amount of practice is not as important as the regularity of practice.

Swami Satyananda

I was looking forward to blogging again after the conference wrapped. I was wondering if it would be possible to bring this inverted commitment to blogging. To post more regularly by writing less.

But my perfidious perfectionism won’t let me be. I’ve been fiddling with this post for three days now. At some point it had ballooned to more than twice its present size.

Public writing should go through more revisions than private musings. There’s so much noise out there already that one should be wary of adding to it. At the same time, I’m sure I overthink these posts. I haven’t found how to reconcile these. I like having written; but along the way some of the work is always a chore.

Reading back over a first draft I inevitably find myself hedging my words against imaginary inquisitors or digressing down ill-formed ideas, slovenly phrased. Having noticed these problems, I have to revise them. (If I retain the occasional alliteration, it’s because only very boring people have no vices.) But editing takes time. And I don’t always feel like doing it.

It’s possible to write less than you feel like. But judging by how long it took me to complete this post, the same is not true of editing. Maybe I’m just out of practice. After all, starting again is hard. But you have to start somewhere.

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