it’s not not about the technology

Writing my essays at university was always a painful process. We were still allowed to write them, though more professors were requiring essays to be submitted typed. My essays were never good because I often left them to the last minute and hand-writing a better version was just too much time and effort. As much as I loved reading and new ideas, I was not a good writer.

A decade later I went to graduate school and word processors were widely available. I still could not type but at least I could peck away at several versions of an essay before submitting it. My writing got a bit better. David Weinberger recounts the impact of the word processor on his writing.

In any case, word processing profoundly changed not only how I write, but how I think, since I think by writing. Having a fluid medium lowers the cost of trying out ideas, but also makes it easy for me to change the structure of my thoughts, and since thinking is generally  about connecting ideas, and those connections almost always assume a structure that changes their meaning — not just a linear scroll of one-liners — word processing is a crucial piece of “scaffolding” (in Clark and Chalmer’s sense) for me and I suspect for most people.

In fact, I’ve come to recognize I am not a writer so much as a re-writer of my own words. —Joho the blog 2023-01-14

While the word processor had a significant impact on my writing, it was blogging that made the biggest difference. Blogging got me writing regularly and this place became a permanent record of my work — the good, the bad, & the stuff you will never read again. Like Weinberger, I have become a “re-writer of my own words”.

In ninety percent of everything is crap I said that in my Seek > Sense > Share framework, sensemaking is the most difficult to master. Much of my sense-making practice is posting half-baked ideas to this blog, which over time become books or presentations. My more polished writing is not a “brute force attack” [as Justin Murphy suggested is best in PKM is Bullshit], but rather an exercise informed through consistent blogging.

I often use this quote to show that the road to mastery is never-ending.

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
—Ernest Hemingway (1962) The Wild Years

While it is not about the technology, I must give credit to word processors and blogging software for making my transition to a professional writer. I would never have been able to do this by hand or even on a typewriter.

 

Two desks in a dimly lit office circa 1920

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