Writing About Writing About Writing (or, Meta Meta)

2021-10-07: Smokey – Meta meta

Well, that was an adventure. If you follow me on twitter then you may have seen my blasted out tweets from this afternoon about being frustrated by writing software and how I ended up writing about what features I’d want in a piece of writing software. Then I got all excited and managed to spec something out that I think would be tremendously useful yet still a tractable software project.

Then I went spelunking into my “ideas” list, saw something about Teddy Bear Debugging and thought “ooh! I’ll write about that!” I got a couple hundred words in when I realized that it was all flowing suspiciously well. Okay, it’s not that odd. I do it all the time as a matter of course. But on a hunch I went to the blog, typed “Teddy” in the search box and came up with the reason why it was so familiar to write about.

I chuckled for a bit but that was fucking obnoxious.

So I went back and forth between the search box and the bullet list and found about half a dozen things I’d already posted multi-thousand word pieces about.


Well, fair enough. But it highlighted yet again something I’ve been trying to handle, then fact that it needed quasi-external highlighting has a self-referential flair to it I quite enjoy.

If I’m going to get organized about writing and take it seriously then I’ve really got to start formalizing my habits.

Writing’s something I’ve always done mostly because I’ve HAD to do it. I’m not sure who it was who said it but someone smart said: If you can avoid writing, do it.

Now I’m not going to belabor that overmuch…this time.

But the formalism is more what I’m interested in. It’s one thing to have formalize the habits, get all James Clear and such about habit stacking. But there’s an issue I hadn’t really taken seriously until I tripped face forward into the fire about a half hour ago (and yes, this is a Context discussion adjunct): The habits are really tough to maintain if you’re not ready to work when it’s time to work.

It’s one of the things about “Clearing The Deck” which is something I assume I’ve written about but if not will go on the ideas list for later.

So I think I need to spend a significant amount of energy and time working on setting things up so that I can write when it’s time to write. Well what the crap does that mean?

I think it means a few things:

  • Keep a clean ideas list. At a high level I need separate fiction/non-fiction lists. I’d tried keeping them in one list not assuming for a moment I’d get them confused. But holy shit does THAT get weird when you go back over the list, having forgotten you’ve done it.
  • Build and maintain character, setting, observational vignettes as a library of things to both trigger ideas and to pull from when you need them. The idea reminds me of a song-writer’s book of lines or a rapper’s book of rhymes. Just something
  • Over time those libraries will build and undergo a mitosis into their own subcategories, from both size and conceptual clustering.

I figure I should have these things ready for the 9am (or whenever) bell rings and it’s time for me to go sit down and write, even if what I’m doing is brainstorming.

Now that all sounds happy nice-nice. But the thing that kinda slips off my mind is that in order to have those things I need to spend the time and energy cultivating those resources. There’s the issue of transcribing bar notes, which are starting to get a bit more sparse and intentional at the same time. I’m not all that sure that’s a wholly good thing. But that’s fine. At least I’m being a bit more intentional about the whole affair.

For the writing task itself I wonder if I can’t use something similar to the tactic I use in software development.

One of the problems I have in writing software is a byproduct of the number of projects I have going at any given time (you don’t want to know. It’s SO many.) I tend to end a programming session after I’ve reached a new threshold of functionality. So I’ll come back to a project a few days or weeks later and spend a half hour trying to figure out where I was because “everything seems to mostly work.”

What I’ve started doing is, before getting up and walking away from a programming project, to find the place (or a place) in the code where I want to start digging around next and I’ll just type out some comments in the middle of the code but NOT format them as comments. As far as the interpreter or compiler is concerned I’ve just got some massive syntax error in there once it hits free form text. So I’ll sit down and type some ‘runme’ command that looks obvious and it’ll blow all to hell with some smidgen of the notes I’d written myself as a reminder.

It gives me a good chuckle and a sure sign of where I left off.

Well, that kind of thing won’t work directly with prose as there’s no interpreter. But I’m sure I can do something, some textual sentinel that’d be easy enough to trace.

So okay. This all makes a lot of sense.

More than that, it has this ring of truth to it, like I’ve tripped over something missing that I didn’t realize was missing. On one hand that makes me wonder what the hell else I’m missing about the writing process, etc. But I can’t get too worried about that since I can only know what I can know and don’t what I don’t.

That’s more or less fine with me. I can live with that frustration but don’t need to try and force myself too hard to see things that are in my blind spots until I evolve a bit.

Preparatory work tends to be frustrating when I’m looking for the dopamine hit of the quick successes. But there’s a reason an apprentice needs to spend the first two years sweeping the floors of the shop.

You can’t skip the basics. Most people interpret that as “you shouldn’t skip the basics.” But you really can’t. I’ve fought with this in all kinds of things. When you skip the basics and “just want to get to the real work” then you’re going to (duh) skip steps that you’re going to have to go back and do.

So this kind of practice should give me a pretty rich array of things to work on when I sit down. Plus the creation and maintenance of these kinds of things, just as a raw brainstorming/free-association effort is going to be a blast.

See now I’ve gotten myself all excited.

w00t \o/