A few months ago, I wrote a post called Experiments. I was going to shift the purpose of my blog to become an idea/experiments driven outlet. The supposed goal was to gain insight about my ideas, learn, and get better at writing.
It all sounded great. This would create a purpose for the list of ideas that was accruing in my Evernote account. I would consistently learn about new things. I would have an excuse to write a bit more. Maintain a backlog of things to build. Checks all the boxes.
In reality, it didn’t work out that way. I found that while coming up with good ideas on a monthly basis wasn’t that hard (and I use the word good pretty liberally here), finding the time to actually test them out was near impossible.
Writing and coming up with the experiments to prove/disprove theories wasn’t hard. My drafts box is full of them. Google up some articles, look at some companies doing similar things, and then come up with some way to test the core theory behind it.
Taking the next step was what the tough part. I simply didn’t have time to build something and get real feedback that mattered every month. In the end, produced very little — a few half baked blog posts and web apps.
Turns out vetting ideas takes time (big surprise). And turns out that it’s not worth vetting ideas for the sake of getting better at vetting ideas. I had no desire to take them anywhere — I was happy with current work, and wanted to finish it out, not jump into some other wild goose chase on whim. This prohibited my ability to really prove/disprove things — frankly, I didn’t really care. I wasn’t going to do anything with it. In reality, I just wanted something to write about.
That’s when I got it. I just wanted to write about something. Turns out I’m just bad at coming up with things to write about. So I read Paul Graham’s post on writing. His point is that you don’t need a well defined thesis or point to write. He compares writing to a river.
The river’s algorithm is simple. At each step, flow down. For the essayist this translates to: flow interesting. Of all the places to go next, choose the most interesting. One can’t have quite as little foresight as a river. I always know generally what I want to write about. But not the specific conclusions I want to reach; from paragraph to paragraph I let the ideas take their course.
There is no explicit purpose. An idea strikes you — just start writing. Let the ideas come out and take you somewhere. You don’t need a well crafted plan of what to write and what not to write. You just let it go where it goes. A lot of the stuff you write might suck and never take you anywhere interesting (I know a lot of mine do!). But you’ll have explored a new area — and once in awhile, you might actually write something worth reading.