Random Notes

The public notebook of some guy named Scott Nesbitt

I know which of the two I'd rather have. And it's a bad first draft.

A bad first draft shows that you're writing. It shows that you're not intimidated by the empty page or by the task at hand.

A bad first draft is a start. It's a base on which you can build a finished product. It shows that you're serious about your ideas and want to try to see them through.

A blank page is, literally, nothing. It shows you've fallen victim to perfectionism paralysis.

A blank page shows you don't appreciate your ideas enough to get started, let alone to finish them. It shows that you're not serious about writing.

A first draft, regardless of its quality, isn't perfect. It's not supposed to be perfect. Don't expect it to be. But you can shape a bad first draft into something better. You can edit and rewrite a bad first draft to improve it. You can't do that with a blank page.

Write that first draft. Don't worry about how good or bad it is. Embrace that first draft and finish what you're writing.

If you do that, you'll improve. You'll be ahead of writers who let the demon of perfectionism stand in their way.

We seem to be living in a culture where we need to be connected. Always. We're constantly glancing at the little screens we carry with us. We constantly tweet, stream, check in.

We're overcome with an anxiety over missing out. We need to bask in the glow of our smartphones, tablets, monitors 24/7. Or so it seems.

But do we really need to? Are any going to miss something monumentally important? Is something life changing going to happen if we avert our gazes for a few minutes (or longer)? Probably not.

But few of us don't try to turn off. We stay connected. We lose out on the power and joys of turning off. We don't spend enough time looking at the world around us, which is far bigger and more interesting than that four or five inch screen we carry around.

Turning off gives you distance. It lets you gain a bit of perspective. It clears your mind. It eases your anxiety.

When you go back to the digital world after a period of turning off, you're fresher. You're more focused. You appreciate what's around you more.

You realize there's more to life than being connected. That the stream of information you wade into isn't the be all, end all of your existence. You learn to be the rock in the middle of the stream, around which the information flows.

Turning off isn't a rejection of the modern world. It's not a backlash against technology. It's you affirming that while technology has a place in your life, it's not the most important part of that life.

Turning off is you realizing that maybe, just maybe, you can find some sort of balance. And isn't that what living is all about?

We all have ideas. Ideas for businesses, services, apps, a blog post or an article or a book. With some of us, those ideas come in fast and furious. With others, ideas come in a slow trickle. In either case, those ideas tend to pile up either on slips of paper, in notebooks, or in tools like Standard Notes or Simplenote or Evernote or Obsidian or Notion or wherever.

A lot of ideas come into my head each week — for articles, for blog posts, for ebooks, and more. A majority of those ideas wither and die on the vine. Why? Often, I just don't have the time to tackle them. But in some cases, the ideas just aren't any good.

In the past, I'd cling to ideas with a knuckle-whitening death grip. Years would pass, and those ideas would still linger. Then, one day I asked myself a hard question:

Is it worthwhile holding on to those ideas, whether they're on paper or in a digital form, until you can tackle them or better develop them?

After a lot of thought, I came to a conclusion. That conclusion? Get rid of those ideas. Stuffing them away like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter isn't going to do any good. It won't get you any closer to making those ideas a reality. You'll just increase your digital or paper clutter. Older ideas will be buried under newer ones.

Chances are you won't be getting to any of those ideas, either newer or older. Ever. And unless you regularly review your ideas, I wouldn't be surprised if you forget about the older ones. Yes, this is the voice of experience speaking.

Some people just can't let go of ideas. The thought of ruthlessly hacking away at those ideas causes them psychic pain. They freeze and the hoarding continues.

If that describes you, then ask yourself these questions when confronted with your ideas:

  • Will you be able to devote time to those ideas in the near future? By near future, I mean the next two to four weeks.
  • Are there markets for those ideas?
  • Can you fully develop the ideas into something tangible?

If you answer to any of those questions is no then send the idea into the trash bin. You'll have less to worry about and more time and mental energy to focus on the ideas that are really important. The ideas that will actually result in finished work.

One which I'm taking to heart more and more:

[F]or most people, computers are tools, not a lifestyle.

Paul Ford

I hear people say that a lot. You probably have, too. Maybe that statement was directed at you. It has been with me.

What do I mean when I talk about people saying I can't understand why ...? They say things like:

  • I can't understand why you bought that
  • I can't understand why you use that software
  • I can't understand why you like that band

And the list goes on.

When someone says I can't understand why ..., they're looking at a situation from their perspective. They're looking at a situation through their filters. They're comparing whatever it is to their own likes and biases. They might even have had a bad experience with something, or not had their (often unreasonably lofty) expectations met.

When someone says I don't understand why ..., there's often an element of reproach or an assignment of guilt in that statement. They might just want to make you feel bad for making the choice you did. Sometimes, they're trying to mock you for making what they consider a bad choice.

Ignore them.

You chose to buy or use or like something because it suits you. Because it fits your needs.

The opinions of others don't matter. What matters in this case is your opinion. Letting the opinions and ideas of others influence you can give them a small degree of control over you. Control they don't deserve and should never have.

You can only be true to yourself, to your opinions, to your ideas. Trust them. Trust yourself.

If you smith words for a living (or because you enjoy it), you find yourself spending a lot of time reading. Not just for research, but because you enjoy good writing. Sometimes, you come across the work of a writer who you want to punch in the face. Why? Because they're just that darned good.

I devoted 2021 to rereading a number of books. One of them was C by Tom McCarthy. He's one of those writers I want to punch. Several times. Yes, he is that good.

C is the story of Serge Carrefax, a man born at the dawn of the age of electricity and wireless. The novel weaves the tale of how technology influenced and shaped Carrefax and, by extension, influenced and shaped the world. Even though I don't write fiction, I have to admire McCarthy's technique. Some people have said the novel is Pynchonesque (and in some ways it is), but the story also has McCarthy's own distinct stamp on it.

I do envy McCarthy as a writer. But reading (or rereading) his work and the work of other skilled writers gives me something to aim for. I may never reach their heights, but it's worth a try.

Ones that encapsulate my thoughts about note taking and the tools used to do the deed in question:

Note-taking isn't rocket science

There seems to be something of a cottage industry (for lack of a better term) in the online world. A cottage industry of people who vocally question the choices of others. Not only questioning those choices, but implying or outright stating that their choices are wrong.

Case in point: in early September, 2022 this post by blogger Paolo Amoroso had the dubious honour of being shared on Hacker News. I read the comments on the Hacker News post, and more than a couple of them were questioning Amoroso's choice of using a device running ChromeOS as his daily driver. Especially when he has better options.

I've been on the receiving end of that kind of criticism more times than I count. It doesn't sting, but there is more than just a bit of arrogance and condescension wrapped up in that criticism.

It's people applying their standards, their needs, their biases, their choices to you. It's them expecting your needs, your way of doing things to tightly dovetail with theirs. Not realizing, of course, that we all do things differently. That we all have different needs. I call that the power user fallacy. And it was on full display in some of the comments for that Hacker News post.

What you decide to use is your choice. Not someone else's. It's up to you to pick whatever technology that suits you best, even if that isn't what someone who purports to know better than you chooses. It's a matter of what works for you.

If your choice doesn't work for someone else, the problems don't lie with you. The problems, as Robert Fripp aptly said, lie elsewhere.

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