Bicycle Adventures and Stuff: Why I Write

Two parts inspiration, one part documentation, one part bragging and one part self-preservation. (Reminds me of my favorite five-part Douglas Adams trilogy.)

post by Shubhro Saha that hit close to home and a recent spate of people telling me they liked my writing has me shaking my head: I’ve always found writing, like cooking, “better” when someone else does it, when you can appreciate the finished product, savor the nuances, and “I could never…” yourself into ordering takeout next time instead of doing the work yourself. Maybe it’s the curse of all creative people, constantly cognizant of the little “I could have done this better” voice in the back of their mind, the “I missed a note there,” the “not enough/too much salt,” and the finally fatal (to creativity) “what if they don’t like me.”

And yet I keep doing it. Like riding a bicycle, it ultimately comes down to one reason: I enjoy it.

I’m not sure whether it’s my love of wordplay or if it’s in reaction to the open floor plan office at work, seemingly designed to destroy concentration, but sitting down to write at home in the first-two-cups-of-coffee part of the morning, free from the babble of colleagues collaborating about lunch, kids and hobbies (I mean “work”), has become a routine I cherish. Sometimes the conditions are right and I can achieve the mental state of “flow,” which is addictive, harmless and highly rewarding.

As Steve Yegge says, you may feel it your writing will be viewed as narcissistic and silly. I know I’m either writing about something I already know well or something I just worked out for myself, and either way it must be equally obvious to everyone else, right? Even if it isn’t narcissistic navel gazing, who would care? In a way it’s irrelevant. It reminds me of what a former colleague described as the “rubber duck” problem solving method he learned in grad school: sometimes explaining a problem to a rubber duck can be nearly as enlightening as discussing it with a real person, because much of the value of the discussion is in formulating the problem into words.

Finally, there’s the double bonus of boosting the likelihood something will remain in my memory by writing it down; even if the act of writing it down doesn’t cement it in my long-term memory, it leaves a written record I can refer to later. Conversely, writing stuff down has a habit of freeing my mind (or at least my short-term memory) from trying to keep track of the myriad daily details, kind of like a good mental house cleaning.

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