awarm.spacenewsletter | fast | slow

Writing fast and slow

For a while now, I've been experiencing this sort of low level file-system anxiety every time I interacted with my website.

I keep going back and forth on trying to collapse/unify the ontology of my website, combining notes, essays, blogging, into one thing, and it's driving me a bit crazy.

me, November 1, 2019

It didn't start immediately of course. At first my writing was delightfully innocent and blog like. There were files in a folder, and they got rendered in a list. But then, I was tempted by two blogs. I wanted to grow the things I write slowly over time, going deep like with gwern's long content. But I also loved Tom Critchlow's sprawling, messy garden.

At first glance these two approaches mesh well. I could sow seeds freely in my garden, and as they grew I could shape them into strong trees with deep roots (or prune them if they start to wither, or even uproot them entirely). But the timelines are misaligned. It was too easy to just constantly be throwing down seeds, crowding the ground, and starving them all of light and attention.

Part of this is an outcome of the tools I use (browsing things in the commandline and in emacs just isn't that pleasant an experience), and the other part is my workflow itself. Regardless of why, at the end of the day, the vast majority of of notes I start writing remain unfinished.

The other thing I struggled to integrate was spontaneous content. This website isn't a place for me to just write on my own, but to interact with people, and socialize. I want to contribute to blogchains, book-clubs, and just have the freedom to write up some rant in response to whatever the latest noise on twitter is.

Whenever this would pop up I would be excited to write something, and then just get stuck on "Where does it go??". This is a very clear symptom of an organizational problem.

My new plan

This is by no means final, and will continue to evolve. This is essentially what I would try to tell past self, so perhaps it'll be useful to you.

1. Separate notes and published writing

Everything that goes live on the website should be intended for a public audience. This is not a place for loose notes and ideas. A large part of my mental confusion came from interleaving content that was meant for others with content that was meant for me. The state of my brain at any given moment is not legible, and I shouldn't force it to be.

2. Separate slow and fast content

This is the core of the new approach. Instead of organizing things based on what they're about, organize them based on how I wrote them. Fast content is something written of a moment, capturing an idea, and then published. Slow content is something I want to add to over time, building up and growing.

They each serve different purposes. Fast content let's me just write, and publish, without worrying about where anything goes or what it's going to turn into over time. I can still build up structure over time by linking to old posts. But, if I want to explicitly embark on some longer term project, whether it's a learning-adventure or a guide of some kind, then I want to write slow.

3. Number fast content

Each piece of fast writing is prefixed with a 4 digit hexadecimal number. Hex just cause it let's me get a bit more unique ids out of 4 digits (65,536 vs 10,000).

I'm most uncertain about this rule, as it rests on a couple assumptions that are hard to test until I have more content in here.

  1. There's going to be much more fast content than slow
  2. Fast content will be indexed temporally in my head (i.e I wrote about this X time ago), and so should be organized temporally on the file system.

It's more important for me to index fast content than slow right now as there's just going to be a lot more of it. For slow content, I can figure out organizational structures time as it accumulates.

What comes next

This is obviously no final state. I think I've proven that I have too much fun fiddling with this site to stop any time soon. The last major architecture of the site lasted approximately 6 months (I'd guess). I'm aiming for at least a year of this one. See ya then!