the scapegoat dev

About Writing - RC - Day One

Today is my first day at the Recurse Center.

One of the things I want to focus on is writing and communication. I do have an atrociously long list of projects that could be built, should be built, won't be built – any choice I make will have consequences, will close some doors and hopefully open others.

But one thing is sure: whatever I chose to work on, if I can't communicate the intent of the project, if I can't write good enough documentation for fellow RCers to contribute, if I can't make it appealing enough to compel users – then certainly something will be left on the table.

Writing at work

I decided last year, as I was given the "staff engineer" title, to focus more on writing. I started with a few notes in google drive – I couldn't imagine a more drab setting for creative thought. Google docs shines when multiple people collaborate; by itself, it feels like a version of TextEdit that makes finding documents even more confusing.

I did some stream of consciousness writing in my sketchbook, feeling the same awkwardness I felt in my teenage years. I consumed a few writing style and grammar books. I worked through the first 5 chapters of Weinberg on Writing.

Gradually, I learnt how to convert my thoughts into words; how to transform words into sentences; how to assemble sentences into paragraphs. Many drafts were left draft-y, never to be shared, never to be read again (even by me); some documents however turned into tight, punchy project proposals, strategy documents or software architecture RFCs.

I started focusing on form, intent, message, audience. After relentlessly pasting links on Slack, my documents started getting noticed by my colleagues. I wish my managers did too, but things didn't work out that way (a story for another day). I left this job over what I later realized was a decade-long misunderstanding.

Starting a blog

I was now writing for myself.

Before long, I realized I enjoyed having an outlet, an audience to write for. In April, I setup an account on dev.to and decided up to put up a few posts quickly until I reached around 30, and then switch to a more regular schedule. I had been a fairly prolific blogger in my twenties, after all. Many good things came out of that, not least getting invited to the release party for the Javascript version of "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs" at MIT.

Discovering Obsidian

Alas, around june, my output slowed down. Not because I jumped off the bandwagon; on the contrary, I discovered Obsidian and decided to move my increasingly confusing Bear pseudo-wiki to the new system.

I quickly fell in love with the new tool. I wrote little notes, I wrote essays, I wrote daily notes, I annotated every website I came across. I started experimenting with links and backlinks and graphs and atomic notes. I ported over all the writing I had done in Bear and reorganized it all around links instead of tags.

I had an absolute blast – that way of working fit my brain like a neural glove. There is a tendency in the knowledge tools community to build the most complicated workflows. I think it is because of the appeal such tools have on people who like to build systems, who like to think about their cognition, who enjoy processes and designing. I decided to not fall into that trap (I had so often fallen into it already). Instead, I focused on keeping a joyful, naive flow going. An elaborate process would congeal over time.

I then did something that was probably the best decision I made in the last 10 years: I subscribed to the Obsidian Publish service and started writing in the open.

Starting my second blog

My Obsidian Vault fits the divergence of my thinking, but it is not a medium that an audience would enjoy for very long. People might be interested in clicking through some random notes and thoughts, marvel at the idiosyncracy of it all; but soon enough the lack of narrative, the fact that no thread is holding these disparate pieces of text together, would bore them. There is no insight to be gained there without "studying".

Something more streamlined had to accompany it.

Until this morning, I didn't have a personal blog. dev.to is fun, but it is not where I want to put more intimate, more fragile pieces. As a commitment to the next 12 weeks at RC, I created a blog on bearblog (no link to the Bear app), paid up to set up my own personal domain: the.scapegoat.dev, and that is where I will blog my RC experience, day in, day out.

My first RC project

However, I don't like the default theme. Typography is something I was interested enough to know that I suck. I would often set on make something look nice, read 3 books, watch 18 tutorials, start my CSS editor, and give up. Not this time. I copy pasted the Tufte CSS that every minimalistic blog I enjoy seems to use, and started tweaking it into something more in line with what I was going for. It's still horrible, don't worry, but it's something.

Along with this piece, I feel I have accomplished something that I will last the next 12 weeks. I don't know where the journey is going to lead, but at least it will be documented.

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