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Category Archives: Writing

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I was a Writer. You can find that in some of the older posts on this blog. Especially many of the first ones. Even now, when I go through my archives, I envy the clarity of my previous thoughts. Nowadays, everything seems so opaque, so obtuse, so changeable, and Writing is so so hard.

Today, I thought about Writing. I always think about Writing. Actually, I obsess over Writing all the time. The act of Writing, the process of Writing, the magic of Writing, the miracle of Writing. So obsessed with Writing that I don’t dare do any capital ‘W’ Writing. This is the kind of writing that builds, understanding, transcends ideas, unites new thoughts, systemises disparate experiences, clarifies your intentions, distils your desires and heals the soul. 

Writing requires you to have something to say beyond the arid technical process of stringing words into a sentence. Writing has to come from the heart, transmute the soul and issue with a force of will from the page. Nowadays, I don’t have anything that I want to say with that degree of heart. You can’t Write when  you’re struck down by the process of simply living.

So, when I say I don’t Write,  don’t get the impression that I mean I have literally nothing to say. I’m still as opinionated as ever.  I lack the will to do real work. To turn ideas, snatches, half collected thoughts into words. To form real opinions. The ability to see snatches in your head, of the perfect sentence half-deformed, the perfect counterpoint stillborn, the emotive, engaging gripping single sentence bound to a wheelchair by the crippling inability to give it the paragraph that it deserves. 

Wanting to Write, when all you can do is write, is to know you’re producing unintentional grotesques when you wanted to imitate the Pieta. I won’t do it. I won’t waste my time or my readers on poor quality drivel that I could generate by just dumping words on the page. Some of it might be of quality, and some of it might not be. Who wants to generate churn, fodder, wasted words that achieve such a poor result. Most importantly, I don’t get anything out of writing. Writing, was emotional, it was catharsis, it was growth, it was learning: writing is a faint shadow on a hazy summer day of that feeling.

Much easier just to keep doing things as before. Small letter ‘w’ writing is easy.  Write an email. Write a memo. Write a facebook comment. That you can do at least. Cause there’s no debate about why you’re doing that, or what you’re saying, or what it ultimately means. The answer is easy, it means nothing. Nothing in the long run turns on how I write those things, because my credit as a writer isn’t engaged. Those are about my skills as a professional, as a communicator, as a thinker. Nobody cares (past the threshold of comprehension) about the clarity, voice, warmth, feel, heft, weight, style of the writing. Nobody cares about what it means, beyond its surface level narrative. Nothing is bought together, no lessons are learned, no growth is possible, no healing found.

Nothing given. Nothing gained. Nothing written. Nothing learned. Nothing earned. Nothing lost.

Just poor writing.

You start reading enough fantasy and science fiction novels (and I’ve discovered I like fantasy) you start to see a pattern carved into the generic heart of the genre.

Somehow it seems to be important to forge a protagonist through a particular series of  harsh fires. As if somehow, being unable to have the normal upbringing that most people encounter is a pre-condition to being exceptional.

That pattern has the following cut:

I have turned into a major Goodreads fan.

For those of you who don’t know, Goodreads is a social networking site for book lovers, premised on the idea that recommendations from people you know are more valuable than recommendations from an algorithm that tries to discern what books a customer may enjoy based on what they previously bought (cough *Amazon* cough). 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that many of my friends are on Goodreads. So, as you’ve probably inferred, I’m not getting as much value from that social side of the Goodreads experience.

It turns out that I  don’t know many people who (a) read voraciously and (b) are on Goodreads (I hope that the main reason for my social poverty is (b) and not (a)).

So how come I’m spending so much time on Goodreads?

Its value boils down to three things: (1) Memory (2) Anticipation and (3) Understanding. Goodreads has helped me get all three in relation to my bibliophilia. Let me explain how:

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This post resonated. I know that feeling. Constantly. To overcome my self inflicted injuries is my greatest challenge. Recent events have helped me grow. I’ve learned to accept that I’m not responsible for how my colleagues act or what they say. That I’m not responsible for what my clients do. That, having satisfied myself that I have done my best, there is nothing I can do as to whether other people find that acceptable, desirable or correct.

These lessons have been bitterly earned. They were slow, burning, lessons. Taught with gnawing self-doubt, anxiety, worry, re-examination and second guessing.

I’ve slowly learned to recalibrate my sense of empathy and understanding towards all of those who undertake the great journey of birth-life-death. I’ve learned that this prisoner complex of the inner mind looking at the outer world was our common shared heritage.  That ultimately, we’re all trying to do the best we can with what we think is right.

So when I say I admire this post, you will see where it comes from. It was about everything that I aspire to achieve at this stage in my life.

Despite  that I  couldn’t shake a sense of disquiet. There was something wrong about this post at its heart. Shortly afterwards, I came across this quote:

“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth… is potentially to have everything…”

– Joan Didion

It clicked with that sense of disquiet.  Ryan is right that we need to overcome our need for social validation. We need to overcome the self-injury we do to ourselves by grounding our sense of self-worth extrinsically.

He is wrong however, to imply that it is easy. The battle with the self is the most challenging struggle that anyone will encounter in their lives. He makes this difficult struggle over the inner nature of ourselves – ground in a thinking feeling social brain locked in a clumsy callous body- sound like an easy easy victory. A matter of re-wiring. A process of mitigation through therapy. I think that’s wrong. How can anyone else (extrinsically) tell you what your intrinsic self-worth is? How can you let them taint that value assessment?

The truth is that this challenge is a sufficient and noble challenge for any life to achieve. However, it is a struggle that we have to take alone. Others can help us struggle, against impulse, instinct and social programming but they will never have a true understanding of that battle.

Ingrate, that I am, I cannot help it.  I loathed their incessant pedantic demands, their rigid structures, their skewed sense of perfectionism. It rankled. Their bastard form of flayed to the bone English, skeleton-like passed off as a prose supermodel.

If only they could be reasonable: accept that a 5 word point made with a 6 word sentence was not an abomination but ordinary. That preferring the full stop over the comma, passive voice over active, not blasphemy. It  fulfilled effectively the primary goal of language: communication.

I had little success in persuading them. One can’t persuade an ideologue.

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All blogs are equal; some blogs are more equal than others. These are my 10 favourite smart blogs:

  1. Seth’s Blog – Seth Godin is marketing whiz, ideas factory and book producing machine. He also has an eye-popping way of looking at the world with a fresh perspective. The blog is a distillation of ideas on what it means to do meaningful work in the modern world. You should expect your worldview to get challenged once a week at least.
  2. Marginal Revolution – This is a financial / economics blog on the face of it. With occasional digressions into books, cinema, and the strangeness of people. I also wonder if Tyler Cowen, its most prolific blogger, ever sleeps.
  3. Zen Habits – The king blog of taking life easy, working towards your goals and keeping it all balanced. Focused on the more human side of getting things done like motivation, procrastination and being realistic.
  4. The Browser – A little while back all the hype about Web 2.0 was about the culture of curation. The art of picking has reached a zenith in the Browser. Selecting, clipping, great quotes from all over the internet and flagging up dozens of fascinating articles a day. This is the ultimate source of interesting.
  5. Overcoming Bias – Blog by economist Robin Hansen about why we behave the way we do, see the things the way we do and what it all means when we do it. Hansen has a fascinating paradigm of how people behave and he applies it to a wide variety of situations. I struggle with many of his categorisations (near / far events; forager / farmer societies) but each post has an uncanny way of highlighting something peculiar about human behaviour.
  6. Barking Up the Wrong Tree – This blog exploded out of nowhere in 2009 into a firm favourite.  Another curation done right triumph. Eric Barker picks out interesting articles from the realms of psychology that reveal odd things about human nature. Like the fact that escalators make us better people (going up makes us more elevated in our behaviour). It’s endless recollection of how statistically strange people are is oddly comforting.
  7. Swiss Ramble – If you like football and you’re curious about the big picture then Swiss Ramble is a blog made in heaven. You might presume that a blog dedicated to the accounts of football clubs might be a tad dry. You would be wrong. Once you see a spreadsheet put into context by the shared ups and downs of a team and its fans, you’ll know why this is such compelling reading. A lot about why the game is the way it is becomes crystal clear when seen through this perspective.
  8. You Are Not So Smart – An attack on the common misconceptions we have about human nature and why they’re wrong, such as why we all have lists of movies we ‘intend’ to see but never get around to watching them. Insightful because you can spot yourself running into the same traps many of the time.
  9. Get Rich Slowly – There are two types of smart. There is gee whiz ‘oh my’ smart, and there is long term careful  smart. GRS is all about long term careful smart financial planning. I take a lot of my ideas on managing money and dealing with money from there including how to save sensibly for goals that you want to hit without spending too much on mindless consumerism.
  10. Steve Pavlina – Steve Pavlina is the ultimate source of lifestyle experimentation on the internet. If something sounds (sort of) reasonable and can be tried for 30 days he’s probably been there and got a write up about it. Prior experiments include things like polyphasic sleep (sleeping for 30 minutes only 4 times a day) which sound genuinely bonkers when you first hear about it and almost plausible after you’ve finished reading his posts.

I’m always on the lookout for more to add to the list: any recommendations?

885250_84796185 (WinCE) I hate adverbs.  They’re redundant garbage. I want to purge every adverb from the page in an ink fuelled genocide. A whole class of words put to death.

My anti-adverb sentiments are causing problems. A ridiculous problem in the scheme of things, but one that I can’t help focusing on because of its stupidity.

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Unrestricted access to insight is destroying my capacity for original thinking.  Too much insightful, intelligent and appealing content is within my grasp. The more such content I consume, the less I can digest. This can’t continue.

My blogging has divided itself into two over the last few months with  law on one hand, and personal writings on the other. As a result I’m finding it odd to have them both appearing on the one site.

Since WordPress will let me create as many blogs as I want with no difficulty, I have decided to take advantage of that opportunity to divide my writings.

Henceforth, you’ll find all my writing on international investment law, and my occasional digression in to the Jessup on the ICSID Blog. I hope you’ll take a look there too once in a while if those are topics that might interest you.

Here’s a riddle: How do you make your book a best seller on the Kindle?

Answer: Give copies away.

That’s right. More than half of the “best-selling” e-books on the Kindle, Amazon.com’s e-reader, are available at no charge.

Although some of the titles are digital versions of books in the public domain — like Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” — many are by authors still trying to make a living from their work.

via With Kindle, Publishers Give Away E-Books to Spur Sales – NYTimes.com.

Publishers resent it, authors fear it, and the public loves it. That third bit is why this is the future of books. No matter what the publishing industry believe, the Kindle and other e-readers are breaking the old model of the book business. The only question will be what the fall out will look like and how fast (if at all) the existing players adapt.