The Habit

A mentor, Naomi, once told me “it’s more fun to write programs that help you write programs than it is to write programs”. While funny — and true, at least for me — I think what she was getting at is something a little more general: meta-work is a way of distracting ourselves from the real work. Or, more nefariously, meta-work is a way of feeling like we’re accomplishing something when we’re standing still (with respect to our goals).

This has been coming up for me recently around blogging and blogging software. I had a really good blogging habit for a while, and it served me well. Arguably I have my career because of it. Today when I read something interesting and want to comment, amplify, or rebut part of it, my thoughts still go to publishing. But I’ve lost the habit, the muscle, so instead I dither. I focus on how much I pay for WordPress hosting​*​. I view-source and look for tell-tale signs of what tool another author is using. I familiarize myself with headless CMSes, flat files, and “IndieWeb” standards. What I do not do is write.

Almost inevitably two things happen. First, I run out of time: I have to get back to work, I have to make dinner, etc. And second, when I finally return to the open browser tabs — now 90% meta, 10% what I wanted to reflect on — I say to myself, “why the fuck not wordpress? it’s not like it’s done anything to you in the past; yeah, it’s not new, and it’s not written in a language you’re enamoured with today, but it’s not like you have time to hack on it anyway. And if you did, you could do a lot worse than plugging into an ecosystem that big. Suck it up.” And then I close the tabs because I’m annoyed with how much time I’ve plowed into not-writing.

Later me is right: writing my own blogging software is in no way a good use of my time right now; I am not not-writing because of the software; using Jekyll Hugo Pelican Plume will not suddenly cause me to blog; making POSSE work is not a way to rebuild the blogging muscle; my theme is not my problem; post formats do not matter; Guttenberg didn’t reduce my likelihood to post; the list goes on.

Sometimes meta work is an interesting, high leverage way to approach things: there have been times I wrote a program that helped me write a program, and the result was doing something in a few days that we thought would take a few weeks​†​. The difference is, in those cases, I was already actively using the mental muscles I needed, I was already in “the habit”. When it comes to writing, making art, or sewing, the habit is really all that matters.

  1. ​*​
    I pay because a few years ago I was trying to get myself out of a similar rut, this time around what VPS to use and how to secure it. That time I told myself, “it doesn’t fucking matter, just pay to have someone else deal with this, and find a managed service.” And I’ve resented them ever since, despite the great service they provide. Probably because I’m not using the service I pay for.
  2. ​†​
    For example, the time I wrote a codemod using jscodeshift that added sane security defaults to Lob’s entire API codebase.

Stumbling towards a drawing practice

I’ve been aware for some time that improving my drawing skills would probably have a big impact on all parts of my artistic practice. I did a short course based on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain a few years ago that helped, but I’ve lacked a real practice around it.

I came across a post on Medium last week about six drawing exercises, two for dexterity and four for “seeing”. As a first exercise I converted them to a drawing in Paper so I could easily refer to them in my sketchbook.

A visual guide to beginner's drawing exercises.
A visual guide to beginner’s drawing exercises.

Red Rocks III

Spent the afternoon in the studio yesterday, carving and printing my third Red Rocks print. I’ve been trying to get practice in with my new tools and this piece definitely provided that. I learned a lot from making it; on to the next exercise. 

Coffee Cup line study

Untitled (coffee cup line study), copyright 2013 Nathan Yergler

4” x 5” linocut print

I wanted to practice using lines to describe, rather than outline, shapes and surfaces, so I took a picture of a coffee cup on a sunny day and decided to try and make a print from it. I worked small and (relatively) simple to avoid investing too much time in what is (effectively) a practice piece.

It was pretty instructive to carve this in an afternon, and then print it on Wednesday. Because it was small project, I was able to remember what I expected when I was carving, and compare that to what came out. There were a few things that came out as expected, and a few that didn’t. That was sort of the point.

author:Nathan Yergler
tags:linocut, study, practice

The OOT Killer

Recently I have been suffering from the delusion that making more commitments will make me more able to achieve them.

My first reaction to reading Asheeh’s reflections on commitments: “Yes, and I wish I’d learned that about ten years earlier than I did.” And then I remember that it’s not something you learn once; tending to your committments — and making them with care — is a life-long practice. Practicing is hard, but it’s preferrable to encountering the OOT killer.

date:2011-12-04 21:43:00
tags:commitment, practice