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A Blog Upon The Deep


I’ve been eying the practice of picking a random passage from a book as a writing prompt with a fair bit of suspicion, for a couple of reasons: First off, it seems to lead into very uncomfortable and earnest topics a lot of time (which is good, but aversive). Also, I have just a handful of English books on my shelves. While my reading habit consists mostly of English books, those are ebooks, and are not great for picking a random passage. You can do it, of course, but it’s not the same. Today I was looking at my list of topics and really really did not want to touch any of them, so I got over myself, picked the closest English book, opened it at a random location, and found this passage:

There were five thousand books in the library there, the experience of all history and all the world! His own notebooks became a library in themselves. Yet still the packs at the university had no time for him. His outline for a summation of natural history was rejected by all the stationers, though he paid to have small parts of it published. It was clear that success in the world of action was necessary before his ideas could get the attention they deserved, hence his spy mission.

A Fire Upon The Deep, Vernor Vinge

This is about Scriber Jaqueramaphan, a dedicated researcher and scientist (and a pompous nerd), who can absolutely not stop reading and learning and writing and spitballing ideas. He collects and remixes ideas with an earnest fervour that is a bit cringeworthy, but also super useful and thorough (and oh so relatable).

Notebooks, eh? Alright, let’s talk about notebooks. This blog started out by recommendation of David. I used it a lot initially in March, less in April, and then kind of stopped in May. I’m going to give regular writing another go for a bit, for a couple of reasons that David explains in his guide to starting a regular writing practice: Writing can be enjoyable, and as a nice side effect improves communication skills, provides a place to think and notice connections between thoughts, and people might even like what I write.

The last part was kinda-somewhat the reason I stopped writing. Initially, I wrote down a bunch of random observations and thoughts, and that went pretty well. Practice improved my writing a bit, and my access to opinions a lot, and I wrote On Compliments and You Are Not Special, which a couple of people liked a lot. People liking my writing feels extremely good, and I certainly wanted more of that.

Never mind that the goal of this blog was to practice writing without any pressure to perform, without too much thought about who might read it. And this pressure asserted itself, until I started putting off posts. I just wanted to flesh them out a bit, polish them, maybe develop my thoughts a bit more … I knew what was happening, but I didn’t have the spoons to reframe the writing process at the time.

The main motivator to get out of this mindset turns out to be notebook/practice blogs by other people. I read many of these (and even adopted the official Notebook Blog Cult Skin), and I enjoy them a lot, no matter how polished or unpolished a particular entry may be. I love getting to see what other people think, how they think, what their model(s) of mind are. It’s deeply fascinating what’s important to them, what they gloss over, what they decide to share, and how they share these things. Sometimes ideas migrate between blogs, and sometimes you can follow the traces down a barely-visible hyperlink track. And it feels a bit unfair of me to just consume without sharing my thoughts myself, so here we are.

If you feel motivated too, go ahead and read David’s post and get started. If you want to contribute to my motivation, add yourself to my list of notebook blogs that I started the other day!

Unable to come up with a good ending, I consulted A Fire Upon The Deep a second time, and again the first passage I found was a perfect fit:

And so it went. Tens of thousands of messages, hundreds of points of view.