How to Be a Better Writer (the Short Version)

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Recently a colleague asked me if I had any advice on being a better writer. I thought I’d posted about that, but it appears that I hadn’t, so I tried writing up my thoughts. That was too much, so I summarized. That was too much, so I summarized it AGAIN. And then it was short enough to share with you:

The super short version is to be a better writer, just write!

I often recommend morning pages – writing three pages about random topics at the start of your day, even “bla bla bla” if you have to – you’ll get tired of writing “bla bla bla” quickly, and this will help cure you of the feeling you need to wait for your muse.

This advice comes from the book The Artist’s Way, which is a great course to take; I also recommend Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and Brooks Landon’s Building Great Sentences on grammar and style, Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction on writing and structure, and The Elements of Editing and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers on editing.

I also recommend that you read a lot more than you write, especially writing of the kind you want to emulate; take a look at it and see what makes it tick.

For fiction and other similar writing I recommend finding a writing group first, not a critique group; there are several good ones in the Bay Area including Write to the End and Shut Up and Write.

For the kind of internal communications you’re talking about, you might try looking at marketing and documentation literature or the great writers internally that you admire – also popular writers, technical and nontechnical, in the computer field.

As for blogging, my recommendation is to just blog – try to do it regularly, at least once a week or so, about whatever comes to your mind, so that you create both a growing store of content – and again, a habit that helps you just write.

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I’ll try to expand on these recommendations, but if I had to boil it down even further, I’d say: just write!

-the Centaur

Write Your Own Damn Sentences

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Recently I’ve been reading a lot on sentence construction – in particular the “little books” Mark Doty’s The Art of Description: Word into World, Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence (and How to Read One), and Bruce Ross-Larson’s Stunning Sentences, not to mention essays scattered across half a dozen books. I’ve enjoyed all this writing on writing, and I think all of it has been useful to me, but, as usual, there’s one bit of advice I find myself encountering, find myself willing to take, yet find myself reacting against:

Find examples of great sentences to emulate.

On the one hand, I agree with this: finding great examples of sentences, then deconstructing them, imitating them and attempting to progress past them is a great exercise for writers, one I intend to follow up on (in my copious free time). On the other, focusing on exemplars of great sentences in the past, like it or not, encourages a mindset of focusing on the greatness of writers of the past, idolizing them, and then following in their footsteps.

I’m extremely allergic to the “idolizing the greats” syndrome. There have been greats in history, no doubt: great writers and thinkers, leaders and followers, heroes and villains. And there are people you will encounter that will impact you like no other: prophets whose principles will change your life, philosophers whose thought will change your mind, and authors whose writing will strike you like a physical blow. But they won’t affect everyone the same way, and they won’t solve your problems for you.

There are no secrets. It’s all up to you.

Having said that, let me undermine it by recommending the following book of secrets: First Thought, Best Thought by Alan Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, William S. Burroughs and Diane Di Prima – an audiobook by four authors of the Beat Generation, talking about their experimental methods of poetry. I recommend the Beats because, like the Beats, I feel the need to counteract “conservative, formalistic literary ideals,” but unlike the Beats, I don’t reject those ideals: I just want more tools in my toolbox.

The Beats don’t recommend emulating the past; they recommend finding ways of producing text that violate the norms. Ginsberg used breaths and rhythms. Burroughs cut words and sentences up and pasted them together until he had a whole page of, potentially, gibberish, which he then would mine for gems – perhaps finding a paragraph or even just a sentence out of an entire page of cut-up. Each author had their own method of breaking out of the mold. And a mold breaker … is a tool you can use.

So don’t just find sentences to emulate. Write your own damn sentences. Cut up words on a page until they’re confetti and rearrange them until they make sense. Build a program that writes random sentences. Throw down Rory’s Story Cubes. Try magnetic poetry. Learn rap. Take improv. Stay up all night until you’re loopy with sleep deprivation. No matter what crazy ideas you have, write them all down, then winnow through them all and pick the best ones – the ones that hit you like a physical blow.

THEN go back to the tools for sentence analysis from all those little books, and use them to make more of your own.

Seriously, what do you have to lose? Try the exercise. If you don’t like what you produce, you may learn that your inspiration lies in understanding the past and building on it to create something new. If you do like it … you may add something to the world which, while its parts may come from the past, is in its whole … wholly new.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a truly bizarre photographic composition that occurred by chance, and which I could not have planned if I tried.

Treat Problems as Opportunities

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Recently I had a setback. Doesn’t matter what on; setbacks happen. Sometimes they’re on things outside your control: if a meteor smacks the Earth and the tidal wave is on its way to you, well, you’re out of luck buddy.

But sometimes it only seems like a tidal wave about to wipe out all life. Suppose your party has lost the election. Your vote didn’t stop it. You feel powerless – but you’re not. You can vote. You can argue. You can volunteer. Even run for office yourself.

Even then, it might be a thirty year project to get yourself or people you like elected President – but most problems aren’t trying to change the leader of the free world. The reality is, most of the things that do happen to us are things we can partially control.

So the setback happens. I got upset, thinking about this misfortune. I try to look closely at situations and to honestly blame myself for everything that went wrong. By honestly blame, I mean to look for my mistakes, but not exaggerate their impact.

In this case, at first, I thought I saw many things I did wrong, but the more I looked, the more I realized that most of what I did was right, and only a few of them were wrong, and they didn’t account for all the bad things that had happened beyond my control.

Then I realized: what if I treated those bad things as actual problems?

A disaster is something bad that happens. A problem is a situation that can be fixed. A situation that has a solution. At work, and in writing, I’m constantly trying to come up with solutions to problems, solutions which sometimes must be very creative.

“Treat setbacks as problems,” I thought. “Don’t complain about them (ok, maybe do) but think about how you can fix them.” Of course, sometimes the specific problems are unfixable: the code failed in production, the story was badly reviewed. Too late.

That’s when the second idea comes in: what if you treated problems as opportunities to better your skills?

An opportunity is a situation you can build on. At work, and in writing, I try to develop better and better skills to solve problems, be it in prose, code, organization, or self-management. And once you know a problem can happen, you can build skills to fix it.

So I came up with a few mantras: “Take Problems as Opportunities” and “Accept Setbacks as Problems” were a couple of them that I wrote down (and don’t have the others on me). But I was so inspired I put together a little inspirational poster.

I don’t yet know how to turn this setback into a triumph. But I do know what kinds of problems caused it, and those are all opportunities for me to learn new skills to try to keep this setback from happening again. Time to get to it.

-Anthony

Pictured: me on a ridge of rock, under my very own motivational poster.

P.S. Now that I’ve posted this, I see I’m not the first to come up with this phrase. Great minds think alike!

An open letter to people who do presentations

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I’ve seen many presentations that work: presentations with a few slides, with many slides, with no slides. Presentations with text-heavy slides, with image-heavy slides, with a few bullet points, even hand scrawled. Presentations done almost entirely by a sequence of demos; presentations given off the cuff sans microphone.

But there are a lot of things that don’t work in presentations, and I think it comes down to one root problem: presenters don’t realize they are not their audience. You should know, as a presenter, that you aren’t your audience: you’re presenting, they’re listening, you know what you’re going to say, they don’t.

But recently, I’ve had evidence otherwise. Presenters that seem to think you know what they’re thinking. Presenters that seem to think you have access to their slides. Presenters that seem that you are in on every private joke that they tell. Presenters that not only seem to think that they are standing on the podium with them, but are like them in every way – and like them as well.

Look, let’s be honest. Everyone is unique, and as a presenter, you’re more unique than everyone else. [u*nique |yo͞oˈnēk| adj, def (2): distinctive, remarkable, special, or unusual: a person unique enough to give him a microphone for forty-five minutes]. So your audience is not like you — or they wouldn’t have given you a podium. The room before that podium is filled with people all different from you.

How are they different?

  • First off, they don’t have your slides. Fine, you can show them to them. But they haven’t read your slides. They don’t know what’s on your slides. They can’t read them as fast as you can flip through them. Heck, you can’t read them as fast as you can flip through them. You have to give them the audience time to read your slides.

  • Second, they don’t know what you know. They can’t read slides which are elliptical and don’t get to the point. They can’t read details printed only in your slide notes. They can’t read details only on your web site. The only thing they get is what you say and show. If you don’t say it or show it, the audience won’t know it.
  • Third, they probably don’t know you. But that’s not an excuse to pour your heart and soul into your presentation. It’s especially not a reason to pour your heart and soul into your bio slide. Your audience does not want to get to know you. They want to know what you know. That’s an excuse to pour into it what they came to hear.
  • Fourth, your audience may not even like you. That’s not your fault: they don’t probably know you. But that’s not an excuse to sacrifice content for long, drawn out, extended jokes. Your audience isn’t there to be entertained by you. We call that standup. Humor is an important part of presentations, but only as a balanced part. We don’t call a pile of sugar a meal; we call it an invitation to hyperglycemic shock.
  • Fifth, your audience came to see other people than you. You showed up to give your presentation; they came to see a sequence of them. So, after following a too-fast presentation where the previous too-fast presenter popped up a link to his slide notes, please, for the love of G*d, don’t hop up on stage and immediately slap up your detailed bio slide before we’ve had time to write down the tiny URL.

Look, I don’t want to throw a lot of rules at you. I know some people say “no more than 3 bullets per slide, no more than 1 slide per 2 minutes” but I’ve seen Scott McCloud give a talk with maybe triple that density, and his daughter Sky McCloud is even faster and better. There are no rules. Just use common sense.

  • Don’t jam a 45 minute talk into 25 minutes. Cut something out.
  • Don’t have a 10 minute funny video at a technical conference. Cut it in half.
  • Don’t leap up on stage to show your bio slide before the previous presenter is done talking. Wait for people to write down the slides.
  • Don’t “let the audience drive the talk with questions.” They came to hear your efforts to distill your wisdom, not to hear your off-the-cuff answers to irrelevant questions from the audience.
  • Don’t end without leaving time for questions. Who knows, you may have made a mistake.

Ok. That’s off my chest.

Now to dive back into the fray…

-the Centaur

Pictured: A slide from … axually a pretty good talk at GDC, not one of the ones that prompted the letter above.

Plotting from the bottom up

piles of books in my library
Recently I was asked about how I plot books:

I was wondering if you could help me out a bit. I’ve always wanted to create my own comicbook from my own design and mind but I always, I mean ALWAYS have problems coming up with and sticking with a good plot. I can make the basis of the story, the characters, the world and different terms and creatures but I can never stick with a plot or make a good one that I know will drive the story. Could you give me any advice on these things or some pointers on how to make a really great story I could draw out? I’m so close to it blossoming I can taste it!

Great question! I’m not sure I’m the best person in the world to answer it – my first pointer to anyone on plot would be Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction – yes, I know, it’s Ayn Rand, but if you’re one of those idiots who can’t see past your unjustified distaste for her political philosophy, well, then you deserve to miss out on her opinions in other areas which might prove of more value to you despite your disagreements – but I do think about plot quite a bit, so I’ll give it a go.

A lot of what I do is simply write cool scenes I enjoy … and then think hard about who’s the protagonist and what’s their major conflict. Once you know, for example, the protagonist is a magic tattoo artist, that suggests she’s going to be in conflict over some tattoo related thing – like someone skinning people who have tattoos. Once you know the conflict, then you can design the climax – well, your tattoo artist will eventually have to meet the evil skinning person, who will want to make her a victim. That basic strategy – write stuff that’s fun, figure out who the protagonist really is, find what conflict they’re embroiled in, design the final conflict, then work backwards from there – has worked very well for me.

Why take this approach, rather than, say, starting with some theme and working back from there. Start with an abstract goal? Yuk! That might work for nonfiction but in fiction it’s a recipe for heartless exercises in craft – and craft can’t sell a story. The instant someone notices you’re telling a story on skill alone, you’re done. There are prominent authors I can’t read anymore because I realized they had some point they were driving to and were using all of their craft to get me there … even though there was no reason to go there in the first place. That might work in a movie with a lot of explosions, but it’s not going to sustain a 300 page book.

So. I need concrete events, realized situations with full-bodied characters where interesting things are happening. In short, I need to be entertained – in my writing most of all. That’s why I start with “cool scenes” – I write to entertain myself first, so I have to write what I enjoy writing. But I want others to enjoy it too – someone once said the hallmark of a great writer is that they take what they find interesting and make it interesting to other people. To do that, to make my stories interesting to people not invested in my characters, I need to create a strong conflict that will engage. And to do so, I listen to the story.

Whether the story features a tattoo artist accosted by a werewolf deep in the Lovecraftian underbelly of Atlanta – or that same tattoo artist and her adopted weretiger daughter out school shopping in the sun – those first key scenes of the story, those first inspirations, will tell you what belongs in the story. If the story begins with Dakota school shopping with Cinnamon, then some part of the story must hinge on Cinnamon and Dakota in a school – or that scene’s got to go. If the story features a magic tattoo artist investigating magic graffiti, then some part of the story must hinge on our tattoo artist confronting the graffiti artist. And for the story to really be interesting, something important must be at stake – generally, life has to be on the line in the kind of melodramatic action adventures I write, but it can be more subtle if you’re writing something more subtle.

One famous way of looking at this idea is Chekov’s Gun – “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

Ayn Rand’s take on this is similar: you should decide on your theme (what your story is about), then your plot-theme (what type of events realize your theme), then your conflict (what is being fought over in the plot) then the plot itself (the actual sequence of events) which will then dictate the characters, scenes and settings in your story.

I believe in the same causal structure, but prefer the opposite order. I let my subconscious play scenes out I find entertaining, and then let the characters and the situations tell me who they are, what conflicts they encounter, and what themes I should explore.

You have to find your own way of doing things, of course; every writer is unique, and it’s your unique story and vision that matter. Whatever you have to do – outline or no outline, start from the beginning or write backwards for the end – just do it.

Just write, and eventually it will all sort itself out.

-the Centaur

What Is Consciousness?

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infographic on consciousness as functionalism

The ever wonderful chaps at Information is Beautiful have put up a beautiful animated infographic of many of the major theories of consciousness. Click on the graphic to the right to see them all … I’m essentially a functionalist but try to keep an open mind.

OK, I can state it more forcefully than that: I believe, and believe I can point to evidence for, that consciousness performs many important functions, and I want to know what they all are, how they work together, and how they relate to the other functions of the brain. If we do build up a solid picture of that, however, it won’t surprise me too much if we find interesting phenomena left over that require us rethinking everything we’ve done up to that point.

-the Centaur

UPDATE: Ooo, there’s even more to the graphic than I thought … you can click on the brains and get it to produce a composite graphic of what “your” theory of consciousness is.

Some Days You Just Wanna Curl Up In A Ball

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This isn’t a Woe Is Me post about all the crap that’s been happening to me recently. That’s so last week, literally.

This is about depression.

I have sporadic bouts of depression, probably just like most other people, nothing serious enough to call clinical. What really strikes me about it is how disconnected mood is from reality.

In a large number of ways, things are Much Better Now than they were Just A While Ago. I’ve delivered my work to my old team (closure), I’ve moved to a new team doing something fun (robotics), I’m healing up from my illness (wellness), my wife’s returned from her trip (companionship), and I have a book coming out (success).

But nothing is perfect, and there are little setbacks that happen all the time. Sporadic depression, I find, isn’t brought on by nothing, the way clinical depression extends over long periods for no good reason; it gets triggered by one of those little setbacks.

When I was down with tonsillitis right before several major deadlines, things like a smashed toe made me upset and angry, and things like work challenges made me frustrated and worn out. Now that things are evened out, you’d think I’d have more resilience.

Instead, I found myself having a Surprisingly Shitty Day. Even though I felt better, I was making progress on all my work tasks, at least partially resolved my setbacks, and even made progress on writing and drawing, the depression never let up.

Now, I had a setback, as I said, and there are things that would make this situation better.

But what interests me is that some of these feelings I felt today – “I wish I was doing something else” and “I’m so tired” and “I can’t take it anymore” – I thought were attributable to my previous less-than-ideal situation: working on what I didn’t want to work on, under deadline pressure, while sick.

I know that’s not the case now. I’m working on what I do want to work on. The next deadlines are weeks away and I have no competing pressures. And I’m feeling physically better. Even the setback passed out of my mind. So why am I feeling the same way?

I suspect because those feelings are a habit of mind. A response to a challenging situation I’ve picked up that has become free floating. There are challenges inherent in everything you do, no matter how fun it is – and any bad habits of mind don’t care how closely aligned your current work is with your goals, your desires, your attitudes. Your bad attitudes and thoughts are just sitting there, waiting to spring, starting the tapeloop spiral into depression.

So what am I gonna do about it? Recognize it, blog it, and move on. I’ve had many, many cycles of mild maniac / depression in my life, and I didn’t start to get better until I recognized it, stopped wallowing it, and moved on.

My formerly quick temper had the same solution: notice it’s happening, turn the alarm off, and deal with the situation, sometimes cathartically, usually not. That worked so well my wife hasn’t ever seen me really lose my temper in eight years of our relationship.

If the solution to dealing with anger is not to get angry, is the solution to dealing with depression just not to let yourself get down? To pull out of the situation, relax, do something fun, and tackle it again with your energies renewed?

Let’s see. Time to kick back, throw on some Who, and chill.

-the Centaur

lenora sitting as if she's gonna watch some of the teevee

Take Care Of Yourself Before It’s Too Late

Gabby naps, with the sabretooth skull in the background.

I can’t even begin to tell you all that I’ve gone through recently: sleep deprivation, tonsillitis, tinnitus, internal injuries, a trip to the emergency room (unrelated), and near disasters at work. I’ve started another blog entry to explain what’s been going on, but even that had to be put on hold by other disasters.

The quick point I want to pass on is that I work hard sometimes. I used to describe as working two jobs: by day, my work at the Search Engine That Starts With A G, and by night, the author of the Dakota Frost series. Both could take 40 hours a week or more, meaning normally almsot every nonworking minute ends up on writing.

Recently, that’s become like four jobs: my old project at the Search Engine, a brand new project at the Search Engine, both with hard and conflicting deadlines, a scientific paper for my new project, also with a hard deadline, and my fiction writing, also with deadlines. Each one could be a full time job. Aaa.

Recently, this came to a head: I’d finished my scientific paper, had a breather on the writing, yet still knew I was going to have to work hard, nights and weekends, just on my two work projects. So I decided one night I needed to take a break, to chill out, to go to bed early and catch up on sleep. To recharge my batteries.

Too late.

That night, when I got home, planning to crash out early, one of my cats urinated all over our curtains, then tracked it through our house, necessitating a 3:45AM cleaning job (cats will urinate after each other unless it is completely cleaned up), just before a Monday at work. The next night I was kept up by a sore throat, was worn out Tuesday, and was diagnosed with tonsillitis on Wednesday. The throat pain caused sleep deprivation, the coughing fits caused hemorrhoids (yuk!), the nasal congestion caused tinnitus and hearing loss in one ear, and all of this indirectly caused my trip to the emergency room (more on that later). This went on for days, then for over a week. And all of this just before a huge presentation at work, which we figured out we needed to cancel much too late to cancel – so I had to keep working, even though I could barely keep working. I couldn’t really code in my exhaustion, and when I did readings for my other project – and I did work on my other project, because its deadlines wouldn’t stop either – the textbooks actually blurred when I sat down to read them.

It was almost two weeks later, a day after the presentation, when I finally crashed, for essentially 36 hours straight.

So my point, and I do have one, is that you should take care of yourself. Now. While you’re still feeling good about yourself. Because if you wait to take care of yourself until you’re all worn out … it may be too late.

-the Centaur

Tricking Yourself Into Doing The Right Thing

Ribeye Steak, Tabbouleh, and Cognitive Neuroscience

Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing. For example, I enjoy eating dinner out. There’s nothing wrong with that; but it’s always easier to eat out than it is to fix dinner, as I can have high-quality healthy food made for me while I read or write or draw, whereas cooking at home involves shopping, cooking, and cleaning that I’m fortunate enough to be able to pay other people to do (and that through the absurd good luck that the rather esoteric work I was most interested in doing in grad school turned out to be relatively lucrative in real life).

But that’s not fair to my wife, or cats, nor does it help me catch up on my pile of DVDs or my library cleaning or any of a thousand other projects that can’t be done out at dinner. Sometimes I deliberately go out to dinner because I need to read or write or draw rather than do laundry, but I shouldn’t do that all the time – even though I can. But, if I keep making local decisions each time I go out to eat, I’ll keep doing the same thing – going out to eat – until the laundry or bills or book piles reach epic proportions.

This may not be a problem for people who are “deciders”, but I’m definitely a “get-stuck-in-a-rutter”. So how can I overcome this, if I’m living with the inertia of my own decision making system? One way is to find some other reason to come home – for example, cooking dinner with my wife (normally not convenient as she eats early, while I’d normally be at work, and even if I did try to get home her dinner time traffic puts me an hour and a half from home; but we’ve set a time to do that from time to time) but she’s out of town for business in New York, so I don’t have her to help me.

So the way I’ve been experimenting with recently is treating myself. Over the weekend I made a large bowl of tabbouleh, one of my favorite foods, and pound cake, one of my favorite desserts. The next evening I grabbed a small plate of sushi from Whole Foods and made another dent into the tabbouleh. I had a commitment the next night, but the following night I stopped to get gas and found that a Whole Foods had opened near my house, and on the spur of the moment I decided to go in, get a ribeye steak, and cook myself another dinner, eating even more of the tabbouleh.

The tabbouleh itself is healthy, and maybe the sushi is too; the steak, not so much. Normally I wouldn’t get another steak as I’d had a few recently, both homecooked and out at restaurants; but I wanted to overcome my decision making inertia. It would have been so easy to note the presence of the Whole Foods for later and go eat out; instead, I said explicitly to myself: you can have a steak if you eat in. And so I walked in to Whole Foods, walked out a couple minutes later with a very nice steak, and went home, quickly cooked a very nice dinner, and got some work done.

Normally I prefer to eat about one steak a month (or less), sticking to mostly fish as my protein source, but I’ll let my red meat quota creep up a bit if it helps me establish the habit of cooking more meals at home. Once that habit’s more established, I can work on making it healthier again. Already I know ways to do it: switch to buffalo, for example, which I prefer over beef steak anyway (and I’m not just saying that as a health food nut; after you’ve eaten buffalo long enough to appreciate the flavor you don’t want to go back).

So far, tricking myself into doing the right thing has been a success. Now let’s see if we can go a step further and just do the right thing on our own.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a ribeye steak, fresh fruit and mint garnish, tabbouleh in a bed of red leaf lettuce, and Gazzaniga et al.’s textbook on Cognitive Neuroscience.

Trying Again and Again is not Sisyphean

Loosely transcribed from a letter to a friend. Names have been variablized to protect the innocent:

Dude, it’s been over a year since you applied at The Search Engine That Starts With a G and since then you’ve created, all by yourself, a brand new, polished web site with no doubt N users and X,Y and Z impressive features. Time to update the resume and apply again?

I know you’re frustrated that this venture didn’t make it, but successful entrepreneurs are ones that try, try and try again. During my time at The Search Engine That Started With an E, we were exposed to a variety of advisors who had started successful businesses. Most of these had started several, only a few of which caught off. The ones that did made them millionaires. My uncle B is the same way: he’s worked on many businesses; many failed, the others did quite well. Come to think of it, when the dot-com bubble burst, the lead founder of The Search Engine That Started With an E didn’t let its stumble stop him – he’s started several other ventures since then. One of them will catch fire and make him a millionaire too.

I also had another thought. Stay with me here. In the essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus argues that just because the Greek hero Sisyphus is condemned for eternity to push a rock up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, that doesn’t mean that his life is actually devoid of hope. Camus argues that even though Sisyphus’s task is meaningless, and the moment the rock falls down is heartwrenching, he nonetheless can be happy because he’s engaged in a constant struggle … “and that struggle is enough to fill a man’s heart.” In the book How to Be an Existentialist, author Gary Cox expands on Camus’ argument: to an existentialist, everyone’s life can be considered to be meaningless, and it’s the constant struggle to exercise our freedom itself that brings meaning to life. In other words, the struggle has intrinsic value, just to us, whether we succeed or not.

But I am not an existentialist, and in the objective world we share, our tasks do not endlessly repeat. It does look like we live in a world where the rock will always roll back down – time and entropy conquer all – but sometimes the rocks stay at the top of the hill, a long, long time. Longer than the allotted time we have to push rocks up the hill, sometimes; sometimes the rock stays up, even when we’re the ones that slip and fall away. It is, in short, possible to succeed. It’s possible to build something that lasts … but what if we don’t?

Well, even if we don’t, I am still not an existentialist, and in the objective world we share, our burdens are not unique to ourselves. There are many other people pushing rocks, and it brings comfort to know others are struggling. There are many other hills – sometimes, they even look like the same hill – and it can ease other’s paths to know which parts of the slope are better. That is, not only does the struggle have intrinsic value, above and beyond the possibility of leading to a reward, our reports about the struggle also has extrinsic value, value to others who are fighting the same struggle ourselves. Keeping our struggle to ourselves is noble; sharing it with others is valuable. Perhaps, even, something that could lead to a reward.

What if … I know it is too late for this for the work you did over the last year, but imagine … what if you had a blog, and every week blogged about your experience finding and overcoming development / product / business challenges for Company X? Yes, I know there are millions of blogs, and yes, I know most of them are drek. But they’re not what I’m talking about: I’m talking about your blog, your experiences, your wisdom. Imagine, if you’d been doing that from the ground up, talking about your experiences, passing on your wisdom, it might start to build a name that you could turn into a career. At the very least, it would be another point of reference for your resume.

Seriously, I’ve learned from you about how to use technology X to design web sites and benefited from development platform Y that you pointed out to me. And I’ve been doing this for years. If I could learn from you, don’t you think other people could to?

Everything you’re doing might be a building block in the next big thing. I know it’s trite to say that many great companies have started in garages … but how much copy has been written sharing those stories? How much have you benefited from learning how others have done things? How much can other people learn from you?

How big can you think?

-the Centaur