Lessons Unlearned

I failed to write this post.

I did everything.

I brainstormed:

Original brainstom

I distilled the main messages:

Main messages

I outlined the post:

Outline of the post

I came up with a good title:

Cabin title

I found some relevant quotes:

For most people it is through the power processhaving a goal, making an autonomous effort and attaining the goal—that self-esteem, self-confidence and a sense of power are acquired.
—Ted Kaczynski

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
—Henry David Thoreau

Specialization is for insects.
—Robert A. Heinlein

I did everything.

But in the end, I gave up.


I was unable to synthesize the idea. I was unable to express it in an interesting way. I was unable to find my voice.

THIS is what has happened:

I was so excited about my new workflow that I found myself incapable of doing the actual work. I had spent so much time working on the tool that I had forgotten how to focus on the output. I was so fixated on the post structure that I missed the content.

See the pattern?

work vs workflow

When you take the effort to build your own tools, you dive into a lower level of abstraction, one that can fill up your days with endless tinkering possibilities. One day you feel trapped, spending more time optimizing how you do your work than actually doing it. Just think how many times you’ve adopted a new productivity app, only to realize two weeks later that you’ve spent more time administering the system than getting anything done.

This has two caveats, though:

First, it’s hard to know when this pattern is just part of a journey of improvement—like when a golfer decides to unlearn her swing to take it to the next level; there’s a dip in the performance before the surge.

the dip
								    before the surge

Second, this is a fractal problem. I am assuming that my goal is writing posts. I could as well assume that my goal is creating a system to write and publish (some people do this for a living). I can take it further and assume that my goal is programming in golang (some people do this for a living too).

WHAT and HOW are two sides of the same reality, one that can be zoomed in and out in different levels of abstraction. The WHAT becomes the HOW becomes the WHAT becomes the HOW. Actually… if writing posts is not just the WHAT of this level but also the HOW of the level immediately above it… what am I doing this for? I… I don’t know… I got lost in the fractal and I no longer know in which layer I live in. See? Maybe I’m better off just crafting tools or tinkering with Vim.

Hopefully, I’ve given you enough scraps of my work for you to put together your own A Cabin in the Woods post. Actually, I may have just created a genre here: the DIY post, the IKEA post; I give you the pieces, you assemble them in place.

—Ooops! A post about your failure to write a post. That’s embarrassing.

—Don’t be harsh, I’m a bit ashamed.

—It can happen to anyone. Or not. Here’s a quote for you (I’ve noticed you love them): click here, I won’t spoil it…

—Very funny.

—One thing is true though. Assembling the pieces of your post is actually better than reading the end result.

—I think it’s enough, isn’t it?

—No, man, I’m serious! That idea of providing bits of thought for people to assemble into bigger narratives might be interesting to explore. I think you might be on to something!

—You think so? Maybe. Maybe… hey, I think you are actually right. I should totally dive into that idea…

—Oh, God, what I just did? 🤦‍♂️