Zettelkasten Forum


Why I Am a Bad Correspondent

edited March 24 in Writing

For all of us aspiring writers and Zettelkasten creators, I came across this sobering article on Neal Stephenson's web site:

https://www.nealstephenson.com/why-i-am-a-bad-correspondent.html

I also wondered if it had any application to the proportion of time I spend on this forum compared to writing zettels :wink:

Comments

  • My take:

    • Dilution of attention is a very real and often unacknowledged problem
    • Cal Newport has written extensively about this exact problem (Deep Work, etc)
    • Neal should focus on what brings him joy and provides the most value to the most people
    • "reading is a conversation with the author" is still true, but shouldn't be taken as a literal metaphor – its more like a conversation with one's own rubber duck about the author's ideas

    Interesting observation: Piotr Wozniak (spaced repetition neuroscientist) has spent decades basing his entire life around the process of incremental reading and writing, to the extent that all emails are processed incrementally. During his daily reading sessions he will flip through the various articles and material he has queued up, and interleaved in that are the emails and whatnot that he receives. He will read a few sentences or a paragraph, perhaps make a note, perhaps respond to that one part, and then set a priority for how important he thinks that item (the email) is. Based on that priority it will be shown to him again in a few days, weeks, or months. At that time he will read the next section, perhaps make a note on it, perhaps respond to the person again, and repeat until it is completely processed.

    Because of this a correspondent can send an email, not hear anything for weeks or months, then sporadically receive replies from him in small chunks spread out again over week or months or more.

    But it works for him and he has done a significant amount of research as a result.

    I also wondered if it had any application to the proportion of time I spend on this forum compared to writing zettels :wink:

    I am also guilty of this... :grimace:

  • Although it is not directly related to the topic of correspondence,
    I think the underlying idea of this blog post resonates with my dilemma
    in making choice on how to distribute my attention. I created a
    post in this forum. I am sorry for not continuous sharing the
    thoughts after inputs from you because I am still learning,
    experimenting, and documenting this journey.

    The more effort one puts into one single thing, the higher quality of the
    final product will be. This is something that I know, but I
    suspect that I had deeper thoughts about the ultimate goal of one's
    life.

    If someone does not produce anything to the world other than
    himself, then he will be stressed to survive. The problem is that
    he can produce something that is able to support his very basic
    demanding of survival. If the finished work improves the
    skill-sets and it is a public effort, it will ease some of the
    survival stress out of his mind.

    However, if he has the ultimate goal of exploring new ideas
    across vast different domains other than making visible products,
    this will lead his attentions to scatter other than the narrowed
    domain.

    If someone needs visible products with a high level of quality, the
    strategy with laser-focus is better than exploring and
    documenting new ideas across different domains.

    If someone's meaning of life, i.e. what he values most, is not
    rely on making visible products with a high level of quality, I
    think the laser-focus strategy is not the best way to achieve that.

  • Thanks for sharing. Super intriguing.

  • Perhaps the following quotation from Christina Luo might be of use in the above conversation:

    "Productivity is about managing emotions as much as projects. Yet we often focus on productivity as a tool set more than a mindset. Our proximity to an abundance of information makes us think we’re making progress when we’re merely deciding how to react to stimuli. The means of note-taking, task-making, and time-tracking become ends in themselves as we conflate an app’s efficiency and memory with our own. There’s something paranoid about the way we configure and connect our tools to each other, and eventually back to ourselves."

  • edited March 25

    @jamesrregan, this is a stimulating quote. Where is it from?

    Christina Luo said:
    "Productivity is about managing emotions as much as projects. Yet we often focus on productivity as a toolset more than a mindset. Our proximity to an abundance of information makes us think we’re making progress when we’re merely deciding how to react to stimuli. The means of note-taking, task-making, and time-tracking become ends in themselves as we conflate an app’s efficiency and memory with our own. There’s something paranoid about the way we configure and connect our tools to each other, and eventually back to ourselves."

    This sounds like a description of the collector’s fallacy but not for the usual web clipping, articles, books, podcasts, etc. Luo points directly at "note-taking, task-making, and time-tracking" as equivalent to just collecting - instead of connecting and interacting, "eventually back to ourselves."

    You must engage with your ideas in a meaningful way. Your ongoing interaction is the key to success. It’s not the note the cries out for interaction but the ideas the note presents.

    The definition of progress is one mistake after another. You have to make mistakes to learn and progress. Advice to younger self - strive for mistakes, hunt them down, relish in them, court them. Listen to what they tell you. There is no progressive path that doesn't course the minefield of mistakes.

    It’s a messy business.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Christina Luo's quote comes from an article called Paranoid Productivity that was published last week by Praxis. A significant part of the article is behind a firewall, but there is enough introductory material on the landing page to point you to the ideas and to the scholarship of Eve Sedgewick)

    https://every.to/praxis/paranoid-productivity-c14ef47b-af8a-4bdc-b475-fd4da8dc6cc2

    Sedgewick's article was eventually published as a chapter in a 2003 book called Touching Feeling. In the book, the chapter she wrote is called "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or You're So Paranoid You Probably Think This Essay is About You."

    Will, your comment regarding a "messy business" is so true. Although in somewhat of a different context, it's a comment I first read in the work of Andrew Abbott from the University of Chicago. His book, and one of my favorites, Digital Paper: A manual for research and writing with library and Internet materials, is where I first encountered the idea.

  • Thanks, @jamesrregan. My library has Segewick's book on the shelf next to one of my favorite author's David Sedaris. I'm headed to town tomorrow to check it out.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited March 26

    There was a pithy comment I saw somewhere recently, perhaps on reddit, that was similar to this that simply said:

    To be productive you must choose to live a productive life

    I think there's two levels at which that can be read:

    1. Shallow: to be productive you must choose to live a life in which you use tools and methods to produce outputs
    2. Deep: to be productive you must choose to live a life in which you commit to building things worth producing

    The second one would provide more engagement which could lead to more disciplined approaches to focused output, aka "productivity."

    The second reading also calls to mind the strategies of Cal Newport and others on focusing on major life works (whatever those may be, including raising a family or career aspirations or anything else) and allowing those to drive us to focus more on ensuring our visions become reality.

  • I have a problem similar to this.

    In my case it's fiction writing. I've noticed that I either write notes in ZK or write prose for fun. Partly it happens due to time constraints. But I've also found that I lose an ability to analyze the material I put into my ZK when I've spent some time making up stuff for ficton. Probably because same part of the brain is responsible for both processes and that part gets tired.
    I've no idea why I share this. :) It's inconvenient, but it's the way my brain works and nobody would be able to do anything about it.

  • @emps said:
    In my case it's fiction writing. I've noticed that I either write notes in ZK or write prose for fun. Partly it happens due to time constraints. But I've also found that I lose an ability to analyze the material I put into my ZK when I've spent some time making up stuff for ficton. Probably because same part of the brain is responsible for both processes and that part gets tired.
    I've no idea why I share this. :) It's inconvenient, but it's the way my brain works and nobody would be able to do anything about it.

    Good insight into yourself - it's important to know how you function and when you need to take a rest. Age does terrible things to us, as well (sigh).

  • edited October 12

    Assuming this advice has better than an ice cube's chances in Hell, try to make a virtue out of what Freud called internal conflict. Freud is credited with the proposal, confirmed by neuroscience decades later, that the mind is modular. What might that mean for a writer? (I grew up in a family of artists, writers, and musicians.) Intentionally switch modules for different kinds of writing. It would help to keep track of which module wrote what. Now I sound like a charlatan. :trollface:

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

  • @emps said:
    I have a problem similar to this.

    In my case it's fiction writing. I've noticed that I either write notes in ZK or write prose for fun. Partly it happens due to time constraints. But I've also found that I lose an ability to analyze the material I put into my ZK when I've spent some time making up stuff for ficton. Probably because same part of the brain is responsible for both processes and that part gets tired.
    I've no idea why I share this. :) It's inconvenient, but it's the way my brain works and nobody would be able to do anything about it.

    I second what @ZettelDistraction is saying. It seems that there are two mental forces at play in our minds. Examples:

    • Deconstructing/Analysing/Editing vs. Creating/Synthesising/Writing[75][#silvia2007][][#scott2013][59][#kawasaki2012][270][#tobias2011][224][#coyne2015][32][#brande2009]
    • Vipasanna vs Samatha. (I had a long talk 2 days ago on meditation. Podcast is in German though)
    • Left Brain vs Right Brain.[][#mcgilchrist2009]

    In my opinion, it is very trainable to flow between those modes or even achieve a balanced mode which Waitzkin would perhaps call soft zone.[][#waitzkin2007]

    [#brande2009]: Brande, D. (2009). Schriftsteller werden: Der Klassiker über das Schreiben und die Entwicklung zum Schriftsteller (3. Auflage.). Berlin: Autorenhaus.

    [#coyne2015]: Shawn Coyne (2015): The Story Grid. What Good Editors Know, USA: Black Irish Entertainment LLC.

    [#kawasaki2012]: Kawasaki, G. & Welch, S. (). APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book

    [#mcgilchrist2009]: Iain McGilchrist (2009): The Master and his Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Totton: Yale University Press.

    [#scott2013]: Scott, S. J. (). Writing Habit Mastery - How to Write 2,000 Words a Day and Forever Cure Writer's Block.

    [#silvia2007]: Silvia, P. J. (2007). How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (1). American Psychological Association.

    [#waitzkin2007]: Josh Waitzkin (2007): The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, New York: Free Press.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited October 13

    @GeoEng51 This reminds me of the apology page of Super Memo Guru

    My e-mail replies can be intermittent, delayed, chaotic or none! I may respond in minutes or in months even on important subjects within the same thread. I almost never decide not to reply, and the delay is occurring without a conscious decision. My poor reaction time comes from the insufficient ratio of time allocated to mail volume.

    I do not take on new projects. My schedule seems blocked and closed for years to come. My capacity to add more work hours per day has been exhausted by the end of the 1990s. However, my work over incremental reading, science of sleep, or this site fills my days to the brim. Please keep writing nevertheless.

    I disappear for months at a time (see: creative vacation). When I work on an important project, I often cut off all my links with the outside world. This works wonders for focused work on a single subject. Naturally, this can be exasperating for everyone else, esp. that I send no notifications and all my mail is redirected to a colleague. The privacy level in my communications is dismal

    I do not attend conferences or business meetings. In short, I do not travel. In this modern electronic world, I consider travelling an unnecessary risk, as well as a waste of energy and time. All my work can now be done over the Internet. I have never been aboard a plane. My last conference, and the last business meeting took place in 1999. My last train trip took place in 2004. My most recent experience of smelling the interior of a car occurred in 2011. I have no driving license

    I do not have a cell phone. I design my schedule around my circadian cycle using the Plan feature of SuperMemo. Phone calls at unpredictable moments of time make the execution of the schedule difficult, and for some slots, impossible. For the same reason, I do not use Skype. This is explained in Planning a perfect productive day without stress. I am not a Luddite. I will use a phone for learning at some point in the future (I think). However, I am still waiting for the right kind of SuperMemo that will make that worthwhile.

  • @Nick
    Haha! Good quote!!

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