365 Dead Drafts

Thursday, November 28, 2019 - 13:20

Before iPhones, I used to wear my backpack wherever I biked in Boston because my brain would never stop, and I wanted to have everything necessary (laptop, notebook, and camera) to quickly capture these curiosities before their vividness because as foggy as a forgotten dream.

Not every idea was useful. Most ended up in the trash can. But many did serve as a substrate for something more. Maybe a poem. Maybe a hobby. Maybe some new creative endeavor.

And Now?

In the post iPhone world, capturing ideas is trivially easy. And yet the harder part is not the idea. Fifteen years later, I'm still blessed with a brain that never stops thinking and brainstorming and iterating through ideas. I love it.

It's also overwhelming. There are many ideas for articles that I would love to write, but some of these might take a few weeks (months?) of research to do the topic justice. Feel free to call me out as standing behind the lame excuse of perfectionism because not everything requires that level of detail or care. I've tried hard in my writing to get ideas out there. Often I've given myself an artificial time constraint of 1-hour before I had to publish. I'm not always proud of the result, yet there is almost always someone that reaches out to say thanks or that it was exactly what they needed to hear at that moment in time.

Which Approach is Best?

This balance is always tricky because some situations would be inappropriate to sling a half-baked idea with no citations. The most extreme example was my thesis, which was over 100 pages, with over 100 equations and took several years to write and refine. Other cases would be a topic that is either controversial or where the stakes are high to the reader. There are already enough lies and misinformation on the internet — no sense adding even more noise to the mix.

Still, I've found the bias towards publishing sooner to be a necessary one, lest some ideas die altogether. As of this morning, I have 365 titles + outline (one for each day of the year) just sitting there waiting to be written. Some of them were filed over five years ago. Most likely, they are dead drafts that will never see the light of day. That's not always a bad thing. Some ideas were just weird musings and should make their way to the trash bin.

Still, a recent experience at a DevOps meetup in Boulder reinvigorated me. I only had 4 hours to prepare a 40-minute talk on a topic of improving tools and systems for startups. Despite not having any graphics and having no practice time, there was a lot of positive feedback and people downloading/sharing the presentation with their colleagues. The talk had it's intended effect despite it falling well short of the standard I wanted to meet.

Where To Go From Here?

If this article feels stream-of-conscious, it is. Hey. If they can get away with that style on the ever-popular podcast format, why not apply the same approach here IF it means that fewer drafts die.

I think I'm still going to bias towards shipping faster. However, I have a few articles that I've been dying to write that will require a much more long-form format (2,000+ words) to do the topic justice.

I have no punchline except I hope to start writing again with higher frequency because I miss it and I miss hearing from people like you. Expect some quick and dirty half-baked articles. Expect some long-form deep-dive articles. And if you don't hear from me in another week or two, drop me a line and hold me accountable for killing more ideas in draft mode.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.