Looking back on old posts makes me feel like an archeologist of my own mind. I can see how each post crystallized my state of mind at the time, forming a sort of mental fossil record that makes it possible for me, now, to contemplate the evolution of my thinking from the outside. Like the archeologist, I feel at once a strong connection and objective distance to the past, which gives my study a tinge of both nostalgia and curiosity. The main difference, of course, is that one year doesn't make ancient history. As much as I try to approach my old posts with the objectivity of archeology, I know I'm still attached to my old writing.
One of the first things that strikes me when I read my early posts is how clearly anxious this project made me. Right after finishing my first post, I wrote a second one worrying about how I'd find my own voice. About a month later, I wrote another post entitled Washed up?, where I wondered aloud whether I wasn't creative enough to come up with new posts constantly. Although my first instinct was to dismiss these posts as comical and childish (which they are), I now believe it's more important to recognize how much writing involves putting yourself out there, and becoming comfortable with that. That I can look back on my earlier posts with a kind of grandfatherly humor is, to me, a sign of real progress.
I'm happy to find that, one year later, I have some answers to the questions I was asking in the beginning. As I mentioned, I used to wonder how I'd find my voice. Now I don't—not that I understand my own voice any better, but I've learned to stop worrying about my writing so much, and to keep my focus on expressing myself as clearly and consistently with my purpose as possible. I also used to wonder how I'd constantly come up with topics. It wasn't until this post in August that I realized that my inspiration for posts came more from my interactions with new ideas outside of me rather than from some place within me. That took a big psychological burden off of me.
I'm also happy to find how impressed I often become when I read my old posts. On the whole, they tend to be quite good, and surprisingly insightful. [Actually, what I mean is that they turned out better than I remember; when you're in the midst of a flurry of edits and re-edits, it's hard to see anything but errors. That's why exercises like these serve as a helpful way of getting out of that constant self-criticizing mode.]
For the next year, there are some aspects of my writing I'd like to improve. First, I want to modify the way I process my writing. Currently, I think more about style, the way the words sound on the page, rather than substance, what I actually want to communicate. Sometimes I compromise on my ideas for the sake of getting a pretty turn of phrase. I find that, too often, I use turns of phrases without actually thinking about what they mean. I think it's time to change these habits. Style is not an end in itself, but rather a tool to better communicate one's ideas. When I think about what to write, I want to think about style not as separate from substance, but as a part of it.
In addition to communicating accurately, I'd like to start communicating more artistically. Reading journal articles and political economy books all the times has made me forget that the occasional well-crafted metaphor, simile, or image makes reading much more enjoyable. I appreciate that kind of beauty when I see it in other's writing, so I'd like to incorporate it in mine too.
P.S. If I were to hold an Oscars of my writing then my nominations for the category of "Best Sentence(s)" would surely be:
- "The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin has compiled a complete list of the words DFW circled in his copy of the American Heritage Dictionary. Wallace scholars are of course using this list to glean some more insight into his mind and work, but I just enjoy birdwatching all these rare and exotic words that somehow show up in the English language." from What David Foster Wallace Circled in His Dictionary
- "The thing—the problem, you could say—with epiphanies is that no matter how small they are, they bring such a burst of clarity that it's easy to forget how private and personal the whole experience is. You walk outside after an epiphany and the blue sky suddenly feels more blue and humanity seems somehow more enlightened and less hopeless. It's hard not to think of the experience as anything other than a leap forward for mankind." from Maybe Not a Leap Forward for Mankind, but At Least a Quantum Leap for Me
- "And of course, the film is absolutely joyful to see, visually: a real treat for the eyes." from Avatar