Out with old, in with the new – In my last entry I alluded to a coming change in the way things are done around here. That change is something I am calling “notes,” and it’s something I have been thinking about for a while. In brief, “notes” are an addition to the Journal section of Liminality, differing from the “entries” regular readers are used to in size only. I don’t have exact figures, but my journal entries usually range from 1500 to 3000 or more words, probably averaging somewhere in the 2000-3000 range. Notes, on the other hand, will be one thousand words or fewer.
There are a number of reasons for introducing these notes to the Journal, but they all really boil down to one ultimate reason: I want to write more here at Liminality. Even during especially prolific periods, the best I have been able to manage is around one entry a week, but when the droughts hit things get really dry. I’ve gone a month or longer without writing on several occasions, and in the past five months I have written a grand total of seven entries. Since I launched the site a little over four and a half years ago, I’ve written 149 entries (including this one), making for an average of roughly one entry every eleven days or so. To sum up, I am not the most frequent poster.
Over the years I have tried to take comfort in the idea that I substitute quality for quantity. This has become a pleasant excuse for me—whenever I feel guilty about not posting, I can always say, “Well, at least I write long, solid essays.” I have told myself over and over again that a single essay of two thousand words or so is better than a slew of shorter posts. A few weeks ago I left my first comment at waka waka waka, and in the ensuing exchange I made my usual apology for the lack of new content on Liminality. Malcolm replied: “I know about those dry spells. I fill them in with drivel. It’s to your credit that when you feel you have nothing to say, you don’t say it.”
Of course, Malcolm was being too hard on himself—I cannot recall a single instance where I went over to waka waka waka and found drivel—but he was also being too generous to me. This is not to say that I don’t approach writing here at Liminality with a certain amount of care and diligence, or that I am not proud of the writing I have done, but this is only half of the story. It is not so much a lie as it is a truth left unsaid, and that truth is this: when I don’t post anything new at Liminality, it’s not always because I don’t have anything to say.
Sure, there are certainly times when I just don’t feel like writing, and at those times I need no encouragement to avoid it. But there other times when I do want to write, but I don’t. And it is precisely this myth of quantity over frequency that I have built up around myself that prevents me from writing at times like that. Is a post drivel simply because it is only a few hundred words long? Does two thousand words suddenly turn a “post” into an “essay” and thus make it more worthwhile. I believe that the answer to both of those questions is the same: “no.”
Many a time have I wanted to write about something but not done so because I knew I couldn’t write at least 1500 to 2000 words on the subject. Maybe I saw something on the subway and wanted to comment on it, or I had a passing thought I wanted to share. These things do not fit into the format I have created for the Journal. I have tried to work around this limitation with the occasional “miscellaneous ramblings” entries (there have been four since I launched the site), but I was never really happy with those. For one, I had to “save up” these thoughts, and in doing so they grew stale, so when it came time to write about them I wasn’t quite as motivated. One could say that this is a good sign that they weren’t really worth writing about in the first place, but who says everything has to be a diamond? Coal may not look pretty, but it can still be burned for fuel. OK, that metaphor got a bit mangled, but you get the picture.
This is where the notes come in. No more will I pass over a subject because it’s not worthy of a full-fledged entry. From now on, when I want to write about something I will. If it comes in at under a thousand words, it will be a note. If it goes over 1500 words, it will be an entry. And the five hundred words in between? Well, if I go over a thousand but don’t hit 1500, I will trim the content down as an exercise in brevity. To avoid complicated recoding of the site (that will come later, when I rebuild Liminality from the ground up), the notes will be part of the journal, but they will be numbered separately from the entries and labeled differently as well. They will appear on the front page, just like journal entries, and will also be listed in the archives.
Length aside, not much else is going to change. I am not going to suddenly start posting a bunch of one-line notes, or tossing up links with little or no comment. I very much doubt I will be posting every day either. It’s still going to be Liminality, I’m just not going to be as concerned about length or what is and is not “worthy” of being an entry. Every now and then I look back at the first entry I ever wrote here, and I am always impressed at my earnestness. All I wanted to do was write again. So it was something of a shock when I realized that what Liminality had become was actually preventing me from writing. This is not what I set out to do. I’m tired of forcing myself to play by rules that don’t have a good reason for existing. So the rules are going to change.
(I want to clarify that comment about posting links. I have nothing against people who post links with brief comments on their blogs. In fact, I happen to read and enjoy a number of such sites. It’s an important function, and I’m glad these people are around to perform it. It’s just that link blogs are a specific type of site, and Liminality is different. Liminality is a place for me to share my thoughts, so if I post a link to something I can guarantee that I will have something substantial to say about the subject. That’s just me. I’m no Kottke, though I do read Kottke pretty much daily.)
I understand that the distinction between notes and entries is mostly artificial—that is, I could just as easily decide to start writing shorter entries and not bother with a new content category. Maybe the distinction will disappear someday, but I have a feeling it won’t. I’m very much into things like order and precision (while at the same time being very messy... I really don’t know how to explain that), so it is likely that I will continue to call my longer posts “entries” and the shorter posts “notes.” The important thing is that I will no longer necessarily set out to write an entry—I will just start writing, and if it ends up being entry length, hooray for me. My secret hope is that this will just lead to more entries, but if I end up with a whole bunch of notes that will be cool, too.
Ultimately, I’m hoping that this will infuse Liminality with new life, and that the recent drought I’ve been experiencing will give way to a refreshing rain (which is, now that I think about it, pretty much the exact opposite of what the weather has been like here recently). The drought has been due in large part to my studies, and by lowering the requirements for writing I hope to be able to squeeze in more of it even as I tear my hair out over this blasted dissertation. I stopped writing partly so I could concentrate on my studies, but I have realized that I’m burning out because I have no creative outlet, and it’s just the same thing day after day. I really hope that this will change, but who knows how this will go.
While I’m on the subject of writing and experimenting with new things, I think this would be a good time to discuss the fate of the Workshop. I began this experiment on the first of January, 2005, as an outlet for my creative writing. The idea was that I would post drafts of my writing without worrying about fixing them up. Over the course of two years and change, I posted fifty-six times (not counting the two NaNoWriMo novels I posted daily there during November 2005 and November 2006). The last piece of writing was posted on the first of February this year, and the Workshop has been on hiatus since then.
My original plan was to get back to writing after I finished my dissertation at the end of this year, but we all know how that turned out. So, after a lot of thought, I have decided to terminate the Workshop experiment. By “terminate” I mean that I will remove both the DOWN and the link to the Workshop on the Writings page (I’ll probably do this tomorrow). The Workshop itself will stay online—just in case I decide to revive it someday, and also to avoid breaking links (mostly mine)—but I do not plan to post anything new to it. I am considering putting up the fifty-six pieces posted there during the course of the experiment—the front page would be a brief explanation, then a list of links to the various pieces—but I’m still not sure if I’m going to do that. On the one hand, it would provide some closure and be a fitting memorial to the experiment, but on the other hand it would go against the original philosophy of the Workshop, which was that nothing was permanent (new posts replaced old posts, and there were no archives—old content was removed completely).
There are a number of reasons why I am terminating the experiment. The most obvious one, of course, is that I don’t post anything there anymore. Perhaps less obvious, though, at least to the casual reader, is the fact that I have not done anything with any of the pieces I posted there. True, I did give a few stories more than one go, but I never got any of the drafts polished to the point that I would consider them anywhere close to finished. The Workshop provided me with a place to put my drafts, but in doing so it also removed some of the incentive to polish those drafts. Getting them to the Workshop provided me with a sense of accomplishment, and I was never motivated to go beyond that. I was always moving on to the next draft.
Recently, though, I’ve started to think a little more seriously about my writing. This is pretty much entirely due to the inspiration I have received from Gord. Gord has had a number of his stories published, and he is very diligent about writing and then polishing his drafts. I don’t think I ever mentioned this to him directly, but seeing his success has inspired me to move beyond the drafts. I don’t expect things to happen overnight, of course, but they’re not going to happen at all if I don’t start sometime. I’m not going to have a whole lot of time for creative writing until the dissertation is finished, but I do want to make some time for it. Instead of posting my drafts to the Workshop, I will be approaching them in a more serious fashion. In fact, I intend to take a few promising drafts from the Workshop experiment and reshape them into something more complete (this is another reason why I’m hesitant to post the Workshop back catalogue).
Hopefully these changes will reenergize both me and Liminality. Like I said above, I’m just tired of the rut I’ve fallen into, and I think it’s time that I climbed out of it. I’m going to be very busy through next summer, what with the dissertation and the other things I need to take care of, but without a non-study, non-work outlet, I’m going to burn out again. As one reader commented, I need to find balance, and I hope that these changes will be the first steps toward achieving that.