When I’m writing from off the top of my head, what comes through, most frequently, is ephemera and throw-away phrases with very short shelf-life.
When I’m writing from my soul, it’s like being in a conversation. It can be a conversation with a friend, my wife, children, an inspiring stranger in an online forum, the scenius of a group, or just my future self.
Even in its most intimately personal expression, my short-form writing is always prompted by the other person’s quality of listening. How would I know about it when I don’t know that person? It’s easier than you might think. What you’re reading now was, in fact, prompted by Tom Hall’s inquiry question in his, What is Writing to You?
“I do believe I have created a ton of valuable content as posts on my forum, but the prospect of going back and mining those threads to put together a coherent essay, article, story or book is really daunting… Do you save your past written communications and if so, have you ever attempted to mine that content for material to publish outside the context of communicating?”
I came across those lines with amazing synchronicity, just at the very moment when I was pondering the same issue as Tom. Iy made me feel that he may be interested to listen to what I have to say about it, which in turn, inspired me to write. (Thank you, Tom!)
Writing a response was not a rational choice even if I can explain it after the fact. It was more of a flash of insight that maybe something bigger is going on here. It’s not just about my personal agony about the juicy morsels that I’m leaving buried in the blackhole of email messages, tweets, and social media replies. As a network thinker, I’m always curious about what is the “big picture” story behind our seemingly personal ones?
If Tom and I have the exact same concern, isn’t it very likely that there are thousands of people around the world, who are experiencing something similar? For them, just as for all of us, the mind is the central processing unit for making meaning from what our senses perceive. If so, then willy-nilly, we play the role of nodes in the noosphere’s progressive innervation. Thus, unbeknownst to me, the individual acts of linking up my fragments of meaning-making scattered around in cyberspace become part of a much larger game.
Of course, I don’t derive my motivation — for examining the seeds of meaning worth sprouting, and fragments worth connecting — from that cosmic layer. On a personal level, I’m just intrigued by the question of what parts of me could re-surface and come into play if I connected some forgotten dots.
Given that I have literally hundreds of thousands of such dots, where would I start even if had the right tools and methodology? I guess we’d all give different answers to such a question, depending on our life conditions, values, and preferences. Those factors are at play in the choice of conversations that we start or contribute to because they matter to us. In other words, not only is writing a community art form but even our choice of subject is tacitly influenced by the communities we straddle.
So what about Tom’s questions: “Do you save your past written communications and if so, have you ever attempted to mine that content for material to publish outside the context of communicating?”
In 99% of the cases, when I drop a novel insight into the ocean of digital communication, I just accept that it will drown and I will never see them again, except accidentally, if someone quotes it. In 1% of cases, I can’t resist and save my thought somewhere on my hard disk — yet another cemetery where random thoughts go to die or at least, to hibernate until maybe years or decades later they will be discovered accidentally, through a keyword search.
Now comes the good news. All that is about to change! Why? Because I unearthed a tool (Obsidian) and a method (Zettelkasten) that make me feel confident that, after so many false starts, I have what it will take to not only mine my past snippets but also, to store and organize their gems for easy findability. My hope is for turning them into beads worth stringing together into new-story necklaces.
Will that dream come true? Helping it happen will be a lot of work but not a chore. More like preparing for a long-awaited family reunion with my brainchildren. It will also be part of the high adventure of my research on Combining Personal and Collective Knowledge Ecologies for Nurturing Systemic Wisdom, at the FUTURE HOW research center.