Category Archives: Writing

Creativity is like gardening

I see a strong parallel between creativity and gardening. Like a fruit, growing from seed to ripe, ideas do the same.


Idea seeds are those vague, half-formed thoughts that quietly appear in your mental space. They occupy a strange state where you are aware of them, but would struggle to write them down or explain to someone else coherently. That is the defining characteristic of an idea which is not mature yet.

Slightly more mature ideas are in the growth phase. They form of the idea has started to emerge, and you can half-express it, but there might be logical errors as you still haven’t fully thought it through yet.

Ripe ideas are fully developed and can be coherently expressed with the fewest words necessary.


Ideas can grow along this path explicitly or implicitly. You can explicitly grow ideas by sitting down and trying to write them. Or they can grow implicitly in the background as you live your life and expose yourself to experiences and other ideas.

Sitting down to write an idea is like trying to harvest it. It’s easiest and works best when the idea is ripe โ€” the idea will almost pour out of your brain onto the page in this case. If you try to harvest an idea before it’s ripe, it will be harder.

The analogy might break down slightly here. With ideas, the act of trying to harvest them actually accelerates their journey towards ripeness. Trying to express an idea forces you to understand it better and clarify it. This is one way of growing an idea: the explicit way.

Ideas can also grow implicitly. They can quietly sit on your mental back burner as you live your life and expose yourself to experiences and other ideas. Maybe another idea acts as a bee that pollinates the first idea and together they form a complete, ripe idea. But in order for them to be able to safely sit on the back burner as long as it takes, they should be still captured in some kind of way, or else you’ll probably forget them.


Note that an idea’s state of being written down vs in head, and public vs private are each orthogonal qualities. Ripe ideas aren’t the only ones that can be written down and published. Idea seeds can still be attempted to be written down (although it will be hard), and also published.

Reflections on learning to write

For the last three years, I’ve invested into learning to write. The main reason: strong writing skill is generally a shared quality among all the greatest thinkers, leaders and generally wise people of history.

How has it gone?

Really well. It’s paying off in many ways, and I only feel more inspired to keep doing it. I find that it gets more fun then more you do โ€” the more ideas you have and the easier and faster it is to express them.

It’s paid off in my personal life with my offlinemark project. My writing (and general public creative efforts) has reached some unexpected places and put me in touch with some very interesting people. My most prized accomplishment is being cited in the Linux Kernel security mailing list.

It’s paid off in many ways at work. As a software engineer, I do a lot of writing at work, and I pride myself in having great written communication there. I write a lot of documentation, hold it up to a high standard, and people notice. I get points for this because most engineers don’t like writing docs, but I’ve trained myself to enjoy it.

Beyond these, modern life generally involves a good amount of written communication. I’ve found that putting in these reps has simply made this part of life a bit easier.


P.S. Something else I’ve observed is that I find myself having more ideas and being more aware of them. Whether they’re good or insightful is a different matter, but I’d like to believe that over time they’ll get there.

Software engineers must learn to write

There is an immense amount of written communication involved in a programming job:

  • Commit messages
  • Bug reports & debugging discussions
  • Design documents
  • User documentation
  • Project documentation, READMEs, internal dev documentation
  • Project announcements
  • Comments & in-code documentation
  • Making complex situations simple for stakeholders
  • Handling support tickets
  • Mailing list discussions

Software engineers must learn to write well in the same way that they should also learn how to stay organized โ€” they avoid doing so to their own detriment.

What cured my writer’s/publisher’s block

I’ve managed to make writing fun again and have been publishing a lot on my blog lately.

It’s due to three reasons:

1 – Having explicit content categories creates the freedom to post things that aren’t highly effort intensive deep dives.

By introducing explicit post categories (i.e. Micropost, Lab Notes, Essay, Deep Dive, etc) I feel much more free to post without the expectation that every post needs to be a time consuming, deeply researched technical post (which are the kind of posts that are popular).

I don’t have time for those lately, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write or post anything! Explicitly tagging something as a micropost or lab notes takes a lot of the pressure off, and makes me much more willing to write and publish.

2 – I stopped sharing on Twitter.

The curse of growing an audience is that posting to that audience has increasing weight as the audience grows, which creates stress and friction about posting. What if I post something that people don’t like and I lose a bunch of followers? What if I’m straight up wrong? What if I want to share something but don’t have time to fully polish it and people judge me? What if I post too often?

It’s also distracting to share on Twitter, and very difficult to not monitor notifications afterwards.

Furthermore, writing on Twitter was actually difficult in that it took extra energy to abide by the character limits, or fit things into threads otherwise. Writing freeform of my own blog is easier in this regard.

Not posting on Twitter removes a nontrivial amount of friction and stress that used to prevent me from sharing.

3 – Using WordPress (i.e. not a static site generator) removes a ton of friction.

The fact that I can click buttons in a web interface, write and post as easily as sending a tweet makes all the difference.

It’s so nice being able to change the website without coding. For instance, I just added a “Popular posts” feature in the sidebar in the last 5 minutes. Turns out Jetpack already has the feature included and I just had to enable it. I don’t even want to imagine what it would have taken to implement that by hand or with a static site generator.

Though not as fast a static site, the blog loads fast enough and I’m more than happy to take the performance hit.

It’s also awesome that I can quickly edit posts to fix typos, even from my phone with the WordPress app. I do this very often.

(bonus reason: It’s also due to the realization that posts don’t have to be long, can be written in one sitting, and don’t have to be absolutely perfect!)

Experiment: Categories for my posts

I’m trying something new. I added WordPress tags for higher level categories of content that cut across the typical tags:

  • Deep Dive: Longer, more detailed posts that require significant research. Very expensive to produce.
  • Tech: Normal technical blog post. More polished than Lab Notes, less researched than Deep Dive.
  • Lab Notes: Rough notes, typically technical, usually bullet points about some topic.
  • Essay: Nonfiction writing, usually nontechnical.
  • Micropost: Tiny, short thought.

I hope that by categorizing things this way and acknowledging that this blog is a collection of different art forms (that appear similar because they’re all writing), I’ll be more comfortable publishing publicly. For a while I was scared to publish because I don’t have as much time for deep dives as before, which is what people seemed to really like, but acknowledging these different categories and specifically calling out a shorter, rougher, less polished piece as such takes the pressure off of publishing it.

Why I write in public

Note to self. I write because:

  • Improved clarity of thought
  • Archive of thought
  • Improves writing skills

In addition, I write in public because:

  • It reinforces a mindset of speaking my mind in public (i.e. courage)
  • Receive valuable feedback and external perspectives
  • Build & maintain relationships โ€” people can learn about me and keep up with what I’m up to

Furthermore, I’ve found that it’s addicting to write in public.

  • It feels good to look back on writing and realize you’ve expressed yourself clear and well. And that you understand the topic well know.
  • It feels good to develop a voice.
  • It feels good to watch yourself improve. You can write better, faster with practice.
  • You become more self-observant of your thoughts, and realize that there are so many interesting things to write about.
  • It feels good to get positive feedback on your writing.

Edit: 2023-08-01

Furthermore, I think it’s a good idea to even default to sharing in public (vs writing in a private Note app, then selectively copying to publish).

If you get busy and don’t get around to that explicit publish step, there is a 0% chance that anybody else might discover your work, which might actually be very good. If you default to publishing publicly, that doesn’t mean you need to actively promote it, but at least there’s a nonzero chance of someone finding it eventually.