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Starting a new sketchbook

Topics/tags: Meta-musings.

As I’ve mentioned previously [1], I keep an electronic sketchbook of potential musing topics and notes on those topics. While I refer to it in the singular, the sketchbook has multiple parts. There’s a file in which I list the topics and, at times, add some notes. There are also a variety of individual files that contain partial musings. I find the sketchbook useful when prompting my muse to suggest a topic. I also like being able to jot down an idea and therefore to get it out of my head.

A strength and a weakness of the sketchbook is that it grows [2]. That is, even though I cross out [3] entries when I write the corresponding musing, the number of potential musings increases monotonically. How much has it grown? When I started this musing on 2 November 2018, I had 155 topics for musings in the categorized section of the sketchbook and another 358 in the other sections, too many of which have labels like high priority. At the end of July, which is the last time I counted, I had 111 in the categorized section and another 360 in the other sections [4].

It’s sometimes depressing to read through the list. I keep saying something to myself like like, I really want to write about that [5], but there are too many things that have a higher priority.

When things grow that much, it’s almost certainly worthwhile taking time to prune them. So I’ve made a copy of the sketchbook, thrown out everything that’s not in the categorized section, and pruned that section a bit, too. Now I’m left with 141 in the main section and 69 in the list of Grinnellians to write about [6]. That’s a lot, but potentially manageable.

I have mixed feelings about the culling. On the one hand, I’m glad that I could remove a lot of topics from consideration, or at least prompt consideration. On the other hand, now that I’ve read through the list again, I find myself yearning to write about most of the topics I’ve kept in the sketchbook, as well as the half-dozen or so that I ended up adding as I went through that list.

There are a variety of levels of detail to the entries in the main sections of the sketchbook. I have about 44 entries in which I’ve added anywhere from a few sentences to a full a paragraph of notes in the midst of the list of topics. I have 50 entries in which I’ve already created a separate file for the musing. The remaining entries? Some are just a topic whose name is supposed to be clear enough that I’ll figure out the rest, such as The moat or Beautiful Racket. Some have an accompanying link to an article that I expect to serve as the source of a musing, such as for the topic I’ve called Creating a syllabus.

Once I’ve chosen a topic, I generally prefer the entries that have some detail. I like to have a bit to start with when I write, even a few notes as to what I was thinking about when I added the topic. I thought I’d been better about adding those notes of late, but those data suggest otherwise.

Which form does my muse prefer? I don’t want to speak for her, other than in terms of what she seems to be asking to think about as I write this paragraph [7]. The short entries make it easier to scan the list. And that holds whether the short entries are unannotated topics, topics with links to articles, or topics that include a reference to a separate sketch or draft. On the other hand, the longer entries provide more of an opportunity to catch her eye or mine. It’s a trade off with no clear winner. For the time being, I’ll continue to use whatever form seems most appropriate.

What about the tags and categories that I’ve tried to include with each entry in the sketchbook? I had planned to use them to help my muse. If she suggested that I write about the joy of code, for example, those tags could allow us to quickly skim the list of possible topics [8]. Or, more realistically, on days in which I did not have a lot of time to write, those tags could lead us to short musings, to musings with substantive drafts, or to musings which exhibit both characteristics [9]. We haven’t generally used them that way. However, when we skim through the list of the first dozen or so possible topics, they do prove to be of use, particularly on those days in which I don’t have a lot of time to muse.

Even though we’re not necessarily using the tags in the way I expected, I plan to continue to include them. I paid a bit more attention to them in reorganizing the sketchbook. For example, I decided to reformat them a bit to help set them apart in the formatted version of the sketchbook. I rarely use that version of the sketchbook. However, I realized that making the tags easy to find visually might also be helpful [11]. I also made a few other visual changes.

With so many outstanding musings, I’m wondering whether it might make sense to muse more than once daily. I guess that will depend on how my other writing goes. We shall see.

[1] For example, in many end-of-month musings.

[2] And grows. And grows.

[3] Remove.

[4] The counts may be off by a few.

[5] Or, in many cases, finish writing about that.

[6] I remain eternally optimistic that I’ll be able to spend time on that series. Maybe that will be a sabbatical project.

[7] She did suggest writing about the different kinds of entries, so it’s clear something she considers worthwhile. Or perhaps she just wanted me to gather some more relatively pointless data.

[8] to quickly skim the list of possible topics or to skim the list of possible topics quickly? Should I go for the split infinitive or the large gap between verb and adverb?

[9] Short musings with substantive drafts are both a blessing and a curse, to use yet another too-common colloquialism [10]. On the one hand, they show potential for quick completion. On the other, because they are short, I sometimes take them as an invitation to tune the language carefully or find myself frustrated that I’m not taking that time.

[10] Youngest Son had a better term for them recently, but I can’t remember what it was. Ah, he said tropes.

[11] I still think grep is likely to be more helpful.

Version 1.0 of 2018-11-05.