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Seven months of daily essays

I have now finished seven months of daily essays. I had planned to title this essay Six consecutive months of daily essays since there was a summer-long gap between the first month of daily essays and the remaining essays. But I called the previous end-of-month essay Six months of daily essays, so it seemed appropriate to follow the pattern here.

It’s a bit strange to realize that I have managed to write an essay each day for half of a year. It’s a bit intimidating to think about whether or not I can continue it for another half of a year [1]. It’s not that I’m out of topics; I think I have about 120 topics left on my list [2], and I find that topics regularly come up. I probably even have a few more essays to write about inbox zero [3]. No, what’s intimidating is that these essays have become a bit harder to write. Work has gotten busy. Now, when I sit down to write the essay, I don’t feel so much like Yay! I get to write about something. Starting feels more like a chore. On nights like tonight, in which I’ve just written five recommendation letters [4], it feels like a particular chore.

However, once I start writing, I remember why I do take the time to write. I really do enjoy putting characters on the screen [5]. I like it when writing these essays helps me think through difficult topics. I like knowing that the occasional essay makes a difference to others. I enjoy receiving the regular corrections from my three sons [6,7] as well as the occasional SMS noting that they appreciated a particular comment.

Let’s see … what did I write this month? I had intended to write more essays in the Don’t Embarrass Me; Don’t Embarrass Yourself series. It looks like I wrote only five. I’m often too tired to write serious instructional essays when I sit down to write. I need to find a way to address that difficulty, probably by writing earlier in the day. I wrote a letter to CS students that I’ve been told will be useful, but I still need to send it. I wrote a MathLANifesto, which I found useful for myself, but which garnered surprisingly few comments. Maybe I’ll post it outside my door and see what happens. I wrote one really long rant [8] and ended up following up with direct communication that led to some action. I wrote a variety of short essays [9] because I was writing at the end of the day. So, let’s see … five essays on C and Unix and two additional useful essays. Seven essays that I expect to have others continue to read out of 28 total essays isn’t a bad average.

Each month I also try to ask if my writing is getting better. I’ll admit that I’m not sure. I know that if I edit, my writing is better. But that’s not the same thing as whether or not the base writing is better, particularly since I rarely edit enough [10]. Oh well: I’m sure that one of my readers will let me know. I do find that my essay writing is affecting some of my other writing. In particular, I’m now incredibly tempted to put endnotes in almost all of my writing. I certainly do my best to avoid that temptation.

What should I plan on writing in the next month? If I can find time and energy, I really should write more essays on C and *nix. I’d like to start profiling Grinnellians again [11], so I want to plan at least four this month, and maybe more. I’m still working on the whole Inbox zero / Getting things done process. Maybe I’ll make enough progress that I’ll write a few more essays on that process.

As I’ve noted in a few posts, I’m now playing with Grammarly. I think Grammarly will give me the incentive to write about grammatical issues [12], about style, and about Grammarly itself [14]. I may even think about the legendary Unix style tools, style, grammar, and explain. And it looks like I should consider other tools similar to Grammarly, such as Atomic Reach [18], Hemingway, and Ginger. I don’t think I’d want to use Wordy, even though it employs real humans, mostly because I don’t want to spend that much [19]. I may take a quick look at the industrial strength tool called Acrolinx, but I’m not really the market for that scale of tool. I wonder how much difference those tools will make in my writing, or how much difference having used those tools will make in my writing.

[1] Or perhaps longer.

[2] That includes the 60-some-odd profiles I plan to write.

[3] Currently inbox 100K.

[4] I wrote three recommendations for students applying for scholarships to attend the Richard Tapia celebration of diversity in computing. I wrote two recommendations for students applying for Grinnell’s Vivero program. Unfortunately, my colleagues who are running the Vivero program have made the annoying decision that they want me to fill out a form with lots of text entry boxes, rather than just submit a slightly-modified version of one of the letters that I’ve already written. So those two letters took a bit more time than they should have.

[5] I was going to say I enjoy putting pen to paper, even though that’s not what I do, but it felt wrong.

[6] No, my family is not an old sitcom.

[7] I also get occasional corrections from my one wife.

[8] The rant about captioning.

[9] Or at least essays that I planned to keep short.

[10] I know; you’re incredibly surprised to hear that.

[11] I had hoped to make March a profile-a-day month. That’s not going to be possible. But I should write a few.

[12] I may just write essays that I’ll send to Cynthia Hansen to get the definitive answer.

[14] While I’ve had mixed luck with Grammarly on previous essays and other writings, I accepted all four of its suggested changes to this essay [15].

[15] Grammarly also reminded me that I pay for the advanced plan, it will tell me about 30 additional writing issues in this text, including 21 suggestions on word choice [16]; 4 instances in which I misused semicolons, quotation marks, etc; 2 cases of improper formatting; 2 wordy sentences [17]; and one Passive Voice Misuse, which feels too much like a nominalization to me. If only they integrated with vi and handled Markdown.

[16] Strangely enough, Grammarly spells it WordChoice.

[17] They must be undercounting.

[18] I am a bit concerned that Atomic Reach’s pricing page doesn’t actually list prices.

[19] At a cost of three cents per word.

Version 1.0 of 2017-02-28.