Managing the backlog of writing blocks

A few hours of my time this weekend were devoted to seeding Substack posts from week 55 to current (124) into the blog. I’m not sure how long Substack as a platform will last so I wanted to just put the content into my backlog. That process of seeding content really did take a couple hours of working with the posts to get all that content ported over to the blog. My weekly workflow now has an extra step to stage the future content in both the Substack and the blog, but having that extra set of steps is just a couple minutes of post production work. At some point, I will need to circle back and load up the Substack content from weeks 1 to 54. However, today will not be that day of content loading. Maybe it will happen during the course of watching some playoff hockey games here in the next month or so as the playoffs progress.

Last night, I could not make it all the way to the end of the Colorado Avalanche game last night. I made it to part of the 3rd period and fell asleep. That game simply started too late in the evening. I’m an early morning content creator and those late nights are hard to recover from these days. All the round one match-ups have been pretty exciting this year. It has been a good point in my process to consider managing the backlog of writing blocks. Right now I know what content needs to get created between now and the end of the year. All of my energy and focus needs to be put into making the best possible blocks of content. It’s important to really kick the production quality up a notch here and build blocks of research that can be packaged into research notes, literature reviews, or academic articles. At the end of 2023, I want to be able to see several completed articles. Right now I’m tracking to produce a third year end book in three years and that is good, but it could be better and that is where my focus needs to be right now.

Increasing the velocity of my contributions to the academy is where I want to put my effort. My five year writing plan is about assuming I have that amount of time to do something with my writing efforts and trying to plan to use that time wisely. Part of that is about producing content and writing that does not end up being purely ephemeral in nature. Prose that stands the test of time is rare and impactful. Content that simply fades away is now increasingly becoming nothing more than noise or worse it cannot break through at all and is not even background noise.

Apparently, within the posts section of WordPress I have 225 draft posts that span from 1998 to 2021 to clean up. Over the years my total collection of posts has moved from being a Microsoft FrontPage site to being over on Movable Type to finally landing on WordPress. A couple of times I have had the entire site wiped out which left a bunch of content holes including images and wholesale missing posts. Most of the time I had backups of the actual written words, but the posts that had images were not well backed up over the last twenty years. Even the Wayback Machine does not have all the content anymore.

My routine is set up to produce 52 blocks of content per year

Currently, my routine is set up to produce 52 blocks of content per year. Each week one block of content is getting generated. Within that cycle I have time devoted to writing on the weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday morning I wake up early and focus for several hours without interruption. We are in the third year of this 52 block creation format. The previous two years were moved into a manuscript format and packaged as books. Each of the blocks is shared out as a Substack post along the way. All of that is geared toward my efforts to learn, understand, and explain complex topics. That is the routine that I have setup and am implementing as part of both my daily writing plan and the research trajectory I have set up for myself. All that rolls up into my five year writing plan and I have been successful in adhering to the plan. 

This pattern of production works for me and I’m ok with sustaining it. One of the things I need to really focus on doing is converting some of the blocks into research notes, literature reviews, and the seeds of academic papers. Last year I built a solid literature review in Overleaf and was able to share it out. Pretty much every part of that effort was rewarding. It was good research and the effort put into that made sense. This year we have moved from post 105 to where I am currently working on post 124. That pretty much means that 19 blocks of the 52 for this year have been expended. All of that effort did not yield another publication shifted over to Overleaf for extended sharing. At the moment, I’m deeply considering what that means to have spent the time and effort on that writing effort, but not have turned the corner from building blocks of content to creating publications. 

All that being said, I’m trying to figure out how to take my remaining backlog for the rest of the year and either mix and match blocks to build something or change out some of the remaining blocks for the year to help support the mission of creating better literature reviews. I know that the best possible plan is to probably just sit down and write down the top 5 literature reviews toward the bleeding edge of technology I would like to read and then just produce the ones that do not exist. Working on things within that process is probably the right way to move things forward. Getting to a posture where my routine is generating the output I want over time is really the outcome I’m looking to achieve. Having a routine is great and it is the first step in the process. A good next step is understanding the outcomes of that routine. That is what I have been trying to think about within the last 500 words or so of prose.

Each of those 52 blocks right now is created in a Google Doc and that is where the content stays within the 5 week planning and review cycle. For the whole year I work on content within that document and pull out completed works to share them in Substack. I’m trying to figure out if I should be publishing the content on the blog as well. No real conflict of obligation exists in doing that type of doubling up on posting the content. Generally, each blog post is created in a separate stand alone Google Doc and then that word processing document is just left in storage afterwards. That is very different from the 52 blocks of content where towards the end of the year I take the time to format the content back into a Microsoft Word document and prepare that manuscript for both editing and publication. From what I can tell, old Substack posts don’t really get a ton of traffic and at some point I’m sure that platform will cease to exist. My blog will exist until approximately 5 years after my efforts cease. I tend to pay in advance for domains and hosting.

A golden window of writing adventures

Things got off to a better start today. My energy level was higher at the start of the day. Rocky dog did kick off that day a few minutes before my alarm clock should have gone off. Apparently, the dog based alarm clock was running a little bit early. It’s entirely possible that next week will usher in a golden window of writing adventures. We will see how that one goes. I should have some really good blocks of time to engage in some active writing. That does not always equate to a higher degree of productivity. It just opens the window to it. That opportunity has to be realized to materialize anything. One of the things I want to spend some time working on next week is deeply considering my 5 year writing plan to evaluate where things are and what things should be changed up. 

Throughout this month I have been pretty consistent about sitting down and producing some blog related content. Maybe a bit more of an ongoing narrative would be helpful. Perhaps at the crux of this problem is that each one of these missives is the opening part of getting started. Functionally it is a similar thing that happens every day as the process of going from being awake to being ready to be productive starts. That is what I’m attempting to rationalize anyway. An ongoing narrative would be related to the things that I’m interacting with and an explanation of things that are happening along the way. Probably the only way to really do that would be to make sure that a bunch of starter ideas are seeded in Google Keep throughout the day. At the start of the day instead of writing without a prompt. I really just open a blank page and begin to make my way into the writing process. Things would instead start out by grabbing the previous day’s seeds and beginning to work bringing form to those ideas. 

That method of seeding would certainly produce an ongoing narrative that was essentially about my interactions with things. It would push this from being a more functional journal and into a more reactionary journal. For better or worse that might be a more interesting thing to consider for a couple of weeks. I pretty much did that during the million word challenge where I had a backlog and used that to help focus my writing efforts every morning. During the course of trying to produce 3,000 or more words per day for a blog that is going to be required. 

The things that most need attention

Those two shots of espresso that I just made have not yet done their magic. Things are still a bit cloudy at the moment. Oddly enough my Oura ring has reported the highest rating I have ever received for last night’s sleep at 94 out of 100. This is the 5th day I have had the Oura ring based on what I see in the data at a quick glance. The battery is down to 30% and they suggest that you charge it before it gets to zero. So far my Oura ring has worked out well enough the only thing I did not consider about it was how it was going to factor into my guitar playing. So far I have left it on during the course of playing guitar, but I think going forward it may be better to remove it and set it on my desk during my guitar playing extravaganzas. The edge of the frets will probably scratch it over time and that seems problematic. 

Last night it snowed a bit here in Denver, Colorado. It’s March so I was hoping that would slow down a bit as we start to approach summer at some point. We have not reached the point in the program where all the snow in the front yard has even melted away yet for the season. It’s like we have a couple of yard contained icebergs at this point. Last night I had meant to spend the evening working on a bit of content and research, but I faded quickly and ended up not getting much of anything done. 

It’s about time for me to take a good look at my five year writing plan by putting it up on my whiteboard. Some of the things that are on it are pretty specific and other things are concepts or areas of interest. Sometimes giving that trajectory a good review can help me identify other items that could be included. It is also important as a reflective practitioner to acknowledge that sometimes it is easier to engage in that planning and review than other times. We put on different hats and work on different levels of things from time to time. Really being ready to review something complex and forward looking requires the right focus and energy. It is something that is worth investing the best possible effort into as it drives things over such a long period of time. 

We are now at the start of the 4th paragraph of writing for the day and I can now finally confirm that I’m all the way awake. It took about 20 minutes to get to this point of direct confrontation with the keyboard and the screen. I’m ready to go and nothing is going to slow me down for the next hour as I work on the things that most need attention. Getting to that point of being able to push things forward toward that perfect possible future is not trivial. That is essentially the point of this whole writing routine and exercise. I remember getting put out on a balcony during a vacation at one point to focus on finishing my dissertation. At that time, I was not able to get myself into an effective writing posture. It was forced and it made the writing process much harder to achieve. 

Getting things done is really about managing the things that most need attention. That is where my daily writing routine kicks off during the week and my academic interests come into focus on the weekend. As of right now that writing pattern is holding true and I’m 113 consecutive weeks of content creation into that overall effort. Churning out a chapter of content a week is something that apparently can be sustained. It may be harder to achieve this year than last year based on other commitments that might eat up my time. Nothing really should stop me from being able to put in the time at the keyboard to make it happen. Based on my current writing routine it is about waking up early and getting to work during a block of time where no distractions occur. 

Writing about those writing related thoughts

Yesterday I was writing about how writing for a prolonged period of time can be like a form of meditation. That focus that comes from being really dialed into the moment cannot be discounted. Finding your voice during the course of prolonged writing can be an interesting element of the equation. Over the last couple of decades my writing style has shifted a bit and hopefully it is a little more refined. My ability to sit down and write with very few grammatical concerns has certainly improved. That is one of the more interesting parts of my stream of consciousness style writing these days. While it is certainly not perfect flowing prose it for the most part requires very little touch up. I very rarely get to the point where I’m producing content at such a pace that words get left out or things are missing from sentences. It has been a long time since I had so many ideas that just needed to get out where that type of racing through the writing process occurs. 

We are quickly approaching summer here as March is starting. The little weather icon on my smartphone is indicating that it might snow today at some point. I guess that could very well happen here in Colorado. All different types of weather show up here for sure. We have a true 100 degree weather cycle from cold to hot. It appears my thoughts have drifted here a little bit from the start of this missive to where we are right now. Sometimes these morning writing sessions get a little too literal and I end up focusing on the process of writing each and every time. Maybe it just feels like that, but the fact that the writing category on the blog is very full of content suggests it might be a deeper pattern. I don’t work from a backlog during the course of clearing my thoughts at the start of the day. 

My writing plan generally includes a very specific multi-year backlog. Working on items like that is not really something that I can do at the start of the day. My thoughts are not yet focused and my energy cannot exactly be focused that quickly to creating a work product. On the weekends the first part of the day is generally spent researching the writing item in question. I don’t generally jump in and start producing content that could be published at the very start of the day. That is not a skill that generally can be demonstrated within my writing practices. More or less I have found that sitting down and working on the production of words and typing a whole bunch of things on the screen opens the door to more of that. Writing generally begets more writing. Maybe refining my note taking process a little bit could create a bit of a cheat sheet for topics to consider during these morning writing sessions to give them a little bit more of a focus here as we approach summer.

At the very start of the day Rocky dog was making dog-like arguments that the alarm clock going off was not a necessary element of starting the day. Rocky dog is tall enough to be snout to face while I’m sleeping during the course of making these arguments. It seemed like a good idea to go ahead and start the day by letting the dogs out. The natural start of the day would have been just a few moments ago when my smartphone alarm went off by vibrating on my desk. It was easily dismissed and I’m already fully awake at the moment. Two shots of espresso have been consumed and a page of prose has been created. Granted it is a writing about those writing related thoughts without much else being included. At this point in the program I have a solid hour right now to shift my now ready to go focus and attention to something in my backlog of things that need solving.

Dialing in a bit of focus on that writing plan

My social media strategy for the blog happens to be allowing WordPress to post a link to each missive directly on Twitter as a single Tweet. Yesterday it seemed like a good idea to post the nearly 4,000 characters of that post into a tweet right after that post. A total of 3 out of 24 viewers of the tweet expanded it to look at the longer post. For the most part I have tried to post a couple of longer tweets using that feature and the engagement has never been better due to having thousands of characters. Testing out new features is always a fun thing to do and I’m hopeful that Twtitter comes up with a bunch of them in the next few months. 

Right now at the start of my day I sat down to write another page or prose and to deeply consider the nature of what is being produced. My Substack efforts are essentially being packaged up as a manuscript at the end of the year. For better or worse that writing effort is essentially a weekly way to turn out a focused chapter of content. We are in the third year of that effort and it has worked out well enough. Right now 104 weeks of content were packed up on the topic of machine learning. This year the topics under consideration have broadened from machine learning to artificial intelligence (AI) in general. Next year at this time the manuscript that will go out will have a distinct AI focus with a few other topics mixed into that series. 

Some weeks will have topics that are adjacent to central topics in the AI series. A few things need to be flushed out to really dig deeper into what can be done with AI and how it will intersect with modernity. It’s that interaction of AI and modernity that deeply concerns me enough that I feel compelled to try to write about it on a regular basis. This might very well be the year that I complete my writing effort on producing a book about the intersection of technology and modernity. Getting that writing project produced and on the shelf next to me would be a true achievement of something on my writing plan. 

Overall you can tell that today is a bit about dialing in some focus on that writing plan and making sure that things are going down the right path. Getting to the point where each day of writing builds toward something and is a part of that writing plan is an important piece of the puzzle. I think the idea that with a little prompt engineering this post could be compiled within seconds where it took me dozens of minutes does give me pause. Today marks the second day in a row of producing a good amount of prose at the start of the day that was not really tied to anything special. I just sat down and tried to collect my thoughts. To that end this writing session was successful and posted. Fun times.

Staring down that writing plan without hesitation

Today I sat down to spend some time deeply focused on my 5 year writing plan. I’m about to enter year two of this plan and I was trying to decide if now would be the best time to revise and extend my previous plan. A year has passed and now instead of covering 5 years the plan only covers the next 4 years. I have been taking a pretty good and lengthy look at what has been identified as part of my year 2 ambitions. Based on where things sit right now I’m not sure I need to revise the writing plan. Things are set in motion for year 2 of the writing plan and adding something to the end of the plan won’t really do anything to or for my current writing efforts. It might just be the right time to take no action on that one. Probably at the end of 2023 the writing plan will need to be revised and a new commitment will need to be made to complete that work.  

My weblog posts have started to receive longer titles. That new trend is probably a consequence of wanting to keep creating original ones. We are quickly approaching the end of the year and I’m looking at the next 25 weeks of my detailed writing backlog. Instead of working on that backlog I have elected at the moment to dance with the blank screen and write down a few observations in weblog form. Right now the weblog is currently split between public and private posts. I’m not sure why I have so many of the older posts in private mode. At one point, I had considered enforcing a sunset on posts where after 3 years or so all that old content will just fade into private status. The way the internet works to preserve things that effort is probably not a solid strategy to actually retire content, but it seemed to make sense to me at the time. 

That lines up with my once doomed effort to put all my weblog content into manuscript form to keep it for posterity. Even the thought of going back and editing more than a decade of my weblog published thoughts does not seem compelling enough to stir action. I’m probably not going to go and do that at any point along the way. My energy and attention are focused on the creation of new content. The older content will have to just remain the way it is and I’m sure that will be fine. 

A 24 hour burst of productivity

Without question the last 24 hours have included a burst of productivity. A lot of that was set up by building out quality drafts in revision and review mixed with following a good process and workflow. Within my Substack posting creation process I work on 5 weeks of posts in planning and review. That allows me to intellectually jump around from one piece of content to another. Having that little bit of writing freedom to focus on one thing and then another is the key element of increasing productivity. If for some reason my writing output slows down on one topic, then I can quickly shift gears to something that is better aligned with my mood or interests at that moment. Learning to shift gears and not try to overly focus on any one thing is a key element of increasing writing productivity. 

Previously, anybody who has been around the weblog over the years will know that I often just engage in the act of pure stream of consciousness writing. I sit down with no agenda and simply write to fill up the blank page. That as a process is an effort that can be repeated forever as every blank page provides an opportunity to write. The Substack or academic writing is a very different type of thing. That is writing to a schedule based on a defined backlog of content that needs to be created. In my case, I literally had a word processing document with 104 items that needed to be created to sprint toward my two year writing goal. My 2022 writing goal was written like this: “Finish writing a collected series of ML/AI essays on Substack and combine them into a manuscript, ‘The Lindahl Letter: On Machine Learning Year Two.’ This manuscript should include both years one and two.” As of right now after that 24 burst of productivity, I’m currently at 101 items complete on a plan of 104 for the year. 

Even right now I have drafts completed for the content that will be included in posts 102, 103, and 104. It would be possible to record those drafts and call it a day for the year, but that would be problematic as the content could be so much better with a bit more tinkering, review, and editing to take it to the next level. My big plans for 2023 include a lot more docs on producing academic papers and focusing my Substack and other writing efforts to chronicling that journey. At some point in the next couple of weeks, I need to sit down and revise my 5 year writing plan as well given that it is currently only spanned out 4 years into the future. A year of writing has passed and it is now time to reconsider the path forward.

Oh those problematic strings of words

I’m spending more time working on the weblog than usually gets put into that platform in the last few years. This is one of those things that happens in waves and typically just happens based on a point in the cycle and not for any real empowered reason. Within the backend of the site it has 2,561 total posts that go back to the early 2000’s. A few of the essays I wrote back during my college years are worth updating at this point. Most of that content was just the beginning of things as I sort of booted up to the writer than I am today. Most of the time I can now power through a block of prose with very little editing required. My base writing state is now passable to just dump online without a lot of clean up. That probably should be more exciting than it actually seems to be for me at the moment. Sometimes without a doubt when I get into a hurry or am not paying attention to what is being written things will go horribly wrong in terms of grammar and style concerns. I’ll get the idea out, but the construction of the words bringing it forward can be highly problematic. For the most part, the main thing that happens is that word will be missing. 

Today again I’m misbehaving and writing out of a Google Doc instead of that Microsoft Word document that is supposed to be my daily writing home. It turns out that I really don’t want to continually write out of the same document every day and that I really do want to open up a blank document on a daily basis and begin writing from a fresh starting point. That is problematic in terms of collecting things together in the end for publication purposes, but it may very well be something that I’ll need to live with going forward. I had successfully switched over for around 30 days and then that habit fell apart the first time that I was a little bit tired and just opened a word processing document on a whim. It was that moment of tired whim that got me back over here into Google Docs. It is entirely possible that I prefer the editing features in Google Docs and maybe just got used to them over time. One solution to the problem would be to try to add the next missive to the end of this document and see if I could at least keep all the words together. 

I did manage to break down the problematic posts in the writing plan to get to 104 issues of The Lindahl Letter. At some point, I just had to accept that a couple of the topics were going to just end up being shorter than I had planned on allowing them to end up. A few of the topics have one central person who contributed to them and are super straightforward. During my planning sessions I should have tried to zoom out a bit or maybe picked different areas of focus where a bit more coverage would have been possible. I have been (for better or worse) in the habit of writing weblog type missives for the last 20 years. I’m probably not going to stop doing that at any point. Some of them never get posted, but the daily habit of sitting down and offloading some thoughts into some type of word processing document, notepad, sketchpad, or just a pad of paper is probably going to keep happening. The part of it that I find the most confusing is that I tend to go back to Twitter a few times a day and it has also become a part of my daily routine. 

My efforts recently have been on reducing my response times to alerts and notifications to help focus and be present. That is key moving forward. It is probably one of the reasons that my early morning hour writing plans have been so successful as nobody is pinging me or creating alerts at this time of the day. Even corporations and application teams tend to slow down the attention seeking during the hours when people are commonly sleeping.

Planning to write and writing about plans

We watched “Thor: Love and Thunder” (2022) on an IMAX screen yesterday. That theater had not changed in a number of years. It was a throwback to the times of yore. Ok, I just wanted to use yore in a sentence. Those very seats could have been in that theater a decade ago the last time I visited. A lot of the larger format screen theaters now have reclining seats that are a bit bigger and a lot more comfortable. These seats could have been from the original installation of the IMAX screen. You won’t find any spoilers here about the movie or a review really. My expectations were for the movie quality to be inline with the previous Thor films. It was within the envelope of expedited Thor adventures. For the most part in the dozens of Marvel based films very few terrible ones exist. They are a window into that world and they provide that adventure. It’s pretty consistent. That is probably one of the reasons the films have done so well at the box office since the original Iron Max (2008) film was released. 

I’m starting to wake up now which took just a few minutes to achieve today. For some reason I’m running a little slower than usual as the day is starting to pick up steam. The sun is rising and the weather seems to be lining up well enough for the back part of this trip to Kansas City. Taking a bit of time to think deeply about where exactly you are in the writing journey is good. Maybe you have a detailed writing plan with a list of upcoming things to work on like an extra awesome backlog of pending adventures. You can certainly extrapolate that out to a map looking set of expectations and plot yourself as a location defining where you are in terms of that journey. That would be one way to go about and it would be interesting. My research trajectory and writing plan are well documented. Somebody else could pick up my work and keep moving along if for some reason I faltered. 

We have now spent the morning considering Thor films and visualizing the writing journey. For the most part this week  I have been working on a bunch of different content related to machine learning. The production quality on weeks 80 to 104 needs to be tip top to make sure the end of the last section of this year’s physical publication of “The Lindahl Letter” is really high quality. Based on my writing plan I’m going to pivot to writing academic style articles after that point in the writing journey with  snippets of that output ending up being published on an online basis. Generally, that will change my writing output to shift from a series of Substack posts being combined into a final collection at the end of the year to a more complex content production process. Academic articles can certainly be broken into sections and that will allow me to publish them in parts along the way. It will create a scenario where I’m sharing content on the same topic for several weeks in a row. Given that I won’t know the exact duration of a topic in that format the forward looking guidance will really be on the next 5 topics, but the coverage of those topics could very well end up taking months. It should be an interesting turn of events in the evaluation of my Substack style writing.