Some Thoughts on Writing (noun)

TLDR: This is a weird post; I am making an entry from my personal journal public. So, it’s likely useless and worth skipping, esp. if you are not interested in writing. This is also not advice on how to write (I’m in no place to give that), but an exploration of writing as a noun and not the verb.

Today I realized there are three (non-exclusive) kinds of writings I have participated in: There is writing, there is writing with a mission, and then there is writing for an audience.

Writing, for those who like the art, is joyful and therapeutic. Readers here are more like friends or salon mates who want to spend some part of their evening with you. Sometimes in this kind of writing, as with journals, the only “reader” is the physical page on which the words appear. A lot of my writing in this blog falls into this category. The posts are raw, carefree, and mostly letting people into my headspace without inhibition. I try to keep my Twitter feed that way too, instead of creating some curated “brand”. Sometimes people find what I have to say interesting, sometimes they get annoyed or even angered by it, but it’s always in-your-face honest. For better or worse, in this category of writing, people’s reactions have very little influence on the content or me as a writer, and I find going back to this again and again.

Writing with a mission happens because there is a chip on the shoulder, and you want to deal with it. For me, writing the NLP and Deep Learning book was that. I was fed up with seeing sensational and poor quality blog posts on the topic, mostly for signaling and not really offering sane advice from a pure practitioner’s point of view, even if such advice was not fashionable. Other academic books on the topic prioritized being a reference than a practice manual. So I decided to write that and get it out of my head. The “voice” in the book reflects that. Writing with a mission is just that — you don’t have any expectations other than scratching that itch. You definitely don’t do it for money or other gains. (Despite selling very well and being used in a lot of university courses, the book made little money. Nobody in their right mind takes up the pains of birthing a book of this kind for money.)

Writing for an audience has a significant performative component and almost turns your writing into a product and your readers into customers. A lot of paid writing is like that. A lot of scientific publishing is very much like that too. Here you “research” where the gaps are and try to offer something of “value” to someone, and your next iteration of writing gets influenced by how people reacted to your previous piece. In a way, your metaphorical pen gets trained by your readers and your incentives. This is the kind of writing I resist most. There is nothing negative about it, but I realize it doesn’t align well with my inner fabric. If I write this way for any substantial amount of time, it sucks the joy out of writing for me. It’s the least of the writing I have done, and it’s also the reason why I don’t bother to publish papers on every new thing I try and it works out.

There is a fourth kind of writing that I haven’t (fortunately) participated in — where writing becomes just a “medium”, and the performativeness becomes the centerpiece. You see this a lot on Twitter. It goes anywhere from self-righteous posturing to people slapping each others’ backs to “promote” each other in whatever weird social media games people play. I’m allergic to that.

Most of my writing falls in the first two categories. It’s my happy place.

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