What I learned this month

November 30, 2021

On 1 November, I began writing. I intended to post something every day on this blog, even if I didn’t promote it much. It was a meant to be a long drafting-in-public experiment.

If you’re reading this, then I succeeded, at least in the posting: this is my thirtieth post of November.

I was surprised by how much I had to say. Perhaps I should not have been, given how seriously I’ve taken my research over the past few years. But I’d committed myself to writing just a few hundred words per day. If I had an aim in mind, it was something like 300 words. The actual average — 885 words — was higher than I’d expected. In total, I wrote 26,543 words, excluding the copious blockquotes, or about triple what I wrote in 2019, when last I tried this.1

I began with a post on the Zettelkasten in which I reflected on what (and how) I’ve learned over the past two years. That was more of a meta-post, but so far it has been the most popular by about an order of magnitude. That doesn’t mean much; I’m planning to revisit and revise many of the other posts. I’m likely to send some to my newsletter, and I may try to get them published elsewhere as well.

It was useful to have public (therefore edited) writing as a daily ritual, though I must admit it made me anxious most days until I’d posted, and also that it was sometimes damnably inconvenient. But I think the perpetual return to certain topics clarified my thinking on them. And even the knowledge that someone could read what I’d written made me pay more attention to the editing process.

On the other hand, I have a deep love for the aesthetics of writing. When reading, I pay a great deal of attention to style. This month, in my writing, that was not the top priority, and I do not feel that what I wrote this month was beautiful.

Before I began, I had little idea what I would wind up writing. I found in writing my series on the West, which occupied me for exactly half the month, that I am more interested in history than I would have guessed. I also wrote more about philosophy than I had intended. I thought philosophy would be a background to my thinking rather than becoming quite as foregrounded as it did.

I also have not finished that thread on the West, by the way; I’m tracking progress as “breadcrumbs”. In many ways the month is unfinished. I have yet to write about the relationship between art and science, Kuhn’s take on Renaissance painting, or his take on the continuity between theology and science. Though those were some of my main intentions for the month, it does not really bother me that I didn’t reach them. I feel good about having future writing defined.

I am proud of a few of the pieces. Many I have yet to re-read, so I may compile a list later, but a few that come to mind regularly are Vision & Abstraction and the series that starts with On Perfection. I also liked writing How the West Was Spun, even though I feel it’s unfinished.

I enjoyed writing about several people who have been on my mind — no, not just Kuhn and Schopenhauer, but also A. C. Graham and Surendranath Dasgupta.

As in Novembers past, I tried not to drink. In 2018 and 2019 I succeeded. I’m not the first to have written that 2020 was a write-off; I didn’t even try. This month I slipped up a few times. But in those other Novembers, the not drinking was the primary point, whereas this year it felt like the writing was primary. I feel good about November as a whole.

I don’t think it is, for me, a manageable pace to post on the blog every single day, though I’m glad I did it this month. Going forward, I’d like to get into a rhythm where I post each day Monday to Wednesday to get some momentum, edit and reflect on Thursday and Friday, then take a break over the weekend.

I will probably continue this next year, with what is becoming a tradition.

Thank you for reading. It means the world to me.

  1. I also posted daily in November 2018, when I wrote 19,464 words (648 per day). In 2019, I wrote 7,701 words (256 per day).

Bryan Kam

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter, follow me on Mastodon, or see more here.