It’s been about six months since I last posted on this blog - and it’s been quite a hectic six months. The most important change in this period is that I finally bought and moved into my new home - a resale EC in Sengkang. Six months’ worth of property agents, bankers, lawyers, renovation contractors, furniture and electronics shopping, movers, utilities, condominium management and a tsunami of administrative tasks was a real time-consuming, labour-intensive, and anxiety-inducing period for me. Not to mention juggling a job too. I’m just glad I’m done with this.
Today I’m sitting comfortably in my room, drinking coffee made from my Nepresso machine (a highly recommended purchase), and writing this post. Though I have moved in for slightly more than a month already, there are still some minor things to sort out, like the few pieces of missing IKEA furniture (the popular ones seem to be always out of stock). But all is well otherwise, and I feel at ease to start writing again.
Entering 2022 with a new home also gave me a refreshed mind to start the year right. I took some time to pen down the goals that I hope to achieve by the end of this year. The usual suspects are my health, fitness and finances (which took a huge hit from financing this new home).
On top of these goals, this year I hope to take my writing skills to the next level. This idea of becoming a writer has been growing on me for some time. Nature photographer and boardgames developer1 are the two other “-er”s that I have explored quite a bit over the past two to three years - but books, reading, and writing still command centerstage in my mind.
Writing at the next level
At work, I am a client-facing data science consultant. In technical fields like this, there are usually clear paths to improve our skills and worth in the job market. “Paper-ware” like courses, certifications, even postgraduate degrees show our technical know-hows. The actual on-the-ground work hones our technical or business or people management chops every single working day. Websites like LinkedIn are flooded with people - influencers if you will - eager to show their skills, experience, and thought leadership, which allow commoners like me have a sense of what the job market is looking for.
Writing is different. There is no truly useful course to take, no absolutely must-read book to read2, no “top ten writing influencers you must follow”, no LinkedIn-equivalent to glimpse into Stephen King’s inner thought process on writing3.
To improve in writing, there are only two things to do. They are reading a lot, and writing a lot. In its own strange way, this actually makes it straightforward to improve in writing. Just read when you can, and write when you can. Cognitively it’s simple to just remember to read and write.
Of course, it is easy to recognise that “reading a lot and writing a lot” means consistent practice. And “consistent practice” is basically a gentler-sounding term for grinding. And boy, is grinding hard. Grinding may make us lose sight of the joy that once lighted our passion and interest. Yet just like any other skills, grinding is the best way to achieve betterment and proficiency.
That said, grinding is a necessary but insufficient condition for proficiency. Roughly one year I wrote a short blog post titled “On Writing”, where I wrote about
- How writing is equivalent to thinking, and should be used to gain clarity4,
- What to write,
- Where to write, and
- When to write
In that year-old post, I guess what I really was suggesting was to write and to grind daily, in order to improve. That’s all well and good, but looking back, I see now that it’s superficial and uninsightful. Perhaps I wasn’t as clear back then about being a writer, and was solely fascinated by the clarity I gain from writing (which fascination and clarity I still gain today).
I know now it’s going to take more than just writing and grinding everyday to achieve some measure of proficiency. Not to mention commercial success, which is yet another end in itself. For now, I’m going to leave commercial success out of the picture.
I have been writing quite haphazardly. You can tell from the posts on this blog that I have some familiarity in a number of topics, from finance to statistics to philosophy to biology. What you don’t see is the even more haphazard writing in my notebooks, for example a number of random bits of an undeveloped fantasy fiction universe based on mind control abilities. Likewise, I have also been reading quite haphazardly. Looking at my bookshelf, there are probably only a handful of topics that I feel reluctant read about.
I don’t think reading and writing haphazardly is bad - in fact I think that it’s rather good to experiment, and to read and write whatever I wish. This haphazardness is conducive to the enjoyment of books and writing.
But I realised that’s not going to be enough to become a writer. I will need to be more targetted, picky even, in both my reading and writing. There should be genres that I would want to spend more time on, build an edge in, and create an audience for. These are genres that I should also enjoy reading and writing in - it will be such a killjoy to read and write in genres that makes me go “bleargh”.
As of now, my exploration has led me to two of these genres: fantasy fiction, and books that popularises philosophy for general public. When I look back at my own reading, it’s always the Warcraft and the Dungeons and Dragons, the Epicureanism and the Schopenhauer books that bring me the most joy. These are the books that I gravitate towards, for enjoyment and for wisdom.
So my focus for this year will undoubtedly be on these genres. Not only will I try to read as much as I can in these genres, I will also start to develop my skills in writing fantasy fiction. As much as I want express my creativity and develop a whole universe of lore from scratch (think Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire), I think this is likely outside of my reach for now. My preliminary scouring of fantasy fiction literature has led me to notice an unfulfilled demand for Dota lore5 - and this will be my starting point: to use the flimsy skeleton of lore that’s been written but poorly developed by Valve as backdrop, to practise writing fantasy fiction short stories.
My reading and writing goals this year
With that, here’s what I would like commit to and achieve this year:
- Resume my daily free writing routine
- Resume posting, but just once every month on this blog, on posts related to philosophy, or
- Posts on four Dota lore short stories, once every quarter, based on any aspect of the lore.
- Continue reading The Legend of Drizzt series (39 novels)
- Finish reading The Dark Tower series (8 novels)
- Read/re-read the philosophy books that I have identified (list to be finalised, but mostly on Epicureanism, Stoicism, Schopenhauer, Emerson, and maybe Montaigne.)
- I cofounded a game development company and published a game some time in mid 2020. ↩
- Other than the classic Elements of Style by Strunk and White. ↩
- Other than his memoir. And his marketing- and politics-filled Twitter posts don’t count. ↩
- For example, when I sat down and started drafting this post, I had no idea that I will be writing this current point that I am making right now. ↩
- I still play Dota, since secondary school. Pos 5 main. ↩