Jeffrey Paul: Writing Is Hard For Me

Jeffrey Paul

Writing Is Hard For Me
21 May 2019
( 965 words, approximately 5 minutes reading time. )

Alternate title: (Starting) Writing Is Hard For Me

Post Inspired By

I want to write a lot more online, because I think it’s valuable, and not just to me. (Stay with me, this isn’t some “but here’s why my newsletter is different” nonsense.) Patrick really inspired me in three big ways, and writing regularly is one of them. He’s tweeted about how his famous salary post has affected hundreds of lives and resulted in the wealth transfer of dozens of millions of dollars to his readers. That’s a real impact (a “dent in the universe”, as the saying goes).

I’m not that interested in denting things, but I do want to improve the lives of the people around me, so that’s definitely a reason. But even more than that, I adore the idea of putting novel ideas out into the world so that others can think about them, refute them, build on them, or otherwise transform them into something better. This is how our world sets the stage for major leaps forward, how it primes the pump for people to invent new compositions that didn’t exist before.

(An aside: I had been saying that Bitcoin transactions are speech and not money for some time, as Bitcoin doesn’t actually exist—only the messages between the participants do. It filled me with joy to see Hackernoon publishing an article echoing exactly that recently, in a more cogent and directed form than I’ve yet been able to achieve. I don’t think I’ve even published my thoughts on the matter, other than in occasional Twitter-sized rants.)

In 2008 I was doing research around Proof-Of-Work as an anti-cheat mechanism for trustless p2p networks (having read about Adam Back’s invention Hashcash when someone or a set of someones smarter or more efficient than me published the bitcoin paper. The moment I read it I instantly recognized it as the thing I was stumbling around in the dark, looking for. (I still think PoW has some non-currency merit for anti-abuse for free services/networks like anonymous email, or ipfs/tor, or distributed search like gnutella, although perhaps cryptocurrency bonds against abuse might work better.)

It turns out, our new media existence is mostly a text-based culture. Things like Instagram and YouTube are slowly altering that to some extent (but in an entirely centralized and vulnerable and easily-censored way) but ultimately what we do on the internet is read and write text (and even text itself is getting more interesting, thanks to emoji 🎉).

I would venture to say that even the most popular form of image-based messaging is entirely dependent upon text-in-the-image, to say nothing of Snapchat and Instagram stories-that-encourage-captioning-overlays.

(Another aside: this means that OCR of images to make their captions searchable is going to become essential in client software and search engines before long. Too much text is unindexed because it’s rendered into a bitmap and flattened into a jpeg. If you can recognize animals, iOS, you should be recognizing your own system fonts as bitmaps.)

Writing and text are our primary way of communicating important ideas between people, despite all hype to the contrary. Doing it early and often benefits yourself and those around you. I keep meaning to do more of it, and keep failing, but recently I read a post that circulated on Hacker News called How to do hard things by David MacIver. It’s a simple restatement of something you’ve probably heard a million times: if something is hard, break it down into smaller pieces that are less hard, and do those. Repeat/recurse until the entire hard thing is done, or you give up. With this method, you can completely boil the oceans and entirely destroy the biosphere of whatever planet upon which you live, teaspoon by teaspoon, if you wish (given enough time, of course). (This is reminiscent of the lovely and entertaining and instructive Paperclips Game, in case you missed it when it made the rounds some time ago.)

At the risk of making my website more mundane and less actionable-information-dense, I’m beginning a concerted effort to write and publish more often. I’m hoping that by getting in the habit, one day a year or ten from now I’ll be able to winnow the 1% of my ramblings out into some sort of useful greatest hits that are actually valuable. For the next 9 years and 11 months, you’re might get a slightly less edited feed, dear regular reader, with more stupid links and attempts at regular commentary on things that aren’t boring.

The point of this post is to reiterate something I’ve read (and ignored) a thousand times: to stop procrastinating, do the first 5 minutes of a task (break it into the smallest piece you can reasonably complete, and, in the case of writing, publish - reputation be damned). The path isn’t that hard, just get on it and take a few steps. This very post began as an intention to write something just double-tweet length. (480 characters, as of the time of writing—Twitter’s been known to tamper with our universal constants in the past.)

Seth Godin even has a post about one of my favorite DFW quotes on the matter.

This is as much a message to me as it is to you: Write more. Even a few words. Get it out there. Your stupid shower thoughts might just combine with someone else’s to make something really great. Worst case, you take away from someone’s regularly scheduled Instagram-induced-depression-time, which is still better than not writing anything. (Despite being a photographer, I will forever remain a words snob.)

About The Author

Jeffrey Paul is a hacker and security researcher living in Berlin and the founder of EEQJ, a consulting and research organization.