a website as a digital garden

2021-07-26

 | 

~4 min read

 | 

793 words

For as long as I’ve been writing words on the internet, I’ve connected the words that I create in a paginated chronological format. This is the “traditional” blog style website. A linear newest-first sorted chronologically oriented list of posts.

I’m convinced that paginated posted sorted chronologically ****in’ sucks. Joel Hooks, Digital Garden

When I read Joel’s perspective, it felt like someone who understood deeply what I’d sensed for a long time. Linear writing isn’t useful.

I’ve been maintaining this blog for a few years now and for the most part, I’ve been trying to learn daily:

If you had to set one metric to use as a leading indicator for yourself as a knowledge worker, the best I know might be the number of Evergreen notes written per day.

But, before I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have the tools or the perspective to take full advantage of that desire. I was thinking linearly, trying to draw a straight line where there wasn’t one! Over the past year, I’ve been experimenting with migrating toward a Digital Garden, to writing evergreen notes, and adopting a more emergent order to how and what I write.

I’ve built a pretty consistent habit of writing. I write about all sorts of things and publish them here - lately, it’s been mostly technical in nature, but I’ve also written about economics, education, business, and what a good life looks like.

As I built that habit, however, I noticed a mounting pressure (self-imposed) to write about technical things exclusively. It was like this site was becoming a place only about that and that each post was “content” for others. Joel writes about feeling a similar impulse in On Writing More where he says “This idea [of treating writing as content] is toxic and led me to publish less and less over time.”

Producing content was never the intention of this site. I wanted this to be a place for “Notes on Software and Life”. I want to write because writing is how I have a conversation - with myself and with others. It’s how I form and explore ideas.

Reframing how I think about this site from a “blog” - a chronological log of daily passings - to a garden opens up a number of opportunities for organization - many of which are still in process, but are related to an evolution toward evergreen Notes. With this shift I hope this site feels more like walking in a garden - exploring topics that might be interesting, jumping to related material, and delighting in new found connections.

Why do I find digital gardens valuable? They allow multiple varieties of plants to blossom! In my garden, I have / will cultivate:

  • Technical - The basis of a personal wiki. Reference material.
  • Recipes - I like to cook and I have a terrible memory.
  • Musings - About life, business, economics, etc.
  • Reflections - On my performance, life, etc.
  • Free writing - This one’s aspirational, but would be a venue to share my writing (e.g., NaNoWriMo).

Speaking of posts, my notes are the plants of this garden. When thinking about how this garden comes together, the garden is the collection while the notes are atoms. A note will (ideally) communicate a single idea. On its own, it might not be much - though as a collective, hopefully it’s creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Gardens can grow in unexpected ways. With that in mind, I don’t expect this list to be exhaustive or future proof. Rather than pigeon hole myself into a hierarchy I’ll prefer associations. Returning to Joel’s observation that chronologically sorted sites make for a terrible way to explore, these associations between notes will hopefully make each journey through the garden unique and insightful.

I’m not abandoning the chronological impulses entirely, however. I still date my notes - this one for example was in percolation for over a year before I published it. Why have dates at all? Dates provide context. For example, a post about fear, uncertainty and doubt in 2020 is different from one written in 2019. I’m thinking about dates like a vintage. Knowing what year the grapes in a wine were harvested is informative - even if the thing that you really care about is how the wine tastes (Quarter inch drill bit vs. a quarter inch hole).

With all of that said, this little corner of the internet is for me - so, while I hope your visit is pleasant, it’s also not for you. It’s for me - a place for me to write, to explore, to converse with myself, to think, to remember.

Resources


Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!