I got nothing

Sometimes you open up a blank page (or blank text entry box) and there’s just. You know you should write something, you may even want to write something, but when it comes to actually putting words on the page you simply draw a blank. That is me now. And it’s not that my life is boring right now either. Nope, I just finished the first draft of my thesis, I’m going to start a project to write a simple network chat system and I’m making progress on an internship application. I’m also trying desperately to figure out how I’m going to get my driver’s license before I graduate and move to another state. Even though there is a lot going on my life, there isn’t anything I consider worth writing about.

I’ve never been interested in just being a blogger. I’ve always written this blog with the idea that the writing should flow from the things I do in life, the things I learn, the technologies I explore. As a corollary to that, I assumed that if I just exposed myself to enough ideas, information and activities I would have stuff to write about. But it’s not that simple. I’m not writing Wikipedia entries here, I want to construct narratives — write articles that tell a story, even if it is a story about the inner workings of some arcane technology. Unfortunately, constructing a narrative out of the myriad experiences that I have everyday doesn’t always come naturally.

What makes the problem even more difficult is that most of the stuff I’m doing right now doesn’t break easily into small chunks that fit into a blog post. For my honors thesis I’m currently in dissertation mode which means that the whole thing is one 30-page manuscript in my head right now and I’m not even going to try breaking into blog sized pieces until I’m done with it in a few weeks. My embedded systems project involves controlling a model train system using microprocessors over Ethernet. But in this case the parts in isolation mean nothing and we’re not close enough to the end for me to write anything worthwhile about it. Maybe when it’s done.

I’ll admit that part of this might just be me not looking hard enough and trying to tease out the important, standalone parts out of the whole. I don’t know if I’d make a very good journalist. But part of it is also the disconnect between the process of making something and describing it. When you’re making something you’re in the zone — you can hold the whole problem space in your head and navigate it at will. The different subsystems of your project aren’t rigidly separate in your head (no matter how they might actually be structured), rather they all sort of flow together and the boundaries are blurry at best (unless you’re interacting with components that you didn’t make yourself). But when you’re describing your system, you can’t just provide a brain dump of your head. To give a description that others can follow and use you have to break things apart into sections and then weave them back together in a meaningful, but not overwhelming narrative. And that is hard. It requires you to be familiar with the system, be disconnected enough to take a step back and be experienced enough in writing to do a good job.

I’ve done it before with other projects, but I’m not at the position where I feel comfortable with projects that I can form what I’ve learned and done into a coherent narrative. So for now, I got nothing (because you don’t want more blog posts about Twitter clients and paywalls).

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Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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