Assorted Cogitations

I Hereby Release You

The day is Wednesday the 1st of March 2023. Depending on where you are in the world, you are either on the cusp of spring or the cusp of autumn, both key transitional seasons (aren’t they all? Except summer – summer is just lazy and entitled). If you live in Wales, you might be enjoying the feast day of your patron saint, Saint David. If you’re in Korea, you might be marking the national holiday of Samiljeol, Korea Independence Movement Day. You might be celebrating the birthday of Frédéric Chopin, Fanny Walden or Ralph Ellison. Perhaps you’re remembering Thomas Campion on the anniversary of his death by considering the delights of four-part counterpoint.

It is the first day of March, and I hereby release you from the need to tell us all about your intended systems and ways of working.

It’s nothing personal, honestly. In the past, I have been as guilty as the next, placing too much emphasis on the neat creation of a system rather than the implementation of that – of any! – system for more than five minutes.

And I love reading about systems people have already implemented; mostly those which worked, though occasionally there are interesting lessons to be learnt from those which didn’t work so much. Better still, I like to see these systems in action. A daily published routine, updating the world on what’s on the docket? Great! A change in structure to your newsletter, as evidenced by said newsletter arriving in my inbox looking different? Excellent!

But please don’t tell me about what you’re going to do. Because, let’s face it, this isn’t really for the reader’s benefit most of the time. It is an exercise (a helpful one, I’m sure) in self-clarification, outlining how you plan to tame your riotous mind and present the inevitable (it’s always inevitable) resulting bounty to others.

The problem is, in so many cases, the sharing of such systems makes the writer feel unduly like they have Made Progress. They have Done Something. They have Achieved. And, really, they haven’t so much.

This isn’t to say that systems themselves are not helpful! They are! There is a raft of literature out there on the benefits of systems over targets, and there is certainly merit to that approach. And, to the reader, there isn’t much difference between being told about a would-be system and a would-be target: certainly, there are times when it is helpful to know such things exist and are being tested, but do we really need to be told in intricate detail of all these intended developments?

There are serial offenders out there. Some promising newsletters, launched in a flurry of excitement, seem eventually to focus primarily on constantly structuring and restructuring, content (urgh, ghastly word) ebbing away. Barely has the digital ink dried on the latest template when another is drafted. Bonus points (or the opposite of bonus points?) to those who even commission artists to create little headers and logos to accompany the new look, the new structure.

I might be a lone voice in all this. For if writing about would-be systems is an impotent act for writers, just imagine what it is for the readers: they haven’t even participated in the active reflection and structuring, the organising, they have just passively ingested the information. They are addicts, reading countless accounts of systems and targets and considering what might work for them. Perhaps they even go as far as sketching out what might work for them. This time. This time it is sure to work. This is investment in future output. If only the perfect system could be established, all else will follow.

Stop feeding the beast! The readers, the writers, the reader-writers and the writer-readers cannot be trusted. None of us. There is nothing for it, we must all be cut loose to Actually Do The Thing.

On this, the first day of March, go forth and be furiously messy in whatever it is you want to do. Or be precise and organised in your execution. But please, do what it is you apparently so want to do. Don’t tell us, just do it.

Related: It is the first day of March, and I hereby release you from the need to apologise because you have missed sending out a newsletter (or seventeen) “on time”.

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