I find that I feel writing a non-fiction subject oriented book is nonsense for non-academics. I feel a strong aversion to the idea of writing a non-fiction book, as people have suggested to me occasionly since university.

Different elements are part of that aversion:

  • There’s a plethora of non-fiction books that to me seem 300 to 400 pages of anecdotal padding around a core idea that would fit on the backflap. Many such books lack tables of content and indexes, seemingly to better hide that one or few core ideas, so you need to go through all pages to find them.
  • The motivation for non-fiction writers to write a book I often find suspect. Aimed at marketing and PR, in support of selling themselves as consultant for instance. Written not to serve an audience, or even find one, but as a branding prop. That makes the actual content often even thinner. Such as taking something anecdotal like “I had this great project I enormously enjoyed doing” and anointing it as the new truth, “Organise all your projects like this, it’s a universal method!”
  • I equally find my own favourite topics suspect as material for writing a book. I don’t think any of the topics I work on, and have been working on, are deep enough or have enough solid foundation to stand on their own as a book. It could only become a range of anecdotes around ideas that themselves fit in a sentence or two. In my activities context and environment are key in working out how an idea can be made to work for a client, and that’s the work. That’s a good source of anecdotes, but not more. See the first bullet. A book about it would be a collection of opinions, and in my eyes would take a rather large amount of work to give those ideas a more solid footing.

In a conversation with E about this a few months ago, she said that’s a very arrogant stance towards authors (they have nothing to say), as well as belittling myself (I have nothing to say). I think those are both the same things, that most people, including me, don’t have enough to say to fill a book, to spend tens of thousands of words on. Many have enough to say on enough moments to at that time fill a great blogpost, article, a pamphlet (like the one about birthday unconferences shown in the right hand column), or an essay. But not a book, an artefact that seems such a heavyweight creation and production process in comparison. There are those who write a book by collating material that was previously written as blogposts, or as internal notes, and then somewhat rearranged. I see that as case in point more than counter argument.

As stated at the top, I make exceptions for academic books, explaining or introducing a field or actual research and their popular science counterparts, and for non-subject non-fiction, that e.g. describes a journey (geographically, or through life for instance, ‘true stories’, the history of a topic and how we ended up in the current situation, that sort of thing).
I also don’t mean fiction. Fiction’s role is very different, and any story that makes you read the next sentence and the next and the next is not what I mean here.
In that sense I very much appreciate the work of Cory Doctorow, who writes articles, essays, columns and blogposts about the topics he cares about, and writes fiction books to explore those same topics along different and novel routes.

Yet, our house holds many non-fiction books. A stack of books that keeps ever growing. So, why is that? Is it that there is more value in the whole, the collection of books read, and those unread, as opposed to the lack of value I perceive in any singular book in itself? Or maybe I don’t understand what writing a non-fiction book is, and what it is for. There are people reading my blog who have written non-fiction books. What were your motivations and aims? Why a book?

How long is the list of draft postings in your CMS? I had about 30 from the past 3 years. This morning I went through them and moved those that still look like a posting could come from them into my Obsidian notes. I have a writing folder there, and I find it easier to write there than in the back-end of WordPress, where I still do most of my blogwriting (including this post). Those drafts that had no actual content or were very much connected to a specific moment in time (today we went…) I deleted. About a dozen drafts remain and now live in my notes. Let’s see if having those drafts in an environment where I can encounter them more regularly leads to finishing them. In the past weeks I’ve done my weeknotes postings in Obsidian first as a note, and noticed how it increased the speed of writing. (Afterwards I still need to add links and images in WP though, it’s not a micropub editor.)

Last week I treated myself with an Boox Nova2 e-ink Android tablet, after reading about it in Robert Lender’s blog. (Meanwhile he has blogged his first impressions and experiences, in German) For most of the week the device sat on my desk, as I didn’t have time yet to take a proper look. Today I finally tried my hand at working with the device, so here are some first impressions.

The Nova2 is intended as a work device for me. To read non-fiction and annotate, as well as for handwritten notes and sketches. It therefore needs to be a seamless part of my workflow, meaning that things I write or annotate need to easily flow into other steps and the tools connected to those steps. Handwritten notes to be either exported as is, or transposed into text. Annotations exported and retrievable. The crucial thing for that is the ability to escape the specific silo a device is part of.

The Nova2 promises a handful of useful things:

  • Syncing with various cloud tools (Evernote, Dropbox e.g.),
  • E-mailing,
  • Handwritten note taking,
  • Multilingual text recognition of handwritten notes,
  • Run a variety of e-reader apps as a generic Android tablet
  • Optimise it for left handed use

My first impressions are only about trying those things out. Once I’ve done that, I can start looking at the workflow of the device itself, and the fit with the rest of my workflow.

It starts up slowly I feel.

It’s a Chinese product, so despite it being an Android device, there’s no preloaded Google stuff on it. That isn’t a big issue, on the contrary, but to use it as an e-reader I also wanted to have the Kindle app installed and that required the Google store. It took me several attempts to get it loaded, until I realised I had to register the device with Onyx first as well. That was a simple as giving it an e-mail address (a unique one as per usual), and typing in the confirmation code received on that mail address. I’m not sure what activating it with Onyx means. I’m not synchronising with the Onyx platform, but I’m not fully sure nothing gets send there. After that connecting it to a Google account and loading the Google store was easy. I also connected my Evernote account, which worked flawlessly.

I set the device up to push my handwritten notes to Evernote. That at first didn’t work. As it turns out this too was because the device wasn’t registered yet with Onyx. So after I got the Google store working, pushing to Evernote also worked.

I set up a new email address, that IMAPs to my mail server from the mail app on the device. This should mean I can also mail notes (to various other applications I’ve given an email address, like my Kindles, my blogs etc.)

Handwriting on devices I’ve never much liked, such as on an iPad, or using the Wacom A4 sized writing pad I use on my desk. Too often it feels like writing with your finger, it lacks fine motor control, and the feedback is usually slightly off, making writing awkward and the result illegible. My handwriting is already hard enough to read in the best of circumstances. This device handles it very well, I’m impressed. I’ve set it up for left handed writing, also meaning I moved the controls to the right hand side of the screen. Writing in the notes app that comes with the Nova2 is really good, and feels natural, also as the protective adhesive layer helps provide the right type of resistance like you have on paper. Hand writing in Evernote doesn’t work. It’s the ‘fat finger’ style of writing again, and the writing shows up on the screen a bit down and to the right of where the pen tip actually is, making it really hard to continue in the spot you left off a second or two earlier.

When you write in the device’s notes app, you have an ‘AI’ option to turn it into text. It will try to also interpret doodles, so you can’t really use it if you have notes and doodles on the same page. For just text at first I got very weird results, but then remembered I should set the language right. Once I did that, letting the writing recognition function know the notes are in Dutch, then it worked fine. Transmogrifying my handwriting into text is done online somewhere, so the device needs to be connected. I don’t know where my notes end up to be processed. I take notes in Dutch and English mostly, sometimes in German. My notes usually contain both Dutch and English at the same time. It seems that I can only select one language for the text recognition algorithm, so that isn’t optimal. That it is able to process Dutch at all is a step up from other apps and devices I tried.

I’ve installed several reading apps, next to the Onyx one itself: Kindle and Kobo. I keep my e-book library in Calibre (and I really should add my more recent Amazon purchases there), and it should therefore be possible to also load books into the native reader app. Likely that is the fastest one after all.
However, I haven’t succeeded yet in connecting the Nova2 to my laptop over USB. My filetransfer application sees the device as locked all the time, so I can’t access its storage. This is something I need to figure out, as this is the preferred route to move files between Calibre and the Nova2. It is possible to transfer files via wifi. If you go to the devices IP address in your local network (the Nova2 will tell you what its IP address is), then you get a html page allowing you to select files to upload. Doing that, I got some epubs and pdfs loaded on the Nova2 to read. [UPDATE plugging the Nova2 into the other USB port on my Mac, Calibre launches automatically as it immediately recognises the device. Android File Transfer does not see the device at all on that port, where it does see it on the first port but as locked. With Calibre working I can now manage the books on the Nova2 well]

I like the notion of cards, that @visakanv describes, and threading them into a bigger whole.

What would be ideal, I think, is if all information could be represented as “cards”, and all cards could be easily threaded. Every book, every blogpost, every video, even songs, etc – all could be represented as “threaded cards”. Some cards more valuable than others.

In a way, a lot of what I’ve been trying to do with my personal knowledge management, notetaking, etc is to assemble an interesting, coherent, useful thread of thread of threads, of everything I care about. A personal web of data, with interesting trails and paths I can share with others.

I have a huge, sprawling junkyard mess of Workflowy notes, Evernote cards, Google keep cards, Notes, blogposts, etc etc ad infinitum. Buried in there are entire books worth of interesting + useful information. But it suffers from bad or non-existent threading, constrained by memory.

I too have a mountain’s worth of snippets, pieces, half sentences. And I have a much lower stack of postings and extended notes. Interesting stuff doesn’t get shared, because I envision a more extensive, a more ‘complete’ write-up that then more often than not never happens. The appeal to PKM above is key here for me. The world isn’t just cards, I agree with Neil, who pointed me to the posting above, fragmentation isn’t everything. Because synthesis and curation are important. However, having that synthesis in a fully different channel than the ‘cards’ from which it is built, or rather not having the cards in the same place, so that both don’t exist in the same web of meaning seems less logical. It’s also a source of hesitance, a threshold to posting.

Synthesis and curation presume smaller pieces, like cards. Everything starts out as miscellaneous, until patterns stand out, as small pieces get loosely joined.
I don’t know why Visakanv talks of threading only in the context of Twitter. Almost like he’s reinventing tags (tags are a key organising instrument for me). To me threading sounds a bit like a trail of breadcrumbs, to show from which elements something was created. Or cooking, where the cards are the list of ingredients, resulting in a dish, and dishes resulting in a dinner or a buffet.

More ‘cards’, snippets, I find a useful take on how to post in this space (both the blog part and the wiki part), and also bring more from other channels/tools in here.

(I took the photos during Breda Photo Festival, of Antony Cairns IBM CTY1 project, which is photos printed on IBM punch cards and held together with pins.)

Elmine maakte dit video-gedicht over writer’s block.

(eerder schreef ze al over lezersblock, en nu filmt ze schrijversblock)

Vanaf begin december maakt Elmine dagelijks een video-verhaal, tot de Kerst, als een soort digitale adventskalender. Kijk ze allemaal! Er zijn flirtende voice-assistenten, klagende schapen, robots die zich niet laten kisten, street wise kabouters, een eeuwenoude treinliefde, gedichten, verhalen-dobbelstenen, moord en doodslag in het dierenrijk, en meer.

Ik volg met interesse het blog van Elja Daae, die in 3 weken tijd een concept voor haar boek af wil schrijven. Omdat de uitgever het dan verwacht. Elke dag schrijft ze over haar voortgang en afwegingen. Inmiddels zijn we een week onderweg, met een eerste posting over het niet bestaan van Writers block, en de laatste over schrijven is schrappen in Refocus.

Mijn interesse zit hem vooral in hoe je dat nou aanpakt, tot een boek concept komen. En eigenlijk ben ik ook wel nieuwsgierig naar hoe ze dan straks van een concept naar een boek komt. Is dan niet immers alles al gezegd? Waarom meer woorden er tegenaan gooien als je de boodschap al op papier hebt? Dat is ook meteen waarom ik haar proces volg. Het verschil tussen schrijvers en lezers lijkt vooral te zijn dat iedereen stiekem wel een boek wil schrijven, maar dat schrijvers het uiteindelijk ook doen. Mij wordt ook wel regelmatig de suggestie aan de hand gedaan, “schrijf daar nou eens een boek over!“. En ik heb bij vlagen ook wel die wensgedachte. Maar doen is iets anders. Veel van de boeken die me als voorbeeld worden voorgehouden komen op me over als veel wol om de ruimte tussen de kaften te vullen. Nog maar weer vijf anecdotes en voorbeelden om het punt nogmaals te maken. Waar een handjevol blogposts, of zelfs een rijtje bullet points, waarschijnlijk ook had volstaan.

Elja komt in ieder geval tot actie, en ze laat iedereen meekijken. Frank Meeuwsen schreef ooit ook een boek, Bloghelden, over de vroege Nederlandstalige blog-wereld. Zou hij het proces van Elja herkennen? Frank en ik hadden het laatst over een boek over het IndieWeb, om het vrije en open web uit te leggen aan nieuw publiek. Materiaal genoeg op zich. Maar ook nog veel te onderzoeken. Schrijft Elja alleen uit ervaring, of doet ze ook extra onderzoek tijdens het maken van haar boek?

(Ik ontmoette Elja aan de keukentafel van Ewout, voor een goed gesprek over de toekomst van het internet. Frank was daar ook bij. Hij en ik kennen elkaar uit de Nederlandse blog-oertijd. Zowel Elja (blogpost) als Frank (blogpost) waren aanwezig op onze STM18 unconference op Elmine’s verjaardag.)