How Seasonal Affective Disorder helps us to study, to earn a living, and to build empires

I read an article recently titled 'Does Depression Help Us Think Better?' which theorizes that since depressed people are more competent with obsessing over personal details than their counterparts, they are able to bring this talent to their professional life. Forty hours beneath florescent lights in front of a computer is going to involve a good deal of administrative work and micro-management. And since professions tend to call for high quality over high output (thousand copies of a brochure are not that wonderful if there is a spelling mistake, and while happy bricklayers build more houses, introspective doctors save more lives) depressives would excel at the repetitive and boring work that constitutes the majority of office life.

How my writing habits have changed from blogging

In my early teens, much of which was spent filling countless notebooks with short stories and (some endurable, mostly atrocious) poems, I had a dream. My dream was to go up to one of the same bookshops or libraries that I had perused for hours on end, and pull out a novel with my name on the cover. I envisioned plots containing galactic upheavals and cyberpunk revolutions. Now I aspire for a higher hit rate on my blog. Is this is a dive in standards, or maturation? Is it a result of using the web as much as I do? A consequence of changed values amongst my writing peers? An adaption to the realities of the economics of publishing? I do not know for sure, but it has me worried.

Yet what things, you might ask, have actually changed in my writing because of the web?

I have put a lot less effort into having my work published elsewhere. A couple of years ago, I undertook a big submission-run, and over the course of a couple of months had much of my work published in journals of varying respectability, online and off.

The pressure to confess: online ‘honesty’ as the worst policy

Let me put it bluntly: I resent feeling required to turn my blog into a confessional or use any other online service to reveal myself. There – I said it.

I resent it for reasons beyond simply losing full ownership of my intellectual property.[i] Rather, it is for the more insidious effect that such obligatory confessions can have: it encourages bad-faith. Many an author will use their writing as a tool of self-discovery. Authors will also use their blog to motivate themselves to write more. When we combine the two, there can be problems – for we are then ‘discovering’ ourselves in public. This is about as uncompromised as if you were to keep a journal during your teenage years, but your parents and teachers made you store it at your school library.

A ‘skinner box’ for discourse: and how the web is training us

How much of our time on our online social network do we spend fishing for ‘likes’? Cory Doctorow, at TED, believes the answer is generally ‘way too much’. While the rapid feedback provided by our peers, and enabled by the web, is very useful to help us refine our art, it can also result in us ‘pitching to the mob’. We create a much more deliberate, and artificial, personality.[i] We are a lot less likely to use our social networking sites to solicit emotional support for our existential anxieties, for instance, than we are to post a photo of a blissful puppy licking an icy pole.[ii]

The curse of wireless: how we are forgetting how to be alone

The web has become too accessible. I do not mean the ability to view a robust, well-designed website on any browser and computer – rather, that we can use the web anytime, anywhere, between (and potentially during) many activities.

To read a book, we generally need (or make the effort) to create a time and space for the activity – and in doing so, we treat books with the dignity they deserve.We are more likely, under such conditions, to enter the world that the author is constructing – to empathise with them (or, if you want, to partake in their psychosis). You learn to understand the book on its own terms.[i]

Advantages of longhand: why not to write for the medium

I am no technophobe, but using a word processor for first drafts of creative writing is a relatively new step for me. For a long time, I drafted in longhand. This was so that I avoided becoming too concerned with how my hypothetical reader would eventually experience my writing. When my writing appears as cleanly presented type on a bone-white background, I am more likely to perceive a false grandeur to my writing, to delude myself into thinking that the writing is ready for print, and to assume that gaining a broad readership is a fait accompli.[i]

It is for the same reasons that I avoid writing blog posts, or even comments to other posts, directly in the browser.

A ‘state of the blog’ speech, and pitfalls of writing for the web

My blog is about four and a half years old now. In the beginning, I mostly posted excerpts of Wired Magazine and TruthDig articles – what I would now do on Google Reader, Twitter, or Tumblr. I captured the wisdom of journalists and political writers, and put down my own thoughts. Most of these were regarding the U.S. occupation of Iraq and, more generally, the ‘war on terror’. When I got into posting more of my own content, it was usually in the form of essays I had written for University (which I could have put on scribd), and highlights from my photography (which I should have put on flickr).
It has only been in the last twelve months or so that I have started using the blog in the spirit in which most intend theirs – a web log of my ideas, feelings, and life events.

Why a sabbatical was the best thing for my study and career

There are some very positive upshots of graduate study having a high-bar of entry, academically and economically. Because it is voluntary – it is unlikely to be our only life choice at the time – we are much less likely to undertake the course with antipathy. Certainly, freedom can be antithetical to discipline – yet if we have a sufficiently clear and powerful motivation for studying, we are much more likely to learn. For instance, I got the most out of my study when there were these important elements in place:
  • The course gave me the opportunity to gain skills or knowledge that I really wanted.
  • I knew painfully well how ignorant I was in that area.
  • I appreciated that I needed help to learn how to learn.

MBAs: the most expensive hoop you might ever jump through

I know quite a few people who have done graduate studies: from a marketing friend doing a Master of Arts at RMIT, to a brother (BSc(hons.)) doing a Master of Business Administration at MBS. While their experiences were as diverse as their fields, citing anecdotal evidence seems almost pointless, what does remain consistent is that in many such cases is that (as reader Lynda points out) graduate study is indeed a luxury made possible only through either government or corporate patronage. Furthermore, such patronage usually coincides with earning an income at the same time. In other words, graduate study is typically the exclusive domain of those whose careers and lives are established sufficiently that they can make the time and space for study.[i]

Might graduate then be an instance of the Handicap principle, particularly conspicuous consumption, in action, “signalling the ability to afford to squander a resource simply by squandering it,” (ref) “culminating, in extreme cases, by setting fire to everything you possess” (ref)?

Qualities of a valuable tertiary degree, and how they can support deliberate practice

Universities have traditionally excelled as the gatekeepers of knowledge. Yet in the age of information, the web is the repository of information, and we are all contributors. In terms of actual curriculum then, Universities can often provide no marked difference from what we can very easily discovery with the help of networking and some self-directed research.

Universities remain relevant only if they are able to provide us with the chance to ‘deliberately practice’ our craft. Like any valuable teacher or institution, this means helping us:
  • Focus on technique - as opposed to outcome
  • Set specific goals.
  • Get good, prompt feedback, and enable us to use it.

An electronic alternative to writing classes: finding our community online, and turning the web into our workshop

I am afraid of book clubs and writing societies. They make me think of AA meetings - everyone clapping at the slightest progress, every confessionary monologue enshrined in a sacred aura. We appreciate literature best, and write the most, in solitude. The plethora of uncritical affirmation exchanged within writing groups (offline and on) will likely hug our creativity to death.

Yet I can also appreciate that releasing our thought onto the marketplace of ideas can enrich both.

Paid to learn: turning our workplace into our workbench

Working professionally? Chances are that at some point during the forty hours a week you spend at your desk, you are in a position to engage in some 'deliberate practice'. In spite of the bad rap they tend to get, 'slow work days' are actually really valuable, because they allow us to develop the skills, or set up the frameworks, to help minimise the stress of the fast work days. They also give us the opportunity to undertake our own up-skilling. Since no job, not even so called permanent positions, will last forever, it is preferable to quit (or be made redundant) with more skills than when we first started.[1] As Scott Adams arguers, unlike a few centuries ago, life is now more complicated than most things we can learn in school. If we wish to stretch our minds then, we should first look for the practical problems that are readily available in the wide world, starting with one that is right in front of us - how to make our own job either more efficient (or ideally, redundant).

Outsourcing attitude: and why we hire our slave drivers

Lifestyle-designers such as Timothy Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week, strongly advocate a kind of Nike model for our own lifestyle: outsourcing everything but our core business, such as getting Indian call-centre staff to read our children bedtime stories. Yet what Ferris and his kin seem to have forgotten, ignored, or missed is that most of us already outsource frequently in our work, in our play, and in our thoughts. Much of what we seek from others – socially, academically and economically – is not so much the expertise that they possess, but their structure, discipline, and convenience, and their ability to help motivate us.

Costs and benefits of graduate study: a wake-up call

Eighteen months ago, I quit a Masters of Publishing and Communications that I had been studying part time. The subjects - on structural editing and editorial English - were probably the most practical I had taken (creative writers such as myself rarely concern themselves with such incidental matters like spelling and styles unless we really have to). Yet between the intense coursework, and the full-time job I had started, it all became too much. That and I already had two Masters Degrees under my belt. I have long figured that one of the best places to put your money is into your own head. Maybe, though, it was time to take a breather.

Interview with the Technical Writer

I was interview recently by corporate training designers Maestro eLearning.

Q: How did you end up in a training career?

After I graduated from Deakin University's Professional Writing and Editing course, Online Learning Australia offered me a position there as a Training Designer. I had been creating a few websites during my undergraduate years – volunteer projects mostly, as I enjoyed designing for the web – and University had not destroyed my love of writing, so getting a position in an eLearning business was a natural progression.