Reading over my shoulder

What this site is about

Hi. I’m Dr. Will Buckingham, a writer and philosopher originally from the UK. And this is my newest project (as of the time of writing): a not-quite blog that I’m setting up as an experiment in writing and thinking out loud. You can see this not-quite-blog as a personal notebook, but one where you can read over my shoulder (and who doesn’t like reading over other people’s shoulders?).

Thinking in Progress

2021 has so far been a busy year. I’ve been doing a lot of writing and thinking for my Looking for Wisdom project. And this has got me grappling with all kinds of interesting stuff. My next book, Hello, Stranger: How We Find Connection in a Disconnected World is out from Granta this summer, and I’m looking forward to the conversations the book provokes. And already, I’m starting to think about the book after that. I’m planning something on divination, and the curiously complex relationship we human beings have with the future.

This means there’s a lot going on, and a lot to think about. But I think best when I’m thinking out loud. So I’ve been looking for better ways to keep track of—and to share—these ideas and thoughts as they unfold.

Blogs, articles and books are good, of course. But all these things need a theme—something over and above “what I’m thinking about at the moment.” And they also need a degree of coherence: they are places for thoughts that have had time to take shape, for writing that is honed and polished.

But often, I have the experience of wanting to share stuff that I’m thinking about, but that isn’t yet particularly thought-through, or that I haven’t thorugh about — stuff that is thinking in progress, unpolished, ephemeral, and very possibly wrong. Because just the act of sharing inchoate and half-formed thoughts helps bring them into focus, and opens up interesting conversations. Twitter is okay for some of this stuff. In fact, I love Twitter. But it’s it’s hard to think of a less intimate space for thinking than Twitter, and the kind of thinking out loud I want to do requires a kind of intimacy.

So I have set up this public notebook as a way of sharing all those haphazard, fleeting, possibly-going-nowhere thoughts and ideas that I’m thinking about at any one time. These may be about the next book, they may be about other things. There will no doubt be all kinds of false starts, wrong turns, dead ends, cul-de-sacs, mad rampages in pursuit of something or other… you get the idea.

How this is going to work?

Here’s how it’s going to work. The thing I like about this approach is that these notes are, first and foremost, simply the contents of my research / work-in-progress folder, the one that sits on my hard-drive. They are not written for the web. They are written for my own use and my own consumption. But then they are shared on the web, in case anybody is interested.

The non-techy version of how it works is this. My research notes folder sits snugly on my MacBook. When something occurs to me, I write it down as a new file (using Markdown) and save it in this folder, which I anticipate will contain pretty much anything, including (non-exhaustively):

  • snippets of ideas
  • thoughts that may or may not run out of steam half way through, or that may or may not go anywhere
  • references to things I find interesting or diverting
  • fleeting observations

Once new notes are put in the folder, they will magically appear on this website, with minimal extra human intervention. So you’ll be seeing more or less what’s in my ongoing research folder, but with prettier formatting.

And that, more or less, is it. Let’s see how it goes.

Tech stuff

In case anyone is interested in how this works, the site is set up using Hugo and hosted on Netlify, with Github doing the work somewhere in between. I’m pretty new to this way of working, so it’s taken a white to learn the ropes. But it’s been a pleasure to work with. And I’m keeping the site as simple as possible. Posts are categorised, very roughly, and tagged as well. But I can never keep my tags and categories logically separated out, so if you want to look up something specific, you can use the nice search page.

I write individual posts in standard Markdown format, which I often use for writing. I use Byword for Markdown, because it’s a writing tool that is both simple and aesthetically beautiful. Then when I’m done, I save my note to my posts folder in my local Hugo installation. Then my content is pushed to Github, and it is published via Netlify.

The total cost of all this astonishing wizardry that I only partly understand is something like $12 a year, which is simply for the domain name.

See also