Finding a Voice in the Public

Writing as a way of exploring and loving oneself.

Eric Zhang • January 16, 2022

Over the past couple years, I’ve been experimenting with openly articulating ideas through writing and personal journaling. It has been rewarding, but now I’m going to start moving things over to my personal website.

Why not social media posts? Well, I’m looking for a medium that is more durable: supporting better thought aggregation, while also enabling richer, longer-form prose and building a stronger narrative. It’s also a neat way to use the web development skills that I’ve been honing over the past 4-5 years.

I’m tempted to draw an analogy between writing prose and creating software. In either case, there are unlimited public forums for sharing new, creative ideas, but participation can seem daunting at first. For instance, a lot of beginner programmers I’ve talked to seem worried that they’re not putting their best work out there. It’s the fear that “someone’s watching” — whether it’s submissions to an online judge, or their open source code.

There’s another side to this, depending on your perspective. Part of what’s made software construction so appealing to me has been the global community. When I was in middle school, I didn’t care about whether “someone was watching” — I just shared the work that I was most excited about in the moment. Sure, I wasn’t as good at writing code and constructing interesting ideas as I am now. But no one criticized me for it, as a more timid creator might fear. The playful experimentation and personal development that this enabled, over a few years, allowed me to find what sparks joy.

Nowadays I can work on a project for a few days or weeks, release it to the world, and expect anywhere from 10k to 500k people to see it, through the publishing channels that I’ve built up and learned how to use over time. And anywhere from 0-30 people might actively engage with the project, through contributions, bug reports, and by borrowing the code for their own use. Those interactive channels make writing open-source software so fulfilling.

However, the underlying goal of my work has always been creative exploration in its own capacity, regardless of whether or not there is a captive audience. I wonder if the best ways to learn creative skills are by finding a voice and doing through experience. Every time I write / journal, I discover new facets of myself by verbalizing my personal beliefs, feelings, values, goals, inspirations, and emotions.

People are scared or dismissive of unfamiliar things. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say “I can’t write code,” “I can’t do those math problems,” or “I can’t design / draw.” It always begs the question for me: maybe so, but how do you know for sure; how many times have you tried?

If you haven’t, it’s not your fault. Are there support structures that make it fun and welcoming for you to try out new creative pursuits?

In any case, for me, the playful act of creative exploration has worked well for software in the past. I’d like to once again explore this method in writing for myself, but trust my beliefs enough to do it in a public space.