Unexcused absence

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Andrea Piacquadio

My aromatic red tea seductively teases my senses as I settle into my writing position. A familiar routine with familiar satisfaction - brew tea, pull up my reading notes, think, find art, write, send. Except this time, something is seriously off.

For the last two years, writing my weekly newsletter has been one of my most meaningful and enriching creative expressions. I’ve learned a lot, connected with new people, and covered extensive ground in my quest for Thriving. I can certainly get better at making time to write, but generally, I’ve really enjoyed my newsletter and website entries. 

But I haven't been able to write a single newsletter or post for nearly 3 months. If I love writing so much, why the impenetrable barrier for a single keystroke?

I’ve heard of writer’s block, of course, but this feels less capricious. I have plenty of material, continue to be inspired by the wellspring of Thriving, and do not sense an absence of my muse. In addition to not being able to write, I’ve also had an extreme block to even consider *why* I have a block. This, of all things, is very out of pattern for me.

I blame AI. It makes me want to write even more.

That’s part of why this all feels so backward and confusing. I recently completed a course on building chatbots using LLM, and I’ve never been more inspired to write. The very real potential to efficiently organize and synthesize vastly divergent Thriving-related literature is equal parts intellectually intoxicating and inspiring. More to the point, these newly accessible tools will be incredibly useful in both writing my Universal Theory of Thriving (UTT) as well as product offerings under the Global Institute for Thriving (GIFT).

So how does a substantial increase in my inspiration and commitment to writing about Thriving result in an insurmountable block to write?

I can conjure excuses from other domains of my life. Much of my creative capacity is diverted to work right now (true, but not it). My increased focus on fitness, health, family, and friends means less time to write (true, also not it). I have a lot of creative projects and am rebalancing my portfolio (definitely true, definitely not it). I can rattle through a handful more, and each one is a perfectly reasonable explanation that is simply wrong.

This block feels deeper and more existential. I am questioning the nature and purpose of writing in the modern era.

Let me be clear - the more I study generative AI, the more convinced I am that human writing is necessary and worthwhile. I’m also bluntly clear that I don’t want AI to initiate writing any of my personal pieces for the foreseeable future. I’ve used ChatGPT, Bard, Bing, and Jasper to write content for work, and each is a valuable tool in its own right. Writing with those tools also felt more like editing someone else’s work or, at best, a one-way collaboration. I’m OK with AI editing (I used Grammarly before I understood their underlying LLM tech), but I’m less OK with editing AI and calling it my own. 

At the same time, my newsletter - both the style and format - is a perfect use case for LLM automation. I’m pretty clear on how I would build that program, and in my chatbot course there is at least one person working on an identical ‘summarize articles I’ve read or written into my newsletter format’ project.

Holding the tool that will make my current format 10x more efficient and specifically not wanting to use it for that purpose has me questioning how and why I write. Both need to adapt to the post-GPT world.

My primary why for Thriving Thursdays was an amorphous combination of personal growth, intellectual stimulation, and grab bag collecting for a future UTT push. Creating a weekly public newsletter was a forcing function and an expansion of my surface area for serendipity. If a reader learned and took one step closer to Thriving for my writing, what a beautiful cherry on top of an already delicious treat. 

For reasons I haven’t yet landed, in the era of AI, this approach to writing feels way too self-indulgent. 

My new why is to enable Thriving in myself and others. My theory of change starts with addressing the first Thrive Blocker with curated, relevant, and trustworthy information. In practice, my future content will be familiar with its eclectic approach, but if I’m serious about enabling others, then I need to have a better way to surface relevant information at the point of need. I also need better feedback loops to validate what content was relevant and useful to whom.

Surfacing relevant information efficiently is a perfect application for a chatbot. Feedback loops can be baked into Discord channels, websites, or applications. Achieving both functions is technically clear and imminently doable (albeit time-consuming to set up). Importantly, the structure of my past writing is not well suited to train bots or plug into Discord, a website, or an application.

That means I have to go back and refactor close to 300 articles with their respective highlights, notes, and write-ups. Not fun but necessary.

If I knew what I needed, I would simply start organizing and writing that way. Perhaps the biggest part of my creative block is that, until I solve an efficient and scalable way to train bots, I don’t want to burden future Henry with throw-away and do-over output.

In short, I don’t want to write the “old way”, and I don’t know how, yet, to write the “new way”. Oy vey all the way.

I also don’t want to let go of my weekly writing ritual and the momentum of organizing and distilling key information. 

Looking ahead, I can be patient for a few more editions. TT 100 is coming up soon. Maybe I’ll have more clarity and a new plan from there.

With this force of will judo chop, I may just break that darn block …

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