Alex Payne is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.

since 2001, al3x.net has served as his online home.

On Hiatus

Over the past several years, this blog has gone from something that a few patient friends read to something with farther reach than I ever hoped or intended. This has been, alternately, flattering, infuriating, exhilarating, and terrifying.

I write for myself. Always have, always will. Writing helps me structure my ideas. I sit down to write when I’ve had something kicking around in my head that just won’t quit nagging at me. By the time I’m done, I can put that idea to rest and move on. Unfinished thoughts structured via writing yield catharsis. Ideally, this is how the process works for me.

Lately, I’ve found the cathartic returns from blog-format writing to be diminishing. The ideas I’m trying to express never really get put to rest in my head when I write, now. Instead, they spark whole conversations that I never intended to start in the first place, conversations that leech precious time and energy while contributing precious little back. Negative responses I can slough off, but the sense that I’m not really crystalizing my unset thoughts by writing here is what bothers me.

So. It’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a while.

What Might Have Been

This is a hard decision. Right now, I have a number of posts queued up:

  • One about how developer platforms are communities first and products second, and about how healthy platforms grow and mature organically.
  • One about the creative possibilities of the iPad, as a sort of counterweight to my criticisms of the device’s closed design.
  • One about how Objective-C has been successful despite being a fairly limited programming language, and what other language and API designers can learn from that unlikely success.
  • One about the necessity of treating the creative process behind technology as if you were performing magic, and the worth of opening your mind to unorthodox methodologies and approaches.

When I think about not publishing these things, I’m a little heartbroken. I enjoy sharing ideas, even when my ideas are shot down. I try to get better at communicating, at arguing, at persuading. But lately, I’ve been caught in a rut. I feel as if my writing isn’t really improving thanks to blogging, certainly not to the degree that bloggers I admire like Mark Pilgrim have improved in the time I’ve been reading them. I feel as if I stumble from one unintentionally inflammatory post to the next without gaining any particular insight.

A feedback loop of positive emails and tweets has kept me blogging despite my frustrations, but I find I’m no happier after I finish a post than when I started. If anything, blogging leaves me stressed out, disappointed, or just stuck with the sense that I’ve wasted my time. That’s why I need to take a public step back from writing here for a good long stretch.

What May Yet Be

I want to focus my creative energies outside of work on something more substantial than blogging. Co-authoring Programming Scala was deeply rewarding in a way that few other things in my life have ever been. I have another book project in the works, and I’d like to embark on that in the near future. It’s big project, though; daunting. I’ve been using blogging as a way of putting it off while still satisfying my itch to write.

I’ve also been a lax open source citizen. My coworkers at Twitter are cranking out great open source code. I’m not pulling my weight in this respect – only one of those great projects on Twitter’s open source page has my avatar next to it. I have at least as many open source projects queued up as I do potential blog posts, and those projects may be a better illustration of how I view the craft of programming. Code can speak louder than words.

I’ll still contribute to Graceless Failures, the group blog of Scala tips and tricks I started in 2008. I’ll probably write for the Twitter Engineering Blog on occasion. I may yet find another outlet for my writing on programming, particularly as it pertains to the study of programming languages; a simple and frictionless format like Reg Braithwaite’s homoiconic is appealing. In the past, I’ve found it useful to have a dedicated place to dive deep into a particular topic of interest. This particular blog has always been too “general interest” to get highly technical.

Of course, I’ll be tweeting away. Over time, I’m coming to realize what sort of messages I can communicate effectively via Twitter, and what sort I can’t. Twitter works least well for me when I try to cram big arguments down to 140 characters. Every medium has its particular sweet spot for a writer, and I’ve found that a combination of geeky humor, technical information-sharing, musical recommendations, and tidbits about my travels, drinking, and dining seem to make for the happiest followers on Twitter.

The Next Few Months

There are still friends who read this blog to hear about what’s going on in my life.

In May, I will be moving to Portland, Oregon, where I’ll continue to work for Twitter. Portland and the Pacific Northwest captured my heart and imagination in the time I’ve spent there, and I’m eager to get involved in the local community (tech and otherwise).

After all that, who knows. Maybe by later this year I’ll be ready to write here again. Maybe I’ll be in midst of researching my next book, too heads-down to come back to blogging. I’m not sure. But I thank you for having read this far, and I hope you’ll be generous enough with your time to read again, someday.

The Moderate's Position on iPad Openness

Good Things: Ubuntu and Android