Slow writing

I was inspired after being pointed Mike Caulfield’s speech “The Garden and the Stream” and his subsequent work on Wikity and wondered about some kind of self contained wiki-esque setup alongside the blog for research purposes.

He refers to his data collection, linking and iteration process as “slow writing” where ideas build over time using ongoing research to update topics.

I make notes but they are not organised, isolated scraps of information that may have sparked an idea but get lost.

I have tried Spark Files and lists, various methods but the result is invariably the same: the ideas get lost and my enthusiasm for them disappears.

I’m a fast writer.

If I can’t get something out in one go that’s usually it. Gone. Done. On to the next.

The recent exception being the Zuckerberg manifesto piece which I managed to keep working on for three days! I think the importance of the topic forced me to stay interested.

This is why self-hosted microblogging has been so enticing. It goes beyond the social networked element as it enables me to publish small thoughts that don’t require deep dives and long processes but still makes me feel like I’m posting regularly, even if it doesn’t appear in my main feed.

To my knowledge no one is currently reading these little missives but that’s not actually the point right now.

Notes and research

So, I realise I need a system whereby I can make notes or store research items and they don’t get lost. They need to be connected so that I can follow the paths between them and, most importantly, I can create them quickly on my phone.

I have considered wiki plugins for WordPress before but was never sure what I would do with them. A quick search, however, revealed Yada Wiki which creates a custom post type and allows for reasonably easy linking between entries via built in shortcodes.

One box ticked.

After installing it I realised that it exposes the custom post type via Workflow making for simpler posting from mobile.

We could be on to something.

Setting it up

A stream flows by whereas a garden grows around us, blooms. Caulfield explains how a garden allows for unique paths to be walked each time we visit and that there is no one true way to view it.

It is this thought, and its application to information, that influenced me to pursue this project. In doing so I set a few goals and technical objectives.

I wanted to keep it self contained and primarily for my own use. While everything will effectively be publicly accessible (it’s just a case of knowing the addresses) I don’t want it to be obviously available.

To achieve this I had to ensure a few things were configured:

  • the link to the wiki will only show if logged in as admin — so that’s only going to be me - using a quick role check: if ( current_user_can(‘administrator’) )
  • the main site search had to be restricted to just posts so wiki items did not appear while searching from a wiki page would only query the wiki. Rather than calling the default get_search_form() I needed to manually add the form code adding an extra input to determine the search scope:
<input name="post_type" type="hidden" value="post" />
<input name="post_type" type="hidden" value="yada_wiki" />
  • The right version of the search form needs to be called based on where you are on the site and we must consider that the search results page takes you out of context. The above inputs add additional parameters to the URL so it is an easy check:
<?php $url = $_SERVER[‘REQUEST_URI’]; if ( !is_singular( ‘yada_wiki’ ) && (strpos($url,’yada_wiki’) == false) ) { ?>false) ) { ?>

I duplicated and modified my previous posting Workflow for use with the wiki, opening the entry for further editing such as adding tags and cross-links.

Unfortunately, the custom categories and tags created by the plugin are not available to Workflow so additional manual work is required to complete each entry.

Perhaps this isn’t entirely a bad thing.

Ready to go

I feel like I’ve set up the basis of a very simple but usable framework for logging, keeping and cross referencing information that I may practice slow writing.

I haven’t finalised exactly how it will look and how I will use it; I think it will need a reasonable amount of data before this becomes apparent.

I will allow myself to be guided rather than try to impose a potentially limiting process.

Originally published at Social Thoughts.