Chat with Dino Bansigan
This is an ongoing series where CJ Eller, community manager at Write.as, takes the time to chat with the many interesting people who use Write.as about their lives & writing practice.
Our second conversation is with Dino Bansigan. Dino is a .NET developer by day who maintains an ever growing online journal that spans a vast range of interests.
This conversation was conducted over on Are.na
CJ Eller: So many ways to start here — let's start with journaling. Have you always had an online journal in one form or another or is it a more recent thing? I am curious how that came about.
Dino Bansigan: This is the first online journal that I’ve ever had. Before this, my online presence revolved around a private Facebook account. I didn't have anything that would come close to an online journal.
This actually all started as I was looking for a replacement to my gaming journal. Updating my then gaming journal was time consuming. I wanted an easier way to write new posts, which is how I ended up trying out Write.as. I thought this would be a good replacement for my gaming journal. But the more I used it, the more I realized, I could do so much more here. I can write about other stuff and not limit myself to writing about video games.
Around the same time that I discovered Write.as, I started my first ever Bullet Journal. So, you can imagine that I was very much into “journals” around that time. Add to that the discovery of freedom of writing on Write.as and the idea for an online journal was born.
CJ Eller: Ah, so it all started with a gaming journal. Where did the idea for keeping a gaming journal come from?
Dino Bansigan: I had an Instagram account where I shared photos of the video games and board games that I played. Soon after I realized that posting in more detail in Instagram became a chore. I wanted to share more info, but it was just not suited for long-form entries. I needed someplace where I can write and share posts in more detail. So, I created a gaming journal as an extension of that Instagram account.
CJ Eller: So how did your gaming journal blossom into your online journal? Was there a specific moment where you realized you could use your gaming journal as a more general journal? Did other topics seem more natural to write about when given the tools to post in more detail? I'd be curious to hear how that evolution occurred.
Dino Bansigan: It happened rather quickly. While I intended for it to replace my gaming journal, I also started writing posts of a more personal nature. Early on, I alternated between writing about video games and writing about my day. This went on for a week until all of a sudden, I was writing more about my day and scarcely about video games.
I couldn't recall if there was a specific moment that led me down the path to turning it into an online journal. However, in a Bullet Journal entry from 04/26/2019, I wrote this,
“Since there is no newsfeed, no likes, no follows, no comments, it is perfect for just sharing thoughts.”
That explains part of why I gravitated toward writing about more than just video games. Write.as' minimalist design and focus on privacy evokes the idea of writing on a personal journal or diary. There's none of the regular distractions that you get on social media platforms. There are no ads, even on the free account. And without a friends list, I didn't feel limited by the topics I wanted to write about. It felt like a personal writing space that just happened to be online. It felt like a place where I could just write down my thoughts and hit publish.
CJ Eller: Interesting — did you feel like newsfeeds, likes, follows, and comments got in the way of simply sharing your thoughts? Because you mentioned how your previous online presence was a private Facebook account. I imagine that while you got the freedom to post private statuses, the noisiness of newsfeeds & such still got in the way.
Dino Bansigan: Likes, follows and comments can all influence me to post about what is popular with my audience. I've seen this happen most notably on Instagram. I shared a photo from Ace Combat 7 and got a lot of likes, comments and new followers. Soon enough, I stopped posting about the other games I've been playing. I was chasing the likes I was getting from sharing Ace Combat 7 photos.
Newsfeeds are a distraction, plain and simple. I sit down to write something and find myself mindlessly browsing the newsfeed. On Facebook for instance, all it takes is a slight scroll downwards and you're on the newsfeed. This is why blogging/writing platforms are superior to social media when it comes to writing. There's less stuff onscreen to distract me from the writing process.
CJ Eller: You're touching on something I think I struggle with a lot on the web. Reading bleeds into writing all the time, making it a dissonant experience. Sometimes I can't write because I am busy reading feeds. So using a dedicated writing platform is something you find helpful. Do you have any other personal tips on how to better delineate writing & reading on the web — where you can both read & publish things equally? One thing I noticed is you often make journal entries about the things you read — but I'll let you describe that!
Dino Bansigan: My default mode is always going to be reading, but I try to balance it out by scheduling days for when I'm going to write. In the past, I would write whenever I want to. After realizing how much time it takes to write a good post, I've started cutting back on impulse writing. Nowadays, I make use of my weekly planning to schedule days for writing. This frees me up from not having to worry about when to write.
I try to manage my reading sources with an RSS reader and a few newsletters. I hardly venture out into the web to look for articles to read. I even keep up with the read.write.as feed on my RSS reader, Feedly. I also prefer to read posts using Feedly's built-in browser. I find that doing so reduces the amount of links I'm exposed to. This in turn reduces distraction and stops me from hopping from one post to another.
To cut down even more on the amount of stuff I need to read, I first skim an article or post. I look for keywords or sentences that tell me if it is worth dedicating my full attention to. Sometimes I skim the first paragraph. Sometimes I go farther. I ask the question, “Will I gain something of value if I read this?” If so, then I'll read it.
I've read many posts about the benefits of writing things down with pen and paper. So, whenever I read or listen to something that struck me, I write it down on my Bullet Journal. After my digital declutter, I started writing my online journal entries based off the entries on my Bullet Journal. One benefit to this approach was being able to go through the stuff that I've written down before. It affords me another chance to reflect on them and think about why I wrote them down in the first place.
CJ Eller: Reading is a default for many — myself included! It never would have occurred to me to reduce, let alone intentionally think about link exposure. I'll have to look into using an RSS reader. But talk to me about how you developed your writing schedule. Was it as easy as setting a writing schedule that you keep to this day or did you have to consistently change it over time? Maybe it isn't as regimented as I'm making it out to be?
Dino Bansigan: It started with me deciding that I should only do Music Log posts on Fridays. Then as the weeks went by, I decided my other posts could benefit from following a schedule as well. I try to keep it simple though. Mondays are usually reserved for Journal Entries. And Fridays for Music Log entries. For the days in between, I plan out what to post on my weekly plan. This can be anything from Bookmarks, Game Logs, Experiment Logs, more Journal Entries, etc... I leave weekends open since I don't usually write on weekends.
I try to keep my writing schedule flexible and stress free. If I don't finish writing a Journal Entry by the end of Monday, I let it flow to the next day. If I was scheduled to write another post that day, it will have to wait until the Journal Entry is finished. I let the writing tasks cascade like that and handle them as Daily Log tasks on my Bullet Journal. If a post doesn't get written, no big deal. It will get scheduled for the next week. What I'm trying to avoid is making writing feel like work, because then it will take all the fun away.
CJ Eller: That's great. Keeping writing fun is such a key point too — especially as a motivating factor to continue writing in the first place. So what are the ways that you keep writing fun? Does it lie in the subject matter? Tinkering with the tools you use? Because even the experimentation you do with your online journal has been interesting to observe. Personally I enjoyed your “most popular posts” Glitch app on your “About” page.
Dino Bansigan: I think the choice of subject matter is a factor in keeping writing fun. I have the most fun writing about something that I'm passionate about. Whether that be music, video games, technology use or even my faith. But let me backtrack a little bit. Fun might not be the only word that applies here. Maybe satisfied is another word to use. I write something. Publish it on the web. Read it for myself. And if I feel satisfied with what I wrote, then I would say, “That was fun. Let's do it again!”
Another way I keep writing fun, and I've mentioned this before, is by scheduling when to write new posts. It might not work for everyone, but for me it goes like this: I start my day and ask myself, “So... what am I going to write about today?” It's almost like opening a new present every week. The idea that I'm not going to be writing about the same topic over and over again, keeps it fun for me.
The tinkering aspect of owning a personal website was really surprising. I never expected any of it to be fun. In fact, I initially thought it would fall under the category of “website maintenance”, which to me sounds boring. I was wrong. Dare I say I get more fun out of tinkering with my website than writing new posts. Something about solving a problem and seeing the fix live on my website. Or adding new functionality to my website. Or updating the look and feel of the site. Those activities give me a good dose of satisfaction that I don't get from writing new posts. To be honest, it can be addicting sometimes.
I'm so glad that you introduced the use of Glitch apps to the write.as community. I very much enjoyed trying to create Glitch apps that can extend the functionality of my websites. I got the idea for the “Popular Posts” app after seeing a “Popular Articles” list on someone else's website. Since I already got a Search app working, I thought I could tweak it to come up with the most viewed posts on my site. And I did. That was a fun learning experience for me.
CJ Eller: “Satisfied” is a much better way to put it. I feel the same way too — publishing a post primes you to publish another which primes you to publish another. It develops a momentum that's hard to combat when you get it going.
Could you delve more into the tinkering aspect of your blog that you found surprising? You bring up a fascinating point about the fine line between the tedium of “website maintenance” and the exploratory joy of tinkering.
It's something I first experienced here, trying to create a wrapper for the Write.as API and then Glitch apps that took advantage of that API wrapper in fun ways (thanks for the kind words by the way). I never did this kind of tinkering on the Wordpress blog I had for years before. Then again, technical aptitude may have something to do with that — I didn't know how to code then. But there's something about when the technical skill and the curiosity come together, where you realize you have more freedom to add functionality to your website, just like you said.
From there I decided to tinker with my blog's theme. I looked at some of the site templates found on HTML5 UP and tried to mimic them. I admit to not being an expert in CSS. I know enough to get by. But tinkering with my site's theme was a fun learning experience for me. There were days where I put off writing new posts just so I can play around with the custom CSS on my website.
CJ Eller: That's a fantastic — there's something about this kind of programming that doesn't feel like programming in a traditional sense. I've described it to myself as “small c coding” (a riff on Tom Critchlow's small b blogging, where you aren't exactly coding something from the ground up and worrying about development environments (“big C coding”) but instead changing & remixing little segments to customize your blog or personal site. Reminds me of how Myspace pages had the ability to drop in custom CSS — allowing people a way into coding that didn't have an avenue before.
You're a programmer by trade right? I'd be interested to get your take on how you describe this kind of tinkering & coding, especially how it compares to the programming you do professionally.
Dino Bansigan: I call this kind of tinkering and coding “recreational programming.” It's a term that I heard from Cal Newport. It is not something I do because I need to, but something that I do for fun. It is a leisure activity. For instance, I don't really need to have a “Popular Posts” app on my site. But I do, because I can and it's fun to create an app for it. Same goes for the Archive app, the Search app or even the navigation links that I added on posts belonging to a series.
The biggest difference between the programming I do at work, and the “recreational programming” that I do on my websites, is the limitation on what I can code for. At work, if I run into a problem that I cannot solve, I can write a new application or service from scratch. But on my websites, I am limited in the ways I can solve a problem. I need to find a solution while staying within the restrictions imposed by the platform I am on. It is a different approach to solving a problem, but still fun nonetheless.
CJ Eller: Do you similarly think of the writing you do as fitting within a “professional” or “recreational” lens?
Because I noticed that you also have a dev log dedicated to your experiences as a .NET developer. That might fit in the “professional” lens. In the “About Me” of your dev log, however, you add a little nod to your journal:
If you are a personal friend (i.e. friend from high-school, college, etc...) and you want to find out what I'm up to these days, or for non software development content, you can also check out my online journal.
Reading that made me wonder about how you think about the relationship between writing on your online journal & dev log.
Dino Bansigan: My dev blog is my “professional” website. I created it to build up my “personal brand” as a software developer. The main audience for it are other software developers and potential employers. It is a way for them to see what kind of experience I have as a software developer. That is why it has a more singular focus on only software development topics. I did try to use it for non-software development posts, but it didn't seem to fit the blog nor the audience. That's another reason why I created my online journal. On my dev blog, I was restricted to only talking about topics related to my work as a professional software developer. There was no place to talk about non-work stuff, like my love for music and video games. I needed another outlet for those.
And that's where my online journal comes in. The writing on my online journal definitely falls under the “recreational” lens. On my online journal, I can talk about anything I want. Even my use of it is recreational. I've tried using it as an online diary of sorts. I've used it to track bookmarks. I've even explored ways to use it in place of social media. It's like this little place on the web where I am free to explore ways to make the most of it.
CJ Eller: What were some of those non-software development posts you initially wrote on your dev blog? I imagine they foreshadow a lot of the topics you write about on your online journal.
Dino Bansigan: Most of the non-software development posts that I wrote on my dev blog were bookmarks posts. As you already know, I carried over that practice into my online journal. They did foreshadow a bit of the topics that I would write about on my online journal.
CJ Eller : Dino, thanks for taking the time to chat with me here — it's been a pleasure. Just wanted to end with a general question: do you have any observations or takeaways from writing on the web so far that you'd like to bring up?
Dino Bansigan: One thing that struck me with regards to writing on the web, is this idea of a “contract with the reader.” Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I read it from, otherwise I would credit the author. The idea is, when a reader decides to read something you've published online, the reader is gifting you their time. In return, you should give back something of value, so as not to have wasted their time. As it is right now, there's so much content on the web, but not all provides something of value to the reader. I am no doubt guilty of this too, especially with the constant experimentation I'm doing on my online journal. But the bottom line is, we should all be cognizant of the amount of time we take away from our readers.
CJ, thanks for having me. It has been fun chatting with you!