That draft being the thing that you are reading now.
Last year I wrote about my approach to blogging but maybe I should have a post pinned up top that specify exactly what kind of a blog this is. Because “blog” has become a suitcase word, meaning different things to different people. To name a few:
- SEO-optimized clickbait farms, à la BuzzFeed and HuffPost (which is Joe Q. Public’s idea of a blog)
- A topic-oriented mix of long articles and link posts, à la Daring Fireball and Kottke.org (which is my idea of the default “blog”)
- Carefully cultivated collections of essays, the owners of which sometimes emphatically insists that they are not blogs, à la Maggie Appleton and Gwern Branwen (Substack and Medium may also fall under here)
- Stream-of-thought title-less short posts interspersed with longer but still underbaked articles, à la Dave Winer (and much of the micro.blog community, present company included)
Numbers 1 and 4 are as far apart as you can get but there is some blurring of the lines between 2 and 3. Had I ordered the list by amount of polish rather than word share, I would have flipped them. I could also have subdivided number 3 into essay collections calling that call themselves “digital gardens” and those that do not, but they are all more similar in content than they are different in style, so lumped they were.
Many authors of Number 3 blogs-not-blogs are amusing for their insistence on having other people read their work before they post it. They like to thank them in a post-scriptum, doing the double work of name-dropping and seeding future links. Here is Nabeel Qureshi doing it last week; there you see Paul Graham also thanking a bunch of people, some of them the same.
This approach writing on the internet goes hand-in-hand with the call for quality over quantity: better to polish your one big piece for months than churn out articles week after week without any of them having much chance of being widely read. Wrong assumptions aside, And here is the aside: people who espouse this view take it for granted that the chief reason why someone would post their writing online is for it to be read widely, or if not widely then at least by people of influence. That is writing in order to be read. An alternative framing — my framing, in fact — is that writing is beneficial for its own sake, to develop thoughts, keep records and improve speed, and if someone online has any benefit from seeing what you did and/or has good comments, then great. But ultimately the main audience for my writing are the future me-s. quality over quantity in online writing leads to inevitable slowdown and year-long pauses, to no-one’s benefit. My RSS reader is full of dead feeds that started out this way; see: Applied Divinity Studies (last posted December 2022), Fantastic Anachronism (last posted February 2023), Everything Studies (last posted January 2024, after a year-long break).
John Nerst, the author of Everything Studies has a good excuse — he is writing a book — but then so were Tyler Cowen, M. John Harrison, Allan Jacobs and many others closer to the stream-of-thought school. Would not the period of research and writing be the perfect time to share some of the thoughts and drafts with others?
And here we come to the paradox of going for quality-over-quantity when writing-to-be-read. If nothing you write is good enough to be posted, it will never be read. If you’re fine writing in any and all circumstances and sharing posts that are just good-enough-for-government-work, well, the area under the curve of your stuff being red over time will only increase. It’s the roundaboutness of blogging.