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Why I Write

Someone recently asked me, “Why do you write this blog?” As I didn’t have an answer ready at hand, I figured I’d write it out on this blog.

I’ve always viewed blogging as my own personal publishing platform, putting out my best material to the world. This might come from my history as a magazine writer. I want to avoid writing for an imaginary audience who maybe isn’t as smart or curious as I’d hoped. So instead, it’s written it for me and for my friends. And by “friends” it’s everyone from the people I live with to the people who just like what I write online.

When I started this blog, I wasn’t a confidant writer, so I linked and commented on other people’s things. By encapsulating everything I knew and read, someone could read all of this stuff and know everything I did. That was the plan, foolhardy as it was. There was a big problem and a bigger problem with this idea. The big problem was that by linking to everything I thought was interesting, I spent a lot of time vomiting up the internet and becoming a directory. I was a less good version of Yahoo or Google. The bigger problem was that it wasn’t about me, it’s was just a reactive collection of things I liked and it was pretty boring to read.(1)For an example of this see Take a look at Let’s Get On The Same Page People! OR Great Ideas Need Great Communication.

This hit me hard when I was having lunch with a friend. I said, “Have you seen the new Malcolm Gladwell book?” He told me that he hadn’t. In fact, he hadn’t read anything written in the last 20 years.(2)It makes sense not to read anything written in the last 20 years because it lets ideas “settle.” If something is worth reading 20 years after it’s written it’s probably pretty good. Nicholas Nassim Taleb says that if something is around 2o years after it’s written, it’s likely to be around 20 more. He calls this the Lindy Effect. To a person like that, I can’t encourage him to read something else or give him a link, I need to own the ideas I want to communicate.

So I started to tackle big questions that I was interested in. I wrote about how computers and people can work best together and why it’s still worth learning things in the age of Google. These would often take a lot of work, and because I wasn’t very good at this, they would take forever to write. While the questions started off interesting, I often gave up, after having to go through a massive amount of reading to find the “right” answer.

Then I realized that a lot of writing isn’t about being “right” at all. It’s about capturing the “aha!” insight in a way that is meaningful to readers. It’s like bottling a little bit of lighting and sharing it with friends. As Marie Kondo would say, it’s about throwing everything else away until you’re only left with what gives you joy. It also had the benefit of helping me write more quickly, so I could finish the piece while I still found it interesting.

As I wrote more, I started getting better faster. At some point, my friends started to tell me, “This is good! I’d like to subscribe,” or, “You should really think about publishing this stuff!” which helped me realize I was on the right track.

When I started writing online, I thought that writing more would make me a better writer. While it did, it also made me a better thinker and communicator. Now I’m not looking for someone to tell me “It’s so well written.” I’d much rather somebody say, “I shared it with somebody because I like it so much” or “It really made me think and changed my mind.”(3)I keep a list of some of my favorite comments here.

So why do I write today? It lets me create an online version of myself. It’s a social media presence that I own, rather than something that’s part of Facebook or Twitter. At its core, it’s a way of documenting my life and thoughts. It helps me clarify what I think and who I want to be. It also shows me how I change over time and how I stay the same. Hopefully, it’s a story about becoming a better thinker and a better person. It’s not a perfect copy of who I am, but it captures the things that I’m most passionate about, which is a pretty good reflection of me. It also helps me keep up a virtual connection with friends. All of these pieces come together and make a virtual book of my life. But like my life, this blog, and the reasons for writing it, will change over time.

Footnotes

1. For an example of this see Take a look at Let’s Get On The Same Page People! OR Great Ideas Need Great Communication.
2. It makes sense not to read anything written in the last 20 years because it lets ideas “settle.” If something is worth reading 20 years after it’s written it’s probably pretty good. Nicholas Nassim Taleb says that if something is around 2o years after it’s written, it’s likely to be around 20 more. He calls this the Lindy Effect.
3. I keep a list of some of my favorite comments here.