Going long: an announcement

For a while, writing and publishing daily has felt like an obligation. That’s not to say it hasn’t been enjoyable, just that it has felt like Something I Have to Do. My strategy for dealing with this feeling has been one of avoidance and delay—I acknowledged it and then refused to do anything about it. It’s like I’m on a boat in a beautiful lagoon. I want to swim in the clear blue water but the only way to get in is to jump off the boat’s edge and I don’t really wanna. I want writing to be fun and exciting and exhilarating again, but I also don’t want to make fundamental changes.

That was then. This is now.

At the end of August I passed my three-year anniversary for daily blogging. With a few added days, I’m now sitting at over one thousand, one hundred posts. I wasn’t really sure how to feel about this and I said so on RefactorCamp.org, the Ribbonfarm-run Mastodon instance. Venkatesh Rao replied, advising me to slow down and write longer posts less often. The logic being that some ideas I posted were worth pursuing in more depth (and some weren’t).

Now, I don’t know Venkatesh personally but I have a certain respect for his thinking and perception, so I entertained the idea. My body and mind responded with excitement. My fingers trembled and my heart rate soared. The thought of writing longer posts weekly and having more time to explore ideas—whilst retaining a definite sense of urgency—was enthralling. I realised that I hadn’t felt like this about my writing for a long time.

At that point, I was maybe ninety-percent committed to going long. I still needed another ten percent. So I thought about the pros and cons of blogging daily versus blogging less frequently. First, I must say that writing and publishing daily is one of the best things I have ever done. Seriously. I cannot begin to list, or even comprehensively understand, how it has benefited me. It’s taught me to think more deeply, communicate more clearly, evaluate and remake my beliefs about myself, others and the world, and to be comfortable creating and shipping at a high tempo. And more. However, such a frequent output does confine me to more shallow subject matter, forces me to look for novelty as opposed to depth, limits the amount of time I can spend editing and iterating a piece, and means that what I write is determined as much by time pressure as affinity with the material I’m working on and with.

Writing longer posts offers other benefits, and now that I’m used to producing and publishing, I feel that I’m ready to accrue them. For example, perhaps the main benefit is that writing good longform posts is hard. Go to any freelancing marketplace and you’ll see thousands of people looking for freelancers to write “content” that is between a few hundred and fifteen hundred words. You won’t find many ads looking for someone to consistently write four thousand word posts. Short-form writing is, at this point, a commodity. Longform isn’t. That’s because it’s difficult to pull off and requires either deep expertise with the subject matter, an above average level of curiosity and humility, or the help of a “daemon”.

When I took the Ribbonfarm Longform Blogging Course the idea of a daemon was a big feature. The idea being that interesting longform pieces can’t really be planned. Instead, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Your ass has to be chained to the chair and your fingers poised above a keyboard (or gripping a fountain pen above an artisanal notebook) when your daemon comes a-knocking. A remix of Gall’s Law was offered to illustrate this.

“A 4000+ word article that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple generator that found fuel. A 4000+ word piece “designed” from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a different simple generator and some fuel.”

Don’t worry. I’m not going to be writing many 4k behemoths. But I will be moving away from daily posts of a few hundred words to twice-weekly posts of a few thousand words—delivered on Wednesdays and Sundays, beginning this Sunday. I’ll be abandoning the firehose of posts about diverse ideas to focus more on the ideas that stick themselves into my brain and soul—and hopefully, as a consequence, into yours too.

Writing daily has been fun but it no longer feels like a challenge. I don’t want that. I want to do difficult things because difficult things are exciting to me. I know there are risks associated with the switch. For instance, writing is a proxy for thinking and I’m aware that writing long will inevitably expose some kinks—and outright deformities—in my thought. I also know that some of you reading this are here for the brevity, and that you will nope out almost immediately from the longer posts. Of course, I implore you to try out the longer posts, but if you are set on leaving I understand. It doesn’t change the fact that I will forever remain thankful to you for coming this far with me.

And from those who remain? I ask for the benefit of the doubt, at least for a while. I would love for this to be a glorious undertaking, for gorgeous prose and provocative ideas to flow immediately and without impedance from thine mighty fingers. But that probably won’t happen. It’s practically a certainty that I will say too much whilst thinking too little. I can’t see a way over, under or around that so I’ll have to go through it, and you’re welcome to follow me through the breach. Yes, expect growing pains, but also expect me to do everything within my power to confine those growing pains to my self and my own immediate environment.

After all, we love to see writers bleed, but none of us want to get covered in their bodily fluid.

Here’s to going long.