February 6, 2014
“Why am I writing?,” “Who am I writing for?” and “What am I going to write?” are questions that come in my mind often (and I imagine, in anyone’s mind.) They came up in my mind at different intervals between the time I decided that I wanted to write, actually started writing, and actually publishing. All too often the gap between when these questions came up was too long, and the journey seemed incessantly arduous. Fortunately, I got to read some amazing and inspiring things this past month, and I found answers to all three questions
For the most part, my friends and I share our thoughts on any one of the plethora of IM options, or on Twitter. I’ve never really kept anything trackable, and these uninvited questions probably had something to do with it. I have a reading habit and genuinely try to follow a lot of great writing day-in, day-out. Perhaps even more fortunately, it all just came together. Answers to questions might have appeared and disappeared forever, but some how they tied together this time, and this exists.
M.G. Siegler started a project where he attempts to write 500 words a day. He says:
I’ve decided that I’d like to write more this year. Or, more specifically, I’d like to write more regularly this year. Last year, I wrote quite a bit, but I’d do so in large chunks of time and words and I never felt like I achieved a good cadence in my writing. So I’m switching things up.
M.G. isn’t just switching things up by writing every day. He’s switching things up by writing about things he likes. I tap away 500 words a day, echoing the same opinion over and over again, only each time it’s to a different recipient. The net result of this isn’t particularly useful, there’s no tangible evidence that I’ve become better at writing or that my thought process is actually evolving over a period of time.
Instinctively, I can tell that I’ve become better, but what drew me towards this effort is that it suggests a do-able way to actually know that I’ve become better.
So, Why am I writing? I’m writing for cadence, clarity, and to express myself.Why? and What? might appear to be similar questions, but are actually quite different.
There was an interesting debate about recognition and getting credit for what you write. It’s extremely hard to get noticed when you’re in a huge echo chamber. Recognition is nice to have, not a must have. Linus Edwardshad a really great take on what he calls “concentric circles”. He has an optimistic view on the future of reporting and writing. Although the post was reflective on a subset of voices (albeit an influential Apple community) in technology journalism, similar references can be applied to almost any kind of writing.
What happens to someone who does think about this? Whose intent to start writing is recognition, because that’s what you want, right? It’s not simple, and it’s easy to lose track of who you’re doing this for. An excerpt from “The Intrinsic Value of Blogging” by Matt Mullenweg:
The antidote I’ve found for this is to write for only two people. First, write for yourself, both your present self whose thinking will be clarified by distilling an idea through writing and editing, and your future self who will be able to look back on these words and be reminded of the context in which they were written.
Second, write for a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write, almost like a letter, even if they never will, or a person who you’re sure will read it because of a connection you have to them (hi Mom!).
Once you stay honest and true to yourself, it’ll reflect in your work, whether it’s writing or anything else. After all, it’s for one of two people.
Reading this lifted a huge burden. I’m surrounding my self with metrics related to what I’m writing, and eventually the metrics will take over me. It’s important to note that this does not discourage sharing your work. It’s just about knowing who you’re doing it for. You never know who can end up liking your stuff, providing constructive feedback, and maybe even being influenced by it, so sharing it is a part of the overall process.
You’ve found why and who you’re writing for, now, what are you writing for and what are you going to actually write?
The majority of the interview covers the John’s method for creating albums, but when he’s asked what he likes to be known for, John talks about wanting to shift back to being someone who creates, not just someone who comments. Around two minutes into the episode, he remarks:
I’ve been writing this sort of commentary on the world and what I was formerly known for — and what I prefer to do — is make primary source material. You know, if you’re making a song, or if you’re writing a story, that is source material. It’s primary. It’s the thing that did not exist before. You’re not commenting. Presumably, your song is not commenting on some earlier song, or if it is, it’s doing it in an inventive way. It isn’t this chattering sort of criticism and culture digestion that is so much of I guess what we call content — Internet content, which is just like, “Oh, this just came out and now I’m talking about it and now I’m talking about this other guy who was talking about it.”
Writing for primary source material is a noble goal, but again, it comes to the overall topic of recognition being tied to a room with a lot of voices. If what you’re writing has primary source material as a goal, you’ll become a better narrator. I want to write to create primary source material.
A wise friend reminds me over and over again that Technology, Economics, Politics, are huge echo chambers. You can only go so far with the babble, though. Ideally you would like to create something of value, and it’s just not relegated to writing. What I’m going to write probably does fall in to an over crowded category, but my goal is to write original and interesting things. Build something that gives you The Builders High! I had an amazing experience between the time I wrote this and actually published it, where I really got an overview of the writing process, and learnt a lot.
It doesn’t matter.
Probably a peripheral question, but worth including here. In “Do You Want To Write?,” Rands, again: “Do you want to write? or think about writing?”
Well, I do write a lot. Just not channeled correctly. I just couldn’t get on with posting something of record. Rands has a lot of insight on the writing process, and not just the app that he’s referring to. Why not cancel out all noise and just focus on the craft of writing? What is there to lose when you’re writing about something that you like, for someone that cares about it, and when you have an answer to what and why you’re writing?
I got an email a few months ago from Tumblr that my Tumblr was a year old. It’s 470 days old so far, and the intention behind starting it was to write a whole lot more. So far I’ve conjured up one text post. I wanted to try Medium, so I got an invite while it was in beta, and managed one post on a topic that frustrated me a little.
Surely enough, I wrote this, and emailed Jim Dalrymple, telling him that I wanted to send this in for his brilliant magazine, and he was kind enough to ask for a draft, and I didn’t get around to doing that, probably spending more time not writing and drowning myself in self-doubt.
A week into my Squarespace trial1, I was trying to make a website to keep what I write, and then my eyes literally lit up when I saw this tweet. Naturally, I wanted to try it out, and here I am. It was no easy task coming to this decision of using Svbtle, and took a lot of consideration. I realised that tweaking the site is a never ending process and detracts me from writing. Why Svbtle? I’ll explain soon.2
Ideally, I would like to write 500-1000 words a week. It will give me tangible results, help me express myself better when it comes to things I like, be more nuanced in judgement when it comes to things I dislike, and I hope you enjoy reading it. I don’t know if I’ll be in a position to do the same a few months from now, but my goal is to get better at this. It’s a skill that’ll stay with me for the rest of my life.
Enough running around.