One of the things that has caught my attention as I have been working to write every day this month is that I can only get away with it because I have a certain amount of “backlog” ideas-wise to draw on: things I have not written but have been thinking about for some time. This is particularly true for more essay-like kinds of content. I can whip up a blog post like this one easily enough: it’s entirely off the cuff, and entirely a kind of meta-commentary. That doesn’t translate into more substantial writing, though.
Saying something meaningful (especially if you want to say it well) requires more than just throwing out off-the-cuff thoughts like these. It requires thought, and more than that: it requires understanding — and understanding does not come cheaply or easily. Merely noodling on an idea rarely produces genuine insight.1 At least in my experience, actual learning requires interaction with the ideas of others. Novel perspectives are rare at best, and impossible in a vacuum. Without deep and wide reading, writing specifically, and thinking or ideating generally, is an exercise in reinventing the wheel — badly.
I started work last week on an essay I’ve been batting around in my head for a while, about the specific contours of tech regulation. I look at what the two poles of the political spectrum (Elizabeth Warren and Josh Hawley) are suggesting at the moment and find both sets of proposals incredibly wanting. They seem to me to be missing very important aspects of the dynamics around tech companies and thus their proposals seem to me to be basically doomed to failure. But. As I started trying to tease this out, I immediately felt my lack of depth in the area. I have read some here. But not nearly enough to be able to write well or persuasively. There would be big obvious things I’m simply unaware of!
A blog — a public journal; there is a reason this site is sectioned the way it is! — can afford some of that, of course. A blog is, as yesterday’s relaunch post and indeed the new site title both suggest, just exactly the place for working through these kinds of partially-formed thoughts. Blog posts are not essays, and still less are they books. But they may still have a valuable place in the world. I may publish that piece which started out aspiring to be an essay in the next month, while intentionally not having polished or even truly finished it — because I can look at what the next six weeks hold and be quite confident that I will not be spending enough time reading in that interval to be ready to say something worth anyone’s listening to in the way of an essay.
I might be able to start a little conversation among the folks who read this site, though, and in so doing learn some of the many things I need to learn in order to be able to say something genuinely meaningful. And along the way, perhaps — just perhaps, but perhaps indeed! — the conversation and the thinking out loud will also produce something helpful not only to me but to others.
Realistically: not just rarely but in fact never. ↩︎