“No one can tell your story so tell it yourself. No one can write your story so write it yourself.”
– Greeting Card
“If I waited till I felt like writing, then I’d never write at all”
– Anne Tyler
“Why do you blog?”
It’s common to be asked about blogging. How to do it, what to write about. But why you even write in the first place is an entirely different and more interesting question. It’s not why should you, but why do you. I suppose the why for having this site fall under 3 large sections. Every writer has their own reasons for doing so. A major one is probably to run it as a business but I don’t do that from here. They also are the reasons why I think others should write too.
The way I blog is something people find equally interesting. I find with most people who try to blog, their problem is finding time to sit and write. But if you convert writing a blog to just writing long emails instead, and re-using email content as blog posts. You write blog posts at a much faster rate and it also doesn’t feel like wasting time, because often the person you are emailing is facing the problem that you are emailing them about. You fix their problem, and the problems of anyone else reading it facing something similar.
So instead of doing these as separate tasks I just write hugely long emails to people as a proxy for blogging and send a high frequency of email. The recipient usually likes getting giant emails and often replies and tells me where I’m wrong, if I am. Then you copy the emails to the blog and edit. Suddenly you have killed 3 birds with one stone. Blogging, email and editing.
Dumbledore, a character in the Harry Potter series, when overwhelmed with ideas and memories, uses a spell to extract them from his mind and places them in a jar. Then when he wants to revisit something old, he simply finds the right one and views it. It’s called a Pensieve. That’s how I think a blog should work. And indeed how I feel about this one. It’s why it’s completely white and there’s very little on it. It took about 2 years worth of convincing for me to even put ads.
The method goes, when something important and memorable happens, you keep a record to remember it in the future. I do it via writing. The blog becomes a way to keep track of important moments or stories. Things that I would otherwise forget and don’t have any other memento of. So I can go back and re-read a post to relive a moment or relearn something important.
The most beautiful moment is when you go back and read an old post you wrote and you learn something from it. It’s happened to me a number of times. Few things are as incredible as learning from your former self. The added benefit is that you can now forget the thing you were remembering and so it creates mental space.
Because when you write down something, you can then expunge it from your mind since there is now a copy. It’s no longer information you need to keep in the cache. So it’s easier to just clear it. And you feel mentally lighter and more agile as a result. Processing time speeds up. My head has never felt lighter since I started taking thoughts and putting it in writing.
Another model for keeping a blog is time saving. It removes redundancy in conversation. When you end up in situations having to explain the same things over and over again. Instead you just spend time writing an essay then just send a link. You save the extra conversation time. The person can learn at their own pace. Or read it as much as they like. People who weren’t even in the conversation can learn from it. Everybody wins.
All of the essays are things I’ve had to explain or stories I’ve had to tell over and over again to different people. Indeed most if it is feeling like I had to teach someone something. Someone would ask, How Do Startups Work, or How Do Web Apps Work and then I’d go away and think about it then come back and explain. With the explicit goal of trying to teach as much as possible in as little time.
Whenever I end up feeling like I’ve explained something more than once or a handful of times, it’s better to write it down and just link that instead. Initially I did this as a test and it worked so well I now do it for everything. The quality of conversation gets better much faster. And it’s been very helpful in indirect ways. If someone thinks I’m BS they can look it up and read exactly what I know and judge for themselves.
When I used to do a lot of theatre, I always felt it very sad that 90% of theatre goes unrecorded. So the only record of it ever having existed is in the mind of the performer and their audience. Beyond that, nobody gets to experience it. That seems awfully inefficient. Because it’s so temporal.
The people whom the show would have resonated with are probably not in the audience. They might be half way around the world. Or not born yet. Or maybe they’re young and haven’t realised this is something they are even interested in but will in 5 years. It’s a big world out there. Arbitrarily limiting a thought to the people who physically hear it is a disservice to the quality of ideas.
This is why TED is so popular. TED isn’t the only conference in the world that discusses groundbreaking ideas. But they are one of the first to take all of their talks and put them online for free so anyone can watch them. This is why TED is said to be more impactful than any of the others. And is why most of the fans of TED talks are people that have never even been to a TED conference.
This works particularly well with talks. Every talk I’ve ever done or been asked to do is up on this site. Why bother spending time putting a talk together if the only people who will ever see it are the people directly in the audience. Without writing it down, nobody apart from them will ever hear what I have to say. It has no reusability.
It’s like a really low return rate on time capital. You spend a lot of time thinking about and writing an insightful talk and putting it in a way that can be easily understood. Then it doesn’t generate a good return because only the 50 people in the room will ever experience it.
I know a guy who is a fairly prominent angel investor. He’s also reclusive. Over the years he’s been asked to do dozens of talks. Probably more. And there is all this pent up potential energy there. Like really interesting, insightful stuff that was delivered to an audience of 50 people. And then it’s gone forever. Why? Because he doesn’t have a blog and never wrote any of it down. And I think that’s such a waste. The knowledge just kind of disappears into the ether or is trapped in the insular world of a poorly lit auditorium.
What I’ve found putting talks in writing and posting them here is that the people who get maximum utility out of and appreciate them most aren’t the ones you’d expect. The world works in mysterious ways. Sometimes the person who will benefit most from a talk to a group of finance MBAs is some 16 year old kid studying for their Year 10 exams but has the spark of an idea and will go on to start a company.