The Daily Slog
You might consider this article a thinly-veiled stopgap to inevitably breaking my streak of publishing at least one new post every day. While one could certainly make that case, for I did pick this topic while searching for something to write about today, its origin does not change the relevancy of this subject.
Every night I spend at least half an hour between Tweetbot and Reeder searching for articles and topics to cover throughout the following day. As detailed in My Tools and Toys, I send everything of potential interest over to Instapaper, where I later read it and then decide whether to write an article on the subject, add it to my newsletter, or hit the “Archive” button and move on. Given the diverse nature of the sites I subscribe to and the people I follow on Twitter, I usually have no shortage of thought-provoking opinions and all-around great work to read, comment on, and use as inspiration for original essays of my own. Some days, however — take the widespread and unfortunately unavoidable coverage of CES or Google’s acquisition of Nest, for example — I have nothing to add to that narrative. During such times, I frequently have a very hard time finding new and interesting things to write about. Today was one of those days for me.
I woke up this morning to a brimming Instapaper queue, ostensibly full of posts on topics I wanted to write about. As the day wore on though, article after article went by and I had published nothing. I made a few minor tweaks to my site’s design, some rather significant advances with First Crack, and added quite a few new websites and articles to my newsletter, but had failed to accomplish my goal of posting, at the very least, one piece a day. Then it came time for lunch, so I took a break and listened to the latest episode of Systematic where Marco Arment and Brett Terpstra talked about, among other things, his blog.
[22:21] “So, my site does not post every day. I don’t promise to post every day, I very rarely post more than one thing a day. I’m not doing a Daring Fireball amount of volume of, you know, five or six links a day, or more — he does so many links. I can’t keep up with that stuff, so I don’t promise it — I don’t even start it. My site is just going to be posts when I have time, when I feel like I have something to say, and that’s it. And that just so happens that’s every few days, usually. And that’s fine: the advertisers know it, the readers know it — everyone knows it; expectations are met.”
Out of their entire conversation, this explanation in particular struck me. Marco runs a very popular website read by a huge audience of dedicated readers on a regular basis — essentially, what I seek to turn this blog into at some point in the future. Instead of posting every day though, as many would put forth as the single most important key to attaining literary success on the internet, Marco writes new articles whenever the muse strikes him, so to speak; at most, a few times a week. Yet, he has amassed a huge, responsive readership willing to follow him nearly anywhere. Taken in contrast to the mantra commonly held up as the one true path to any meaningful achievement resulting from this curious pursuit, I found Marco’s philosophy an interesting one. What’s more, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
Measuring one’s dedication to this particular genre of venture by tracking the number of posts he or she creates in a day makes no more sense than distilling a programmer’s worth to the number of lines of code they have added over a given amount of time. What happens when an entire function becomes obviated by improving another in a different part of the program? By the aforementioned metric, such a change must be counted as a net loss — the system has no room for a gray area or any ambiguity whatsoever. Similarly here, how do I account for changes to my CMS, minor design refinements, and additions to my newsletter with regards to my ultimate goal of generating new and useful content for a growing readership every day? I still have not updated my home page, yet these worthy pursuits are inextricably linked to the one I criticize myself for falling short in. These two units of measurement have similar flaws, and thus are equally useless in deriving any meaningful results.
I understand the necessity of giving readers insightful and thought-provoking work in order to keep them coming back day after day and thus expand one’s readership, but I now realize that my efforts do not have to take the form of one more in a long line of linked list posts. How many have I published in the past only to fulfill some self-imposed quota? No one visits my website to see me say, “I have been reading this article for a few minutes now, and I have to say that I really like it”, nor would I want anyone to: I want my voice, thoughts, and opinions to draw people to my work. Some days, I just won’t have anything to contribute. And you know what? That’s okay, because even if no one sees it, I am always working.