I joked with someone yesterday that lately I don’t write about anything until a week after it happens or nobody cares — or cares to read about it anymore. It took me a week to finally write about George Tiller’s murder, and another week to finish with it. It took me a week to finally write about finally write about the Sotomayor hearings, and I’m not done yet. (Though now I question the point of doing so when it will take me another week to finish, during which I’ll not writen about a whole raft of things.)
In both cases, the subjects were so exhausted by the time I got to them that I had to reach pretty far to find something to say that hadn’t been said a milion times already.
I’d like to write about Henry Louis Gates’ arrest. But here’s the reality. I have about ten minutes left in my lunch break. I won’t have time to write about it at work, because that’s not what I get paid to do. I could try to write about it on my way home, but I won’t finish. I could try to write it at home, but that won’t happen until the kids go to bed. I might be able to start, I probably won’t finish before I have to go to sleep, in light of my 5:45 am alarm, at which point I will star the process above all over again.
Meanwhile, thousands of people who do have time to write about it are doing so while I do all of the above. A lucky few might even make a living doing so.
I inevitably read much of their work. That puts me in the same position as the guy who wrote this description of why I write less and less.
Hi. I may be a little unhelpful this morning as I’ve been sidetracked by my column, which is about the Skip Gates episode. This kind of story is God’s gift to columnists—offbeat, bizarre, full of comic detail, and yet touching on all sorts of important issues. Trouble is, all columnists are going to be tempted by it, and there may not be enough aperçus to go around. The Web both helps and hurts in such a situation. It helps in that you can check what all the bloggers and other columnists are saying to make sure that what strikes you as a brilliant insight isn’t actually a tired cliché. It hurts in that the journey from fresh insight to tired cliché takes about half an hour rather than a couple of days.
And what’s the point of being person no. one-million-and-one to repeat a tired cliche?
The only choices I feel I’m left with are to write longer pieces, in an effort to find some aspect of a story or some insight that hasn’t already been flogged to death. Of course longer pieces take longer to write, and require a lot more work in terms of reading and putting together ideas.
Which is, in some ways, a huge trap, because you’re doing it for fewer readers.
You don’t post often enough. People click on a website regularly when
they expect it to have new content. If you’re a thoughtful writer who tends to write longer essays then you’re at a disadvantage. On the other hand, Glenn Greenwald provides a pretty good model of how to make this work: generally one post per day, followed by a couple of updates, and some participation in his comments section. Oh, and truly excellent, original, and important content.
Of course, “truly excellent, original, and important content” is subjective. At this point, one could write just as well as Glen Greenwald and still not get many readers because, well, you aren’t Glen Greenwald or fill-in-the-blank-with-another-big-name, now are you? And, anyway, nobody’s paying you to do this. (In fact, you’d better hurry up because the people who do pay you are going to check in soon to see if you’re doing what they pay you to do.)
The other option is to just link to all the people who’ve already said all I’d like to say in another digest post, often just to have something new posted to that this blog doesn’t appear to be completely dead.
Is there value in just repeating what’s already been said, so that I can at least say it? Why would anybody read that, if they’ve heard it all before? Is there value in posting list after list after list of other people’s writing? Is there value in writing long thought pieces that almost nobody reads? (I’m down to about 1/3 the readership I had a couple of years ago, probably because of less frequent posting, uninteresting digest posts, and long drawn-out pieces that fewer people want to read. But I can’t knock off quick posts as soon as a story happens anymore. So what to do?)
At some point, neither seems like a good choice and both seem rather pointless. But I’m still here beause, well, I don’t know what else to do, and I have nowhere else really to do this.
Oh, and I was so focused on getting this written in the limited time I had, that I forgot to eat half my lunch. I just ran out of time. As usual