The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Short Trip From Insight to Tired Cliche

(Ed Note: This post was actually written yesterday, but never actually published because I didn’t have time. True to form, I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. last night writing a post about Henry Louis Gates’ arrest. This morning I discovered it was never published either, and if it still exists, is on my computer at home. Which means unless I can find time to rewrite it during the workday, even though I’m not even supposed to be writing this note write now, it probably won’t see the light of day. After all, who’s likely be reading on a Friday evening? Few, judging from statistics. And by Monday it will all have been said. So, lesson learned? The universe is telling to give up. I shoulda just gone to bed.)

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


  1. I would say write shorter pieces – this is a blog, not a column. I can see you really mean to say a lot, and you do and I like reading your stuff, but they are looooong and remind me of Dostoevsky.

    Just like you only have 10 minutes to post, people goofing off at work to read your blog only have so much time to read your good stuff. I say share your point of view on a particular topic du jour, but avoid a complete academic analysis of the subject.

  2. I guess I should stop trying to offer something that people might not find elsewhere. That’s the reason for the longer pieces. I read so much that by the time I start to write, I want to do more than parrot what I’ve read 100 times already somewhere else. It’s easier to just link to what others are saying. I’m not sure what the value is in that, or how to do it different.

    I need to do some thinking about what I want, and if it’s even possible for me to do, or worth it to keep trying to do this.

  3. Given my propensity to be long winded and wordy I can fully relate to the dilema you’re experiencing.
    As a new blogger used to writing short stories I’ve a few hurtles to overcome as well. Not surprisingly a friend was just remarking this morning about my looonnnngggg postings, and that given our short attention spans few will be reading longer pieces.
    Thanks for you thoughts. Either way I won’t stop reading your work. And that’s the long, and the short of it.

  4. Maybe you’d like to know, I’m a loyal reader and I don’t care about how late you are on a subject, I still find it enlightening to read your opinions on them. You are so thorough and such a good writer and I don’t have the time or interest to keep up with the rest of the blogosphere. Just because someone says something before you get the chance to post it doesn’t mean no one will read it when you do.

  5. I also struggle with a tendency to write far too long posts, but I don’t worry too much about being late to the discussion.

    I tend to use fairly recent history as a jumping off point for discussion of underlying issues that don’t really go away. And honestly, I write mostly to think things through. I’m thrilled to find people who feel the same, but I’d be doing it anyway.

    As for who I read – I read both long and short blogs. For me the important thing is authenticity and a unique perspective.