A few of my friends - three friends, to be exact - mentioned to me that I write a heck of a lot on here and they're impressed. I have convinced the ultra-smart Sami Baqai to start blogging, and he just got the holy-shit-this-is-hard-I'm-overwhelmed feeling. Ah, yes, I have been there Sami. Perhaps I can share some thoughts.
First and foremost, I am a huge devotee of the Equal-Odds Rule. As far as I know, I'm the only person talking about it outside of academia. This Amazon review covers it pretty well:
The equal-odds rule says that the average publication of any particular scientist does not have any statistically different chance of having more of an impact than any other scientist's average publication. In other words, those scientists who create publications with the most impact, also create publications with the least impact, and when great publications that make a huge impact are created, it is just a result of "trying" enough times. This is an indication that chance plays a larger role in scientific creativity than previously theorized.
So I read that, and I'm like - whoa. You know Neo in the Matrix? Whoa.
If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of stuff.
If you want to make a lot of stuff, you'll make a lot of crap.
If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of crap.
And my personal opinion here -
And that's okay, because you get judged by your best work, not your bad work.
At the risk of being honest, a lot of my writing here is crap. I mean, it's okay, it's not totally stupid, but a lot of it is very "meh" - well, by own estimation. But occasionally I really nail something, and that's what people are going to remember. A Lot of Victory is Just Walking Around turned out to be a huge hit and got hundreds of visitors from people Facebook-liking it, when I just typed it up on the spur of the moment. I thought it was good, but nothing crazy revolutionary - I was talking about noticing where business are in certain areas, and what businesses are missing that you could potentially build. I talked about putting a premium mechanic shop in an upscale district of Hong Kong I was walking around, or opening a coffee chain in Cambodia. People loved that, I got so many compliments and lots of new visitors, many of whom stuck around and are still readers. (Hi guys! Glad you stuck around) In retrospect, I guess yeah that was a good post. But it only happened because I wrote some very just-okay posts too.
Alright, but let's talk nuts and bolts more. Three things we've already covered this post -
1. I believe in the Equal-Odds Rule, which states roughly that a creator can't entirely control the quality of their output. In order to do high impact excellent work, you have to do a lot of work, which includes low impact not excellent work.
2. I think as long as you're not doing life-or-death stuff, it's okay to put out low quality work. Well, not really. I'm kind of a perfectionist. What I actually mean is you're going to be a bad judge of how good your own stuff is, especially if it's creative work. Don't put out anything wrong or terrible or lazy, but if something is okay and you gave it your best, put it out. People might like it, or might not, but you probably won't be able to know in advance.
3. You'll get judged by your best work. I've written up at least 150 articles over the last four months. If I want to present my writing to someone, I'll link to the best 10-20 and get evaluated on those. If I'm pitching something really important, I can always go edit and polish an even better version.
This is big stuff. This is the mental side of it. I happen to know how good Sami's writing is, because he and I swap emails and share ideas. We connected originally from Hacker News, and he's a super-sharp guy, very multi-disciplinary bright. But Sami obviously got some issues putting crap out into the world. He doesn't want do it. Well, Sami, you want to do great work or not? You're going to have to put some crap out to do great work. I know, it's hard. It sucks. Mind you, I don't want to put crap out. It's just, that's the Equal-Odds Rule, which I am a believer in.
Alright, nuts and bolts for real this time.
4. I commit to doing it every day, every single day no matter what.
5. My audience is whoever likes it - the site is written for me. If someone doesn't like it at this point in their life, they're not my audience for now.
6. Extensive notes/backlog - quotes, stories, pictures, ideas. Lots of this.
7. I accepted that I'm going to judged. I don't love it, but I accepted it. It comes with the territory.
8. Look at my first entries if you want to be inspired. Or any blogger's first entries. Or Seth Godin's "E-Marketing" book from 1995. Sort of cheesy - "MORE THAN $1,000 WORTH OF MONEY-SAVING COUPONS INSIDE" - but it doesn't seem to have derailed his career. Just the opposite, actually - we all gotta start somewhere.
A few tactical thoughts:
9. Post scheduling is good, especially if not going to be near internet. You can schedule when a post comes live pretty easily on any modern blogging platform. I don't like to do this too far in advance, because I want my currently published things to be whatever I want to talk about on the phone with people or in email since people do bring it up. But I often write a post before sleeping, and schedule it to go live a minute after midnight. That way, I'm not under time crush the next day to make sure I get a blog post in. If I want to write more, I'll write a second post that day. If I'm not sure about internet because I'm flying, I'll schedule two in a row, one for the next day, one for the day after, but I don't even do that too often. I like my writing to be whatever is on my mind.
10. Not worrying about perfection, just starting. (See the ugly links on here? ?p=193 or whatever? I hate them. It's okay though, eventually I'll figure out how to change them without breaking all my earlier posts)
11. Try to think of every visitor as an honored guest. If you think of "web traffic," 15 visitors is disappointing. If you think of 15 people deciding to spend time with you they could spend anywhere, and they're choosing to spend it with you - they're choosing to spend their life energy reading your thoughts - that's very cool and humbling, and suddenly chugging along with 15 readers feels pretty good. I had between 10 and 40 visitors for the longest time. The site is starting to blow up a little bit more, had 746 unique visitors on September 1st and have been above 200 daily visitors consistently recently, but I was pretty honored even when 10 people were stopping by for 4 minutes each. That's 40 minutes of life energy people are choosing to spend with you instead of somewhere else. Like, that's pretty humbling. Now I have 200 regular readers? Like, whoa. That's 800 minutes per day. People are spending 12 hours of life-time each day with me. Wow. That's cool. Even when it was 10 per day, I was thinking that was really cool and humbling.
12. On a very busy day, I'll just post a quote or a short insightful thought. I've got some quotes from Miyamoto Musashi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Marcus Aurellius, Thomas Jefferson, Sun Tzu, Carl von Clauswitz, and others lined up.
"The strong manly ones in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. Patience means restraining one's inclinations. There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, adoration, grief, fear, and hate, and if a man does not give way to these he can be called patient. I am not as strong as I might be, but I have long known and practiced patience. And if my descendants wish to be as I am, they must study patience." - Tokugawa Ieyasu
(well, I just fired one of my emergency blog post bullets. Ah well, it is a good quote)
13. Listen to audio at cafes with nothing else to do. Sit there, have coffee, listen to smart audio. Ideas will come. Jot down a note.
14. When you have a good idea, write it down. I have a "shorttermblog.txt" on the desktop of my laptop, and there's at least dozens of ideas written down in there. Sometime or other I'll talk about Roman Emperor Septimus Severus made a huge mistake making his two sons Caracella and Geta joint-Emperors. Dude, Septimus, that never works...
15. Have fun. I mean, really have fun. Look at my "Some General Life Goals" - "carrying self like rich dickhead" is on the list. After I already took a screenshot of my computer, I realized that was on there. I thought about censoring it. Nahh, whatever. Someone could judge me? Yes. Someone could get offended? Yes. I just wrote up another post, "Arguing With Peasants Shows a Lack of Self-Discipline" - I thought to myself, "Do I really want to write that?" Am I going to get asked on some news interview sometime, "So, you think you shouldn't argue with peasants, do you?" in a really sanctimonious, judging tone that makes me look bad? I don't know, maybe. Probably? Whatever. It's actually how I think. I read some insight from economist Vilfredo Pareto about how the peasants never actually take control of the government, instead one elite uses the peasants to kill off the other elite, but the peasants themselves never take power. Reading that, a lot of things clicked. I said, "Ohhh, I shouldn't argue with peasants who believe they can really take power." A lot of peasants are backing their team - well, have fun in your new worker's paradise Socialist Soviet Republic. Idiots. Will I catch flak later because I shared my honest opinion about this? Maybe. But whatever, it's how I think. This is a relatively new feeling for me, in the past I always tried to be diplomatic, and now I'm more and more just saying what I'm actually thinking. It's actually enjoyable in its own strange way.
16. That leads me to the final point, which is you gotta remember this is all a circus. Life is really a circus. Are you such a big deal that you can't be embarrassed, or make a mistake, or do something wrong? No, you're not. You're not a big deal. At least, I'm not a big deal. I'll say some stupid shit at some point, and get embarrassed, and look bad. Oh well. If things break the right way, I'll also found branches of science, inspire people, build amazing businesses, found charities that actually work, make art, fund art, fund science, build a virtuous international dynasty, and all sorts of other stuff. But if I try and fail? Well, whatever, I'm not such a big deal. I can be embarrassed. It's okay if I get something wrong or say something stupid. Most of what we obsess over is going to turn to dust anyways.
My favorite poem: Ozymandius by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
This is all coming down, man. Turning to dust. Life's a circus.
Now, some people have this attitude of, "Well, all this doesn't matter, so I'm just going to party, or do nothing, or whatever." Me? No way! I think, "Well, most of this doesn't matter, so I might as well found branches of science, do great works, build amazing things, make art, write, fund things, build things, fix things, serve people, and otherwise do amazing stuff."
I mean, why not, right?
On the tactical level, I'd strongly recommend committing to writing every day. Every single day, something. Even something small. People liked "Sun Tzu says - Make It Look Easy" and that was just a short quote I picked up listening to the Art of War.
Look at my early posts, if you like. A lot of them aren't very good. But you start doing it every day, every single day, and you get better pretty quickly. You start noticing what people like, and tweaking your works, and it'll come. Just accept that your early work is going to suck, and even later some of your work is going to suck, and cherish every visitor. I'll add you to my RSS reader and I'll stop by from time to time, so there, you've got at least one visitor. Do it every day, eh? You'll suck and make crap for a while, and then you'll do good stuff, and in not-very-long you'll do some awesome stuff. Tone is hard to get, but it comes with time. Every single day is the way. Something, even just a quote. You'll find the theme later. Now, get started, eh?
Favor request from Sebastian: Does the bold in the post help you read or get in the way? The post came out to 2200 words, so I went back and bolded for skimming. Helpful or harmful? Your opinion will affect how I format future posts - please let me know in the comments, and thanks for the feedback.
Edit: Oh, the irony. Not my best post by any stretch of imagination, but it becomes my first to hit the front page of Hacker News. Discussion on HN is here.