I was asked a question about building a good readership on a blog. This is my general response on how to get a good dialog going and really understand the people who read your site and connect with them --
It's a luxury you won't have later, though it's still worth doing when you can. I recommend that universally if you start writing. For the first half year or so I was blogging, I had about a dozen readers total, all people who already knew me. It grew slowly. But that was fine; I was having a good time and I was flattered that a dozen or so people would come spend 5 or 10 minutes with me each day.
As people I didn't know came to read more, I tried to get to know them. I don't have as much time to do so now, and more people read here, but I still try to when I get the chance.
If you ever start on a new form of writing or creativity, you want to do almost the exact opposite of the mass media style of broadcasting. You have the really joyful ability to get to know your readers closely. You won't regret it if you do so.
The Sources of Soviet Conduct is the finest piece of analysis on international relations I've ever read. It's maybe one the finest piece of policy analysis and writing of all time, and it's quite possibly one of the ten most influential documents in American history, greatly shaping America's policies from the end of the 1940's to the beginning of the 1990's.
The State Department official who wrote it, George Kennan, had a deep knowledge and love of Russian history and culture, and also recognized something monstrous in Josef Stalin's consolidation of power and the policies that flowed from that. He saw this much sooner than most people, far before others discerned the real nature of the Great Purges, and many decades before the Soviet archives were opened up and vindicated him completely.
The whole thing is a masterpiece of clear thinking and analysis. I've at times thought I had decent analytical ability and good insights; reading something like this makes me realize that there are depths of skill and wisdom far, far beyond my own.
It's long, and not all of it will make sense without a knowledge of the early Soviet period and particularly Stalin's actions, but anyone would get a clear-thinking boost from reading it. It's just -- what lucidity and amazing insight. I'm still a little surprised and awed that a human being did this on the timetables that Kennan did.
I was doing a little research and writing about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the brilliant military commander and statesman who founded the modern Republic of Turkey.
I kept getting surprised at how long it was taking me to get basic details down. Hundreds, maybe thousands of little contributing factors were all very slightly relevant to the Turkish resistance to the occupation, to the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, etc.
I kept having to dig in to events I didn't know -- the Young Turk actions, the Ottoman succession plans, the organization of the Ottoman army, the Ottoman economy and governance styles, regional relations and wars, ethnic groups and identities, and so on.
To do just a very short summary treatment of some of Ataturk's accomplishments -- one that I'm not even pleased with, since it doesn't get deeply into the heart of the matter -- this took me the bulk of three days.
I just shrugged this off. Okay, sometimes things take longer than we expect.
I’m not one to pontificate — and certainly not about maturity — but I feel very safe in making this statement very strongly —
A key component of emotional maturity is the ability to acknowledge, not flee from, and work through negative emotions.
I dare venture a step further and say that a large number of problems Westerners typically experience come from running from negative emotions. We’ve become so rich and developed such wonderful technologies and products that it’s almost always possible to find something to dissipate short-term negative emotions.
If your work is hard or confusing, there’s always a steady stream of entertainment around.
If you’re feeling low, there’s foods that are — quite literally — chemically engineered to ensure they have no fiber and an immensely pleasurable burst of sugars, salts, and fats to rapidly change that short term mood.
I've grudgingly and gradually come to realize that, in the long term, a person's life is a lot more like an aircraft carrier than speedboat.
This is perhaps why short-term motivation can't get the job done. To turn an aircraft carrier, you need miles of room out at sea, plenty of fuel, plenty of timing, and you need to coordinate with very many staff people on the ship and any pilots up in the air.
"I want to do better writing" -- this wish is almost always answered for me, but not promptly. It's like I've put in an order to an Amazon.com of Creativity and Achievement, but chose the slow free Super Saver Shipping.
Sure enough, a week or two later, my writing will start improving. Better ideas will come; perhaps my subconscious was working them for the entire 7-14 days, beginning very subtle movements and firing of engines and re-doing schedules so that the aircraft carrier can imperceptibly begin turning.
But I notice that, when I'm rapidly changing objectives and not seeing things through to completion, it's like I'm missing the deliveries as they come; I'm out-running my own resources; I'm running faster than things can be achieved.
We can get better at decisionmaking by training our judgment, can we not?
One aspect of better judgment is knowing when to engage in hard work and when to back off and let the answers come. We could call this latter way of doing things soft work.
If you're sitting and trying to solve a difficult problem, would you benefit from more focus and concentration on the matter at hand, or would you benefit from taking a walk or shower?
This seems to be a real key to productivity. If your mind is sharp but doesn't have the problemspace loaded, you'd do well to do some hard work, tear into the problem and get the gears of your mind turning.
Then, once it's loaded firmly in your head but progress isn't coming, it might be a good time to take a shower, go for a walk, go for a run, go buy groceries, cook, or whatever.
If you're selling any sort of product or service, do this. It's as close to free money as you're going to get.
Periodically write down, "The impression I want to give the world is ___________________."
Give that statement to someone smart, who cares about you, and who is ruthlessly honest (we all know someone like that, don't we?). And then ask,
"Where is the stuff I'm doing contradicting the impression I want to give to my customers and clients?"
Maybe your logo sucks, or your design isn't good enough, or having coupon codes doesn't fit with premium pricing, or maybe you come across harsh when you want to come across as gentle, or maybe you seem like you're only a fit for small companies when you want to show the world your capabilities for executing well on large accounts.
Sometimes I wind up on a sleep schedule that I dislike -- say, waking in the late afternoon and going to bed in the mid-morning.
Those times, I'll often "force normalize" my sleep -- meaning, I'll stay awake for many hours in a row, and then sleep a lot. So if I've been waking at 1PM and sleeping at 5AM and want my schedule to be earlier quickly, I'll sometimes just skip a night of sleep.
5AM will roll around, I'll have been awake 16 hours, and then I'll stay up another 12 hours -- to 5PM -- and go to bed.
I'll usually wake up the next day sometime between 4AM and 7AM, and then -- good.
If you've been skimming and reading fast, the basic idea is that if my sleep schedule is screwed up, I'll sometimes stay away sometime like 24 to 30 hours, and then sleep 11 to 14 hours, and then be back to normal.
I was just reading Ribbonfarm [note: if you like this blog, you'll almost certainly like Ribbonfarm] --
-- and I realized that I had a lot of well-defined, interesting, enjoyable work to do that I wasn't doing.
And I was on top of mind energy, start of day energy... the really good energy, the kind you don't want to burn.
I wasn't taking a break between work sessions. I just had accidentally drifted over there.
Ok, so, I'm writing this short blog post and getting back to work. It was interesting to catch myself, though. There was no good reason to be there -- and again, I love Ribbonfarm. But it was the wrong time to be reading there.
Just started re-reading Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" -- a nice, reflective book. Recommended.
Question for you: What's your ratio of reading a book new to re-reading something you've already read? I find myself, more and more, re-reading works I enjoyed and looking for more lessons rather than picking up something new.