Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How do I write so much, you ask? Well, glad you asked (sebastianmarshall.com)
155 points by lionhearted on Sept 4, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments

#11 FTA:

> 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.

That really resonates well with me. Blogging feels--at least to me--like an isolated platform. It's me writing, and people may or may not read. But the idea that the author presents here is almost like sitting in a room with friends and telling them a story. It's a nice image.

It really is a nice way to think about things. Once, an early Microsoft employee reviewed one of my games on his blog, saying he'd been playing it for hours and enjoying it. Surrounding the review were posts about taking his Ferrari racing on track days.

I got a huge kick out of the fact that he chose to spend those hours with my game, given the entertainment it was competing against... though to be honest, given the choice I'd take the Ferrari!

I came to make the same comment, though I do wish I could get a little more conversation out of those 15 guests, mainly because I tend to learn more from my writing when others tell me where I'm stupid.

So, is this one of the crappy ones or one of the good ones ;) ?

Agreed whole heartedly though, if you are a 'producer' there will be tons of stuff that is not fantastic but that might be useful to somebody.

The funny thing is that it is unpredictable, what will be appreciated and what not. Sometimes I fire off a 10 minute blog post and it gets retweeted for days or even weeks after, and sometimes I work for hours and hours on something and nobody cares.

I see the 'lower grade stuff' as taking a break from the other stuff whilst still keeping busy. Sooner or later you find yourself engaged with more interesting things again, if you 'broke the routine' just because you're not doing anything worthwhile you'd find your source of inspiration dried up pretty quickly.

So keep busy, by all means, and fail often, looking forward to the gems. Like this one: http://www.sebastianmarshall.com/?p=95

> So, is this one of the crappy ones or one of the good ones ;) ?

I don't think it'll ever go into a museum, but I'm hoping there's some value in there for people :)

> The funny thing is that it is unpredictable, what will be appreciated and what not. Sometimes I fire off a 10 minute blog post and it gets retweeted for days or even weeks after, and sometimes I work for hours and hours on something and nobody cares.

Isn't that the strangest thing? Yeah. Consistency of output leads to results.

> I see the 'lower grade stuff' as taking a break from the other stuff whilst still keeping busy. Sooner or later you find yourself engaged with more interesting things again, if you 'broke the routine' just because you're not doing anything worthwhile you'd find your source of inspiration dried up pretty quickly.

Great observation, this. I re-read it a couple times to get it down. Yes, even if the magnificent work isn't flowing, you keep going for inspiration.

> So keep busy, by all means, and fail often, looking forward to the gems. Like this one: http://www.sebastianmarshall.com/?p=95

Ah, cheers for the kind words. Didn't realize you read my site Jacques, gosh that pleases the hell out of me. By the way, I was so impressed by http://jacquesmattheij.com/The+start-up+from+hell - I won't say I enjoyed it, per se, I was cringing through a lot of it. But wow, what a story and learned a lot from it. Regular reader of your site as well, cheers for the kind words.

As an attorney, I’m always concerned that my writing will not be my best work and people will think that I suck. Or that something I write will come back and bite me in the ass when I run for office or get vetted for some high powered job. However, fear or perfectionism can be paralyzing. Even as an attorney, you have to produce a lot of crap to produce good stuff. Judge Posner comes to mind. He blogs, writes about everything under the sun, and is brutally honest about his opinions regardless of the cost. Some of it is probably not the best and some of his opinions are off the wall. He also happens to be the most cited American appellate judge. Ben Casnocha touched on this here: http://ben.casnocha.com/2010/05/career-lessons-from-elena-ka...

Contrast this with http://freestylemind.com/how-much-do-you-value-your-time , where Oscar contends that the internet is filled with mediocre content already, so traffic-wise you are better off to write less often but spend more time on each post than attempt to be prolific.

>> "You’ll get judged by your best work."

well till you get an audience, then they are going to watch your back and you cannot the do something always, good or bad rule. you will have to be cautious.

also there are cases where your best work gets ignored given the bad reputation of the bad work. As long as there is humans infer this will be there, it is extremely hard not to be influenced by previous work.

"Branches of science", eh?

I kind of think the moral of the story here is: "Wanna write a lot? Write crap! That's why I'm so awesome!"

It's true, of course, to an extent. "Writing crap" is absolutely essential in any creative endeavor. Otherwise that crap gets impacted, and the good ideas can't get out.

However, the editing and refinement process is at least as important, I think. If all you do is just write a lot, most of it being bad, it might just all stay bad. You have to be trying not to write crap, knowing that's what you'll often end up doing, and be ok with that.

It's the same in software development. Over-reliance on design can lead to analysis paralysis. Software is best when there's code first, and analysis afterwards.

It's probably worthwhile to have a dev branch and release branch in blogs, for the same reason as it makes sense for code. Friends and regulars can see the just-released content, but the mainstream page doesn't show anything that hasn't been vetted and carefully edited.

A few things, as someone with a daily blogging schedule myself:

1: Fixing permalinks on WP requires messing with MOD_REWRITE. It's not hard, it just requires some .htaccess stuff.

2: Really, you're absolutely right. It's a matter of getting on the horse and forcing yourself to do it every day. I've given myself SOME time off this year, but I've largely blogged 95% of the time this year. It's pretty important that you write and don't stop.

3: The getting judged on your best work thing is important. You can't blog assuming that every post you do is going to be a big hit with the right readers. But some will hit very hard. I've had a few that have connected VERY well – a thing I posted on Ikea's switch to Verdana, a post on BP's photoshopping, and general political stuff that's kind of the bread and butter of my blog right now – but the important thing is that I keep writing and I can improve the quality of my work as I keep going.

4: I'm a fan of having some basic ideas in mind but not relying too heavily on notes. I'll do a lot of basic research on a topic, grabbing worth-reading pieces from HN, certain bloggers of choice, hearting them in Pulse, e-mailing them to myself or throwing them on Instapaper, but I think it's better to let the sparks come to you on the fly. Sometimes, my best post of the day will be something I spent less than ten minutes on, because I was able to put an interesting twist on it.

5: Sometimes you get lucky. My blog's been linked by Andrew Sullivan a couple of times. The Atlantic Wire links to me semi-regularly. Slate linked to me once. I get the occasional follow or retweet from someone I look up to. And it's even led to some freelance work. But the more important part is that you're not doing it for those occasional notices (though they're nice). You're doing interesting things because you want to do them and you can give them an interesting, unique focus. And that focus builds you an audience.

Look, there's a reason why a blogger like Instapundit has an audience. His blog is anemically designed by today's standards. He might as well be using Twitter/Tumblr (rather than using Twitterfeed to link back to his page). But he's owned his style of blogging. Same with Daring Fireball. The key to blogging is finding a niche, or a unique way of saying things, and making it yours.

Once you have that focus, the daily blogging comes easy.

Some people, such as the author, choose to write every day. Others, like PG for example, post much less frequently (thus keeping the SNR much higher). For most people, I think the sweet spot lies somewhere in between.

Whenever I strive to do something every day, it ends up feeling forced or contrived, and inevitably the quality drops. (I might be atypical in that regard?)

Furthermore, I think there is such a thing as wearing down your audience. It’s like you’re lowering your own value. Sure, you might still produce really good piece on a weekly basis, but they live in the same house as all your other, potentially mediocre posts.

That said, I strongly agree that we should all try to write every day. I started blogging earlier this year, and only at that point did I realize how difficult it is. So, taking my first point into account – my suggestion is that you do write every day, but not necessarily share everything you write. A journal is good for this, or even write it on your computer without publishing it. Whatever works. By doing so, I think you still develop your voice and style, without obligating yourself to add to your blog every day. This approach has helped me avoid burnout. Plus, there's something I really enjoy about writing things just for myself.

My feeling is that you should produce a lot, but that doesn't mean you need to publish everything you produce. Writing every day is a good way to keep thoughts flowing (most writing self-improvement books recommend doing so). Publishing every day can be a good way to oversaturate your audience with drivel.

Yeah that's the thing really, writing every day helps your writing, publishing every day doesn't necessarily get you a better or more engaged readership. Most of us follow many peoples writing online, if everyone is writing everyday lots of it is going to be missed.

I wish more people would bold various parts of the article and break it up into sections like this - makes skimming much easier. I have been doing this on my blog for sometime and it's really the best thing for my readers. You can write the longest post ever but as long as it's well broken up and important parts highlighted/bolded you'll still get people commenting etc

I do this occasionally but never did it in earnest for reasons I hadn't really thought much about until I read "A list of N things": http://paulgraham.com/nthings.html .

You can write the longest post ever but as long as it's well broken up and important parts highlighted/bolded you'll still get people commenting etc

I would tend to say that if some parts are important and others aren't, remove the unimportant parts until there aren't any left, then publish what remains. This is another practice I use, although sometimes with more success than others.

Perhaps I misunderstand the industry, but isn't this how many photographers tend to operate? Sure, they're trained in technique, have a particular aesthetic, etc, but if you take 1000 pictures at an event and boil it down to the 20 "best" ones, you're going to be doing better than finding 20 out of 50?

Average does not necessarily mean crap.

This is an excellent blog, at least to me. I've stopped blogging for over 6 months, for one reason or the other. This will make me start again. Thank you.

As somebody who doesn't blog (and never did), I wonder if there is a difference whether you want people to follow your news feed or whether you market your articles on social news sites like this one. If it is news feeds, I'd say one of the things that make people stop reading a blog is too many unrelated articles with little original content. If it is social news sites a ton of mediocre, boring articles doesn't hurt.

The equal-odds rule is simply wrong. A few examples: Andrew Wiles, Charles Darwin, John Forbes Nash. These people produced a small amount of work, but they shook the earth. Some people are geniuses, and some are not. It appears rather that some geniuses are prolific while others are not. Examples of some prolific ones: Einstein, Serge Lang.

Edit: A commenter pointed out that Charles Darwin goes in the second list.

I think it is difficult to actually assess the veracity of the equal-odds hypothesis. You don't know how much Darwin or Einstein threw away, or how much of their stuff was irrelevant and forgotten.

I was just reading this: http://matt.might.net/articles/ways-to-fail-a-phd/ which notes that Einstein's phd thesis is both obscure and forgotten, and inaccurate compared to his later greatness.

I should add however, that the equal-odds thing is the way that i learned to be a better photographer. Shoot as much as you can, figure out what you did to take the good ones (I guess it's like the monte carlo method for artistic improvement).

I agree - there is a vagueness issue with the rule, and it is not obviously falsifiable. But as stated, the rule does not discuss unpublished works - it is a statement about published work, and the statement is that each scientist is throwing the dice when they publish, and there is nothing the scientist can do to increase his chances.

yes, fair point, the domain is published works. The observation about Einstein still stands though yeh? :)

Not sure I disagree overall, but Darwin isn't a very good example. He produced quite a lot of writing throughout a long career, and his most famous book, On the Origin of Species, came somewhat late (he was 50, and it was something like his tenth or eleventh published book).

Quite right - he goes in the second list.

There will always be outliers in any population. Assuming you are a genius so you only need write once or twice to be universally read is a good way to never be read. Assuming you are subject to the equal-odds rule means you will publish more and have a much higher chance of being read.

Sadly, you are only as good as your last piece of work - not your best piece of work.

The lesson here: if you have a tendency toward perfectionism, like me, fight it. Produce things, a lot of things. Let your abilities develop by actually producing. Don't try to make One Great Thing. You're probably wrong about which thing is your One Great Thing anyway.

I was just reading the new introduction that Ray Bradbury wrote for The Martian Chronicles. It came together from a bunch of "asides" that he wrote just for fun -- he wasn't taking them very seriously. Then an editor saw them and suggested that they formed a whole story.

A repost here but an important one:

> Back around the age of 19, I had started sending my short stories out for publication. My goal was to publish something (anything, anywhere) before I died. I collected only massive piles of rejection notes for years. I cannot explain exactly why I had the confidence to be sending off my short stories at the age of 19 to, say, The New Yorker, or why it did not destroy me when I was inevitably rejected. I sort of figured I’d be rejected. But I also thought: “Hey – somebody has to write all those stories: why not me?” I didn’t love being rejected, but my expectations were low and my patience was high. (Again – the goal was to get published before death. And I was young and healthy.) It has never been easy for me to understand why people work so hard to create something beautiful, but then refuse to share it with anyone, for fear of criticism. Wasn’t that the point of the creation – to communicate something to the world? So PUT IT OUT THERE. Send your work off to editors and agents as much as possible, show it to your neighbors, plaster it on the walls of the bus stops – just don’t sit on your work and suffocate it. At least try. And when the powers-that-be send you back your manuscript (and they will), take a deep breath and try again. I often hear people say, “I’m not good enough yet to be published.” That’s quite possible. Probable, even. All I’m saying is: Let someone else decide that. Magazines, editors, agents – they all employ young people making $22,000 a year whose job it is to read through piles of manuscripts and send you back letters telling you that you aren’t good enough yet: LET THEM DO IT. Don’t pre-reject yourself. That’s their job, not yours. Your job is only to write your heart out, and let destiny take care of the rest.

Elizabeth Gilbert, NY Times Best Selling author of "Eat, Pray, Love"


Shit My Dad Says put it a lot more succinctly:

“That woman was sexy...Out of your league? Son. Let women figure out why they won't screw you, don’t do it for them.”


So, did you get published?

I believe that was a quote, in case you missed it. See the bottom of the GP's post.

Ah ok, I thought a repost from her own stuff with a follow up link. I get it now. Sorry... (I should get more sleep).

Geeky way of saying a million monkeys at a typewriter.

This is Michael Jordan's philosophy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45mMioJ5szc

Ira Glass believes that some people start out producing work that isn't as good or match their good taste. It's after a lot of work, trial and error, and mistakes that the disparity between your good taste and your good work match up.

Be patient, keep trying, be confidant. I should have joined a football team.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact