Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

It's hard to write with no audience

This blog has long been for my own benefit, and that's not really about to change soon... but I'm also reflecting a bit on why I started blogging in the first place. Part of it was a desire to become better at writing.

But, like I tried to say in my last post about programming, just doing a lot of something doesn't necessarily make you better at it. I still have this idea that when I've written one million words on this blog, I'll "archive" everything so links still work but otherwise fundamentally redesign the site so that it's just a categorized collection of stuff, like Gwern's site, and maybe some old stuff can be salvaged or lightly rewritten as "best hits". I'm currently at only ~400k words, though.

But if you include my Hacker News comments, plus my private journal, I'm at ~900k words! So surely I've long passed the "million words" point as far as lifetime output is concerned. So as far as redesigning this blog goes, part of it's just laziness. Besides, I'm not looking for a job right now, so I don't need to be overly concerned about easy-to-find cringe (which this blog is full of).

Anyway, I don't think I'm all that better at writing now than when I started. In some aspects I may in fact be worse... I haven't even attempted to write any fiction in many years, and last year I couldn't even do my at-least-once-a-year poem/crappy-rap.

In 2015 I got a good review from a teammate at my job, he praised my technical writing, especially my spike documents. I was surprised, and still am somewhat, that anyone would find that praiseworthy, but on reflection I did try to think about my audience for so much of what I wrote on the job. In my sole interaction with HR years later where I complained about unaccompanied children roaming the office, the HR rep praised how carefully I had written my email (which was as clear a sign as any that I should never, ever underestimate HR). I suspect my best writing is now lost to the corporate backup dumpster, though some of it is unattributed public customer-facing documentation. Oh well. Perhaps if I write for an audience that's not just myself, I can produce things I'm happy with again... At the same time, I don't have anyone right now I want to write for, other than myself. Internet fame isn't really something I want, attention just brings annoyances. I'm honestly happy for this blog to be obscure and unread, it's enough just to have an archive of some thoughts.

And it really matters to have an actual audience. Like, it's one thing to write e.g. API documentation "for a programmer (like me)", it's another to write it and actually have another programmer that's not you read it and give feedback. Writing with mental models of actual other people in mind is much better than writing with an imagined mental model of yourself in a different situation.

On the constructive side, the single best thing I can do for my "natural" writing is to be less parenthetical. When I'm actually trying to communicate I do actively try and get rid of them. But for my blog, or journals, or whatever, parens ahoy! I also have a habit of making things needlessly dense if I want my point to be either read or ignored (TLDR), but at least not skimmed and thus even more likely misinterpreted. This is usually only the case in low-caring net arguing.

Posted on 2021-09-30 by Jach

Tags: personal, thought


Trackback URL:

Back to the top

Back to the first comment

Comment using the form below

(Only if you want to be notified of further responses, never displayed.)

Your Comment:

LaTeX allowed in comments, use $$\$\$...\$\$$$ to wrap inline and $$[math]...[/math]$$ to wrap blocks.