Quick Roundup 365.25

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

An average year consists of approximately three hundred sixty five and a quarter days. With this post, I have spent some time in the mornings of every day of an average year on morning roundup posts!

That's lot of morning roundups and a lot of time!

My birthday and the fourth anniversary of this blog will both come later this month, and today in particular is significant to me as a writer for reasons I will not discuss here. For all of these reasons, this is a natural time for me to reflect on what blogging has done for me as a writer and where I will go from here.

Notice that I did not say, "where I will go with it from here". To answer the obvious question, I probably will continue blogging here in some form. On top of wrapping up my work here in Houston and looking for a job in Boston (and all the extra effort and disruptions those entail), I have been considering, when I can, what my next steps will be as an opinion writer.

The "blog question" had been weighing heavily on me for some time, but the following brief paragraph from an essay on writing by Paul Graham put into words for me the best argument against stopping completely:

I think it's far more important to write well than most people realize. Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you're bad at writing and don't like to do it, you'll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated. [bold added]
I have seen this time and time again as a blogger. By looking at the latest news and commentary regularly, and making myself say something intelligent about some of it on a regular basis, I have kept myself fairly well up-to-date on factual material and enhanced my understanding of how philosophy influences history. Interacting with commenters has often added value to these efforts.

Regarding my understanding of what drives history, this has been not only on the more abstract level of developing a more subtle and immediate understanding of Ayn Rand's ideas themselves, but also, on the concrete level, of seeing how they apply to events as they unfold.

A "writer" who believes he has learned all there is to know about such matters is mistaken, and is really only someone wants to think of himself as a writer.

Having said that, blogging is a medium of limited reach, little direct compensation, and, beyond what I can do on my own, no quality control.

I'm not sure how much blogging I will be able to do. Too many details about my future life in Boston remain up in the air, particularly how much free time I will have and what kind of rhythm my daily routine will permit me to establish. All I can do now is consider what I want to do next. How I can shoehorn blogging in will come later, other than a few changes I may play with in the meantime.

My writing here has not been the entirety of my efforts at opinion writing. My blog has presented me with some additional opportunities, some of which I have been able to take advantage of, and some of which I have not. I have also worked on improving my writing, with some good results.

I think that I now have a firm enough grasp on how to write columns, and what went wrong on some of my past attempts, that it is worth my while to take my writing routine up a notch, to make myself produce a column and submit it for publication on a regular basis. Again, how often I can do this is a nagging question, but once every couple of weeks strikes me as doable, and regular enough.

"Regular enough?" you might ask. That has two meanings for me.

First, I am a creature of habit. I function best when I can incorporate something like this into my daily routine to the point that on some levels, I barely notice I'm doing it. A weekly column for this novice would probably be too hard at this point, and one less frequently than every other week would require a conscious effort at remembering to do it at all. (But still, if time constraints come to it, that would still be better than nothing.)

Second, I suspect that as with blogging, any audience comes to expect a "performance" on a regular basis. Readers, too, are creatures of habit, and the surest path to oblivion is to get their attention and then fail to produce what they want reliably: Someone else who does will take your following from you. At least that's what I think, extrapolating my own reading habits onto others. This will not initially be a major consideration, but it will become one if I achieve any degree of success.

So I want to produce columns regularly, using what I have learned about writing them over the past year. That will require a significant amount of discipline and effort on my part, but the good thing about that is that that part of my next step lies entirely within my hands. Getting the columns published does not.

My implicit goal as a writer has always been something like, "Analyze unfolding events using the powerful conceptual framework Ayn Rand left behind, in such a way that an average, thoughtful person can understand it." Part of that goal is to write in such a way, and part of that goal is to make such writing as widely available as possible. The first part is in my hands now, and the second part may never completely be there. Our culture is dominated by philosophical perspectives that are completely at odds with mine. At every step of the way from conceiving of a column to getting its words to smudge the fingers of someone reading a paper over breakfast will be hindered by this fact.

Most newspapers are dominated by leftists who will be hostile to my advocacy of capitalism. Conservative publications will despise me for being pro-choice, or anti-religion, or even pro-capitalist as soon as they catch me pointing out that freedom -- and the political goals of the conservative movement as it is today -- are at odds. And they will, because the very idea of writing something other than what is true and good is so alien to me that.... Well, I sat staring at the keyboard with writer's block as soon as I even thought of the alternative. That is something I simply can not do. Whatever that is, it isn't writing to me.

So it is with some sense of irony that I used the term "quality control" earlier. Even beyond many papers simply rejecting my work because of its perspective, my limited experience tells me that even down to the level of how to write, I will probably face criticism and rejection.

I will have to do my best to separate the issue of actual quality from that of the injustice I am sure to encounter. The best remedy for this situation, as far as I can tell regarding non-Objectivist publications, is to look for those that might be more likely to accept a piece written from my perspective without either butchering it or, worse, somehow using it to put words into my mouth. (That latter hazard rules out bothering with any Libertarian publication.)

I clearly have some more thinking to do about this matter, but this occasion has caused me to at least start thinking in terms of what I can do now. Before leaving off, I want to thank you, my readers, for your support, be it in the form of visits, comments, constructive criticism, encouragement, or friendship.

-- CAV

PS: This wouldn't be one quarter of a morning roundup without a link! I believe that this week's Objectivist Roundup will be hosted at The Crucible & Column tomorrow....


Paul Hsieh said...

You've identified a major positive to regular blogging/writing and one which I've also noticed. Namely, that it reinforces any "standing order" that you've given your own subconscious to be on the lookout for (1) good concretes that illustrate principles and (2) good ways of articulating ideas that you want to write about.

Ayn Rand described how aspiring writers need to give themselves these sorts of standing orders to be on the lookout for material and formulations to express their thoughts.

Hence, I think it's interesting that you've said something very much along those same lines -- was it inspired by either of her books on "The Art of Fiction" or "The Art of Nonfiction"?

Gus Van Horn said...

I was not thinking of either of those works by Rand when I wrote this, but if she discussed this in *The Art of Nonfiction*, it's possible that she deserves some credit for it being in the back of my mind: I've read that twice.

Brian Phillips said...

While I am relatively new to reading your blog, I have enjoyed it immensely. Not only do you offer astute philosophical insight, but you also offer introspective insight.

I find the latter particularly informative because it helps me "see" how another mind is working and how it wrestles with particular issues. Introspection is not a common practice, and it is even more rare to share it publicly.

As far as regular writing, in whatever form, while practice does not make perfect, it helps us move in that direction. Keep up the good work, and good luck on your future endeavors.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Brian, particularly for mentioning the value you get from the introspective posts, which I have always seen solely as "me thinking out loud", but have wondered whether readers get much out of them!