This image from some goal factoring I did 2 years ago basically sums it up. It’s worth noting that this was originally part of a much larger graph, with hundreds of nodes and edges, and I just clicked on the action node “write blog posts” and exported all nodes that it had an arrow to. Also: despite the hundreds of nodes, this goal factoring chart wasn’t at all complete—for instance, it seems from the post that “have a successful blog” is a terminal goal of mine, i.e. something that I just want, no matter what. This is… not quite true :P. Also there are definitely reasons I want to become smarter beyond seeming smart. That’s not even the main reason.
Anyway, I figure (in part because I need to write more words for my blog post writing month (this post was written in November)) that it’s worth elaborating on various pieces of this.
This is a pretty simple one, but important to include because when I forget that I enjoy writing I often tend to feel more angst about trying to get myself to do it. That angst is totally wasted, because it’s a thing I actually feel basically totally aligned about. I wrote a bit about this in my 2013 yearly review: “What broke me out of this [despondent funk] was when I realized that sometimes even things I really enjoyed doing, like blogging, I wouldn’t bother to do if I didn’t kind of force myself to do it. Turns out motivation is complex.”
I don’t find it super easy to have extended thoughts just in my own head. Talking with other people helps, but then it’s either a dialogue or it’s me ranting at them for hours on end. With writing, I get to think continuously for several hours, and get a better look at my thoughts. This is especially true when I’m writing for an audience, because
a) they’ll often give me feedback on my thoughts
b) me knowing that people are going to give me feedback causes me to automatically imagine what feedback they might give, which makes it easier to critique my own work
A lot of my writing is me building models of things. Sometimes these are models of me, or of my behaviour/habits/productivity… other times these models are about my business, or about other aspects of the world. At any rate, this process of trying to create working models of things has been really valuable for me making sense of things. Often, when I begin writing a particular blog post, I have a medium understanding—enough to feel like I have something to say. By the end of the post, I have a relatively advanced understanding of the thing I’m talking about.
As I mentioned in my recent post about building a model of teasing (in which I made the entire model, just for myself, before the post) my blog posts tend to represent only an hour or two of modeling, and they rarely get refined later. Interestingly, this blog post itself is also an example of a model that was created (in this case by goal-factoring) before I started writing the post.
In the goal-factoring diagram, I put that “self-understanding” would help me figure out what I want. I’m reflecting that I don’t think my blogging has done a lot for me on that front lately. I think that in part that’s because I haven’t been writing as much about what I want, and more about external things, or about how I’m planning to get what I seem to think I want.
The above answers are all mostly about the process of writing itself. This is particularly salient to me this month, since I have a commitment to writing ~1700 words every day… but most of those words aren’t going to get published for awhile. I expect most of them will eventually, but I’ve got a lot of editing to do. Why do I do that and then hit the publish button?
I recently spotted this image on twitter showing an uber driver who has an FAQ in their car.
The person who posted the image said “I like how it’s basically introvert helper” but honestly this FAQ helps everyone. It means that the uber driver doesn’t have to answer repetitive questions about their job as an uber driver. It also prevents another issue, where the passenger asks something like that casually, hoping for a one-sentence answer, and instead gets a lengthy exposition that lasts the whole ride. With the sheet, if the rider becomes disinterested while reading, they can just stop reading, rather than choosing between rudely interrupting or listening to someone tell you something you’re not interested in.
This is all super related to my blog. One of the first things I blogged about was my polyphasic sleep attempt. When I was doing it, I used to get tons of questions from friends and strangers about how it was going, what it was like, and so on. It was really convenient to be able to just write the answers to those questions once, publish a blog post, and then direct future inquiries there. Of course, one needs to be careful about overdoing this, e.g. maaaybe don’t tell your mom or your boyfriend to go read your blog instead of answering their question.
But the awkwardness of answering friends’ questions with a blog post instead of newly-composed words is much less for me now, in part because I have friends who are used to that sort of thing, but also because I’m not so much blogging updates about my life but rather my models of things and my positions on various topics. So people generally really appreciate having a decent-length, well-thought-through piece to read from me, rather than just a cursory answer.
And, like the situation with the uber driver’s note, it lets me offer them a long explanation without forcing them to engage with the whole thing. If you realize halfway through a post that it’s not interesting, you either switch to very fast skimming until you’ve technically finished it, or you leave. No big deal. And then of course, like the uber driver as well, I very much enjoy having conversations about all of this stuff. The conversations are just more interesting once I’ve already shared the groundwork of my perspective with someone.
This is related to the point above, but worth distinguishing. When I was at EA Global this summer, I ran into someone that I’d met once only a few years before. She was super excited to see me and talk with me, because she’d been following my blog that whole time and so she had all of these jumping off points for good conversations. And then I actually ended up couchsurfing at her place for a bit. All of this facilitated by a conversation I hadn’t even realized I’d been having.
With at least half of the posts I publish, I get someone reaching out to me directly to tell me how the post changed the way they thought about something. In one case I even managed to cure someone’s arachnophobia, just with a blog post.
And, like local politicians only hearing from a small fraction of their constituents, I’m sure that my impact has actually been larger than that, but that in many cases I haven’t heard back. It’s likely that in some cases the people themselves don’t even remember where they got that insight from.
I’m a bit amused that my 2013 goal factoring chart includes the goal “be a thought leader”. I honestly don’t know now if I was using the term ironically at the time. At any rate, having this blog has been valuable for causing there to be many more people in the world who know who I am and like it. So far I’m digging small-scale fame. I don’t know that I want to become known to hundreds of thousands, but it’s pretty cool to have a stranger come up to me and say, “hey, you’re Malcolm Ocean, right? So cool to meet you!”
The “prominent web presence” afforded by my blogging has also helped me promote other things I do, notably my productivity app, Complice. I can attribute at least a couple dozen referrals directly to blogging, and I expect there are many more cases where my web presence in general helped people gain the confidence and trust in me such that they decided to try it out.
And, well, it’s not ebooks as the goal factoring chart posited, but this has totally been helpful for my passive income, and by extension my freedom to do what I want with my life.
Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for achieving your important goals.