The spark for this post comes from an article I read on Medium by @tomkuegler. “How To Become Ridiculously Self-Aware In 20 Minutes” is an article where he describes what made him turn to Journaling.
It’s a nice piece of writing and will give you some good insights about what journaling can do for you. The critique I can make is that it’s an article worthy of more depth. For me at least, it left me with a number of questions about his method, his routine and frequency in journaling.
This happens too often. A good writer will give you a nice headline and thought provoking piece that only skims the surface.
There is an important point to make. I don’t know Tom and from the little I saw about him, he looks like an Okay guy who I would share a drink with and have a good talk. This is not about him, it’s about us and how we don’t invest enough depth in most of what we write.
You have seen this happen a million times and it has happened to you. An article spikes your interest and 1 242 words later you don’t feel like you’re taking away more than some nice thoughts to keep in the back burner of your mind.
If the writing is good it will, at the very least, make you smile and leave feeling like you had a nice talk with a friend. Most of the times the writing is average, the information lacks substance, and you feel like you took a bite of a stale cookie. And this is not new. The stale blog posts are a great part of what populates the web and some areas are worse than others. Self help, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship blogs, social media and many other niche areas are filled with half baked content and stale articles. It is exhausting.
We have turned the web into this mass of click bait headlines and publications like Medium are trying to break through that clutter.
The scenery looks bleak, and even when I was listing good examples, the only ones that came to me were “Wait But Why”, and The Atavist Magazine. Although my list of podcasts and YouTube channels would add to this list, it falls outside the scope of written content. Please don’t let my lack of good examples discourage you. There are people who write with their heart, who make in-depth content easy to understand.
Some do it in a consistently and others are more sporadic in producing excellent content. That’s how life is, and it’s another reason why we should seek them out and shine a spotlight on their work.
We are not going to dive into the specificities of what should be “good content”. For now, it is enough to talk about articles and blog posts that offer some kind of rich content, insightful and useful. This vague definition is a result of my own shortcomings in writing, and it’s a way to include the casual bloggers into what is “good content.”
The burden of shining the spotlight into what is good content needs to be shared between writers and readers. In a way, that is what Medium tries to do. Writers get metrics on how they perform with each article, and readers get suggestions of good articles to read. Yet this model is breaking. What happens is that writers find ways to gather applause and recommendations. And on the other side of that fence, readers seem to have a low standard for what is worthy of that applause and recommendation. It’s just a click.
It seems that making it too easy to give recommendations is working against us. It should be a filter against click bait and witty titles when in fact it amplifies them.
If you are a writer of any sort, your name is always on the line. Your readership could be a million of people across the world or a small group of friends, you should always aim to do your best. This is a generic comment that should be on the mind of everyone, but it isn’t. It seems we invest less time in the quality of content because the barrier to write is so low.
Education and culture play a big part in solving this part of the equation. Writing, journaling or blogging in any way should be encouraged and given a level of importance high enough to warrant dedication. The pitfall in this idea is that it may discourage others to share their work because they feel it’s not good enough.
For publishers, the task at hand is to be able to filter what is worth the readers time and to not focus solely on the number of readers, page views, recommendations or books sold.
A way to do this could be to have editors and reviewers who don’t even know they are taking on that role. Imagine for example that Medium could pin-point a number of its users who have a keen eye for top articles. These people, who are the first to share and recommend what is quality content, could serve as their sounding board to find new featured articles. These users would not know they had such a role to play, and in that way wouldn’t let it influence their opinion.
For readers, it is easier. Simply don’t share or recommend something just because it is cool, it sounds right or it was written by a friend. It’s about keeping or critical sense at all times and not just when trying to sniff out fake news.
This last one will take longer to implement. Culture and society don’t change overnight and the current business model of most of the web gives more resources to writers who rely on ads. That is the subject of another post, about Jaron Lanier and how we need to remake the web.
On the process of Journaling
If you will allow, I would like to go back to my reaction to Tom Kuegler’s post. Otherwise, you can end your reading here without any hard feelings.
I’m not exactly sure that what I do is journaling. Most of the times I use this blog to drive attention to my work, to share small experiences and stories I like to write. A good writer will probably read some of those stories and consider them atrocious, which makes me part of the problem I have just outlined above.1
Yet I like to record these things and I don’t like to keep them to myself. Except for a part of what I write. When I miss someone who I can’t reach out to, I will sit down and write them a letter. All those letters are kept, yet it doesn’t make sense to share something so personal.
For the personal writing, it’s a matter of sitting down and getting thoughts out. Other things, that require research, begin with an empty text file where I dump all the relevant links and some ideas I would like to get across.
What follows is usually an afternoon spent writing until I am too tired or feel blocked. I then move on to finding the right photo or the right way to explain something. Some of the stories you find here have photos that were taken by me, sometimes after the content was written.
Another, the photos you see in the CryptoNovel section. Wether it is stock photography or some photo I took, I make sure that they all follow the same aesthetics. If you go into each chapter you will see that some of them are encrypted. It’s a puzzle story, where you have to unlock each chapter with clues from the previous. This means writing the story, programming the puzzle and testing to make sure it works across all computers. It’s for sure my most time consuming project.
Even while writing this post, I stopped halfway to programme the small pull quote you see near the 7th paragraph. That sentence didn’t add much to the line of thought, but it still felt important to mention.
My process of writing turns out to be a back and forth of code and words. And the things I write about are such a big disconnected mess that I have given up trying to label it all. Instead, I have long ago named this my “Digital Insanity” and made peace with it. To keep things somewhat in context, some of the writing is split into sections called stories.
It doesn’t make me feel super self aware like Tom Kuegler’s article suggests. It allows me to organize my head and to keep the published version as organised as possible. Sometimes, like today, the article will begin with one goal in mind, and finish at an unexpected destination.
This is not fishing for compliments or any measure of false modesty. It’s an actual uncertainty about the quality of what I produce. ↩︎
I had seen a man pushing a heavy cart, and he did ask me to watch over his stuff while he went for a smoke. From there, I began to imagine what was the story behind his trip. ↩︎