Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about journaling vs. blogging on this site, and how to balance between the two in a productive and beneficial way.
There’s an obvious psychological difference between words that intended for broader consumption, and those that are kept close and mostly to myself — consciously or not, there’s a certain self-censoring to one’s public-facing writings, as opposed to the more unstructured, impulsive, and emotionally honest relationship between a person and their journal.
However, I do think there’s room for both, and think that the public blog has more utility than one might expect in the journal/blog writing continuum.
When I decided to try and revive this webspace, I had two primary objectives.
The first was to hold myself accountable to the act of consistent writing – any significant length of time between posts would be readily noticeable to the curious / critical visitor, including myself.
The second objective was to do away with the fear of reprisal from broader consumption of my own thoughts and opinions: to leave little distance between my name and my writing, and to leave myself open to the public criticism, commentary, and consideration that putting your name and opinions the internet entails. In doing so, I recognize that I will occasionally be wrong, misguided, naive, or look stupid, and have to be okay with that.
As a general principle, I am a huge proponent of the importance of incremental improvement, the ability of one’s growth mindset to propel one’s learning and abilities throughout one’s life. From a personal standpoint, the skillset that is most important to me deals with the absorption of ideas, and my ability to impart my own interpretations and thoughts on these ideas coherently and cogently. Further, I believe it is crucial to learn from the responses and perspectives of others, who will only be able to respond to my thoughts with their own if I can express myself in a clear and structured fashion.
Therein lies the value of the blog – a repository for my own thoughts and a time capsule to be revisited by myself and others as I continue to learn and grow, while simultaneously a place to hone my ability to translate my thoughts into words, paragraphs, and blog posts.
Ryan Holiday recently reflected on revisiting his first book, Trust Me, I’m Lying, which he wrote and published at the age of 25:
When reviewing these pages — pages I’d hurriedly written and edited in my excitement to publish my first book — I wonder who the hell I thought I was. I’d studied and sat with the topic for how long? And here I was, printing words that could never be unprinted. I’m embarrassed by the certainty of it. As if it had never occurred to me to hedge my bets or entertain the possibility that subsequent events might prove me wrong. Why couldn’t I have said simply that this is what I thought at the time and knew to be true to the best of my ability? There’s a pervasive overdone-ness to so much of it. If there’s any proof of the ego’s insecurity, it’s there — in the fact that I have to put two sentences where one would clearly do, a big word where a simpler one would have sufficed.
And here I am now, regretting it, as I inevitably will regret parts of this article, and parts of the article I wrote last week and the one I will publish next week.
Not having had the privilege of publishing a book at 25, I can only imagine the feeling of revisiting your first book, after years and further published books that more accurately reflect how he seems himself today. However, I believe this ultimately only reflects positively on his evolution as an author, as a thinker, and as a human being. His ability to reflect on his initial writing with humility, and to have the distance and clarity to critically examining his younger self is a testament to the evolution that he’s undergone in just six short years. In my eyes, this reflects much more positively on himself and who he is today than the fact that his previous writing may have been immature, boorish, or incorrect.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book We Were Eight Years in Power is a truly fantastic collection of essays written during President Obama’s Presidency that dissect the broader context behind the President’s ascension, accomplishments, and legacy. Each essay is accompanied by an ‘up-to-date’ introduction that I found especially resonant. In these autobiographical pieces, Ta-Nehisi reflects on his year-by-year journey as a news reporter to a magazine contributor and blogger for the Atlantic to the author of Between the World and Me, his trials and tribulations from self-doubt and poverty, and his personal, professional, and intellectual evolution during Obama’s two terms.
In the book, he cites his blog, of which I was a faithful follower (but not contributor), as the place where the majority of his intellectual development and opinions were formed. During that span, he reflected on the books his was reading, openly solicited the thoughts, opinions, and supplemental reading and recommendations of his commenters and interacted with likeminded (and some non-likeminded individuals) on subjects that became the basis of some of his most lauded pieces. As he humbly recounts, it was those oftentimes anonymous contributors, as well as his desire to return to his blog day-after-day, week-after-week, that formed the basis of much of his later success as an author, thinker, and public intellectual.
One day, I hope to be able to revisit this blog with the same type of embarrassment and humility that Ryan and Ta-Nehisi see their earlier writings and blogs, and look towards this (and the internet in general) as a place where I was able to learn, grow, and develop. Until then, the onus is on me to continue to read and think, as well as compose my conclusions for all to see, consume, and criticize here on this site.