My pal1 Ben Brooks has been working toward publishing 50,000 words during the month of November over on his site, his take on the popular NaNoWriMo challenge. It’s an incredibly ambitious goal for an independent blogger of integrity.2 As of November 15th, he’s not quite halfway there, but I bet he can pull it off.
Ben’s digital loquaciousness has given me a chance to reflect on my own slowing down around these parts. Or rather, it led me to question: am I slowing down? How much? Why? And what can I do about it?
So I downloaded ye olde archives, tossed them into Ulysses and did a very unscientific3 word count. So here it is, my word count by year since 2009 (excluding this post).
- 2009 — 72,194 words in 111 posts
- 2010 — 58,944 words in 72 posts
- 2011 — 63,377 words in 125 posts
- 2012 — 134,381 words in 406 posts
- 2013 — 37,828 words in 113 posts
- 2014 — 19,689 words in 57 posts
- 2015 — 24,658 words in 56 posts
As an aside, I should mention how insane it is that Ben wrote more in the first two weeks of November than I wrote in all of 2014. What a nutjob.
So what can I learn from these numbers? There is definitely a slowdown, but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. I’ve already written more this year than in 2014, which is a huge surprise to me. Also, I had no idea that 2010 was an off year. In my memory of publishing this site, every year was bigger than the last until 2013, but that turns out not to be the case.
In March of 2011, I started writing link posts, which are usually pretty short. That, I assume, is why 2011 and 2013 have almost the same number of posts but hugely different total word counts.
And then there’s 2012. There’s just no question: it was a prolific year for me by any single metric you look at.4 I think when I look at the candler blog through rose-colored glasses, it’s 2012 that I’m thinking of. I was writing more and getting linked to by the people and sites I respect all over the web. When I moved to Austin that year, I even briefly considered going fully independent with this site, because it really seemed possible at the time.
So what happened? The first thing I wondered was whether or not my tweeting was getting in the way. I downloaded my Twitter archive and tallied up my tweets per annum just to be sure:
- 2009 — 1,493 tweets
- 2010 — 2,430 tweets
- 2011 — 1,869 tweets
- 2012 — 7,184 tweets
- 2013 — 7,062 tweets
- 2014 — 6,466 tweets
- 2015 — 3,634 tweets
I was expecting to see my tweets dip in 2012 as my publishing here went up. Nope. Instead 2012 was the year I did the most tweeting.5 However, I do think tweeting starting scratching an itch I used to work through here. Here’s what I think happened:
- In 2011 I started publishing short link posts, all while still getting my sea legs as a blogger and as a Twitter user.
- In 2012 everything fired on all pistons. I was tweeting and blogging at full force.
- In 2013 link-type material started getting tweeted instead of blogged about.
And then I never really got over that. Today I’m much more inclined to tweet a link than publish something about it here. Not everything I tweet would have made much of a post here, so this is really all anecdotal (read: totally made up). But it’s a feeling somewhat legitimized by the numbers.
Should I tweet less? Probably, but I’m already doing that to little effect. So what’s the solution?
Last week James McCormick put the following on Twitter and it struck me hard:
"Son, write what you know. Write what you don't know. But above all else, just fucking write. The rest, the words, are easy." Kurt Vonnegut— Fistful Of Brains (@fistfulofmedia) November 17, 2015
This needs to be made into a poster. (Here’s the context of the quote.)
I’ve written before about what I think causes me to ratchet down my publishing, usually related to the futility of writing on the web6 or some other excuse. So is it that, or is it the length of the articles I set out to write? Or is it how much I tweet? Does it matter if I read fewer books in a given year (I only read three in 2012!) or how many movies I watch?
It’s all of that and more. And that’s all bullshit too. There’s no simple answer other than to just write.
Just. Fucking. Write. Above all else.
I think I can do that. I’ve done it before, that’s for sure.
We email and tweet at each other sometimes; a modern friendship.↩
A professional blogger with none would have no problem hitting this in under 30 days.↩
Included in the total word counts are metadata, like tags, categories, date published and such. I wouldn’t consider those written words, but it’s sort of canceled out since it’s included on every single post. Also some posts have been written by others over the years: I’m including those too even though they’re not words I wrote. Like I said: unscientific.↩
Including site analytics, but I don’t really want to get into that for the purposes of this post.↩
Not included: the 25 tweets I wrote in 2008 before starting the candler blog. My first one remains one of the most prescient things I’ve ever written.↩
“Social ate websites, and BuzzFeed ate everything else.”↩