Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Why I write such terrible blog posts

[The title of this post is a reference to Nietzsche, not self-deprecation.]

At Digressions & Impressions, Eric Schliesser provides useful advice for anyone considering starting a philosophy blog. Here's his advice, in a series of short quotations:
  1. the first thing to reflect on is who are you, or do you imagine, writing for?
  2. The hardest problem is to figure out what persona you will project in order to connect with your audience given the ideas you want to discuss.
  3. You should really research different kind of blog providers--not just their fee structures, but also their permissible templates, the capacity of the templates to do what you want to do with the blog, and the explicit restrictions of speech they impose.
  4. The most important point about frequency is that it needs to be fairly regular--certainly while you are developing your blog and audience.
  5. write a good comments policy, so you can re-direct the aggrieved to it.
  6. it's good to set some rules for yourself about when you post and when you check comments (etc.)
  7. if you use a blog to develop new ideas or new interests, you run the risk of looking like an amateur or worse. 
This blog doesn't check too many of these boxes:
  1. I really don't think about this kind of thing much. Mostly I write for "people like me," whoever (or whether) they might be
  2. Ditto
  3. I use the one that was free and easiest to use. I have no regrets about that so far
  4. When I started I tried to post something every day. I haven't managed to sustain that, which is probably just as well. I do try to post something every week, and I don't mind posting trivial things (because it's only a blog) but I never post just for the sake of posting something. 
  5. I haven't done this, and haven't felt the need until recently. I delete spam and the remains of comments whose authors have deleted their content, but I haven't yet deleted anything else. Perhaps I should, but there's something to be said for not destroying evidence. It's also not clear to me whether not feeding the trolls is better served by deleting their comments (could that be a form of feeding?) or ignoring them completely.
  6. I don't do this, although I do sometimes avoid looking at the blog if I don't think I have time to reply thoughtfully to whatever comments might be there.
  7. I'm pretty sure I run this risk. Caring about how you look makes sense in a job interview, but it doesn't seem very philosophical. And I'm pretty sure that there aren't any great jobs that I would have been offered if only I hadn't written that stupid thing online.     
Schliesser's advice is genuinely helpful, I think, but mostly for people aiming to attract a big audience. 


  1. germane:

    Reflecting a little more I realise that there is one further factor. I use the web as a way of thinking through the things that I am writing. I never assume that anyone reads it even though I do get emails of criticisms, objections, further thoughts etc. But one such regular interlocutor was a delightfully polite and thoughtful correspondent, an independent scholar and, where philosophy was concerned, something of an autodidact.

    Sadly, he emailed and then later talked to me on the phone in Autumn to tell me he was dying and to give me his books. Before I had chance to visit him himself, he died. I realised, afterwards, that having had a particular audience in mind, even one I never met or talked to, gave even anonymous publishing on the web a more concrete purpose. Without it, it seemed less worth the candle. Goodbye and thanks, David Yates.

    1. What a sad story. But I'm glad to know about David Yates.

  2. i do wonder what peoples' expectations are in relation to what how many times say an academic paper or journal are read? i always appreciate the work in progress quality of some blogs, and the invitation to converse, thinking thru and with, and not just reporting if you will.
    unlike conferences or the like where there is never really time or space enough for such exchanges.

    1. Me too. Schliesser's points 4 and 6 are probably why more people don't blog--if you don't post often enough people will stop checking in, and then you might as well just put drafts of papers online rather than have an actual blog. But if you overdo the frequency of posting, commenting, etc. then you can use up a lot of time that you probably ought to spend on other work.