Write Less

I remember when I first became aware of blogging, a little over twenty years ago. The defining quality was that there were no preconceived limits on what you could, or should, talk about.

In a way, blogs were a sort of training ground for social media; for the putting-out-there of thoughts and opinions. I think that’s a shame, and that in the shift from blogging to social we’ve lost at least two valuable things. The first, of course, is ownership of our own words: social media takes your words elsewhere, and makes you go to that place to share them and interact with those who might read what you’ve said.

Mastodon is a bit of a half-way house in that regard, and it’s no coincidence that right now, Mastodon feels a lot like the early years of blogging. But we lost a second thing, too, and it’s even more important. We took away our own permission to write less, unless it was on someone else’s network.

There’s a pervasive and unwritten convention about this now. On social, content of any length at all is fine — and indeed the maximum allowed length is often very short, which reinforces the association. So, perniciously, our eager-to-simplify brains have decided that the converse is true for blogs: you can write only longer, weightier stuff. The sole possible outcome of this is the one I see all the time, which is that people are reluctant to start blogs because they think they don’t have enough to say. Those who do blog will often sit on pieces for too long, because they’re waiting until they have more to say — or they shelve pieces entirely, wrongly believing they’re too brief and thus somehow trivial.

Collectively, this is all a surrendering of creative output to the whims of external platforms, and is antithetical to what makes the web so useful and potent. To save content for social, or to self-censor according to an inferred false standard, is to cede not just ownership but also empowerment.

We’ve all seen how social networks can mutate into places we’re no longer happy to contribute to, but the real problem is that most of us let them become our path of least resistance for writing. Some things are absolutely destined for social instead of our own sites — lots of things! — but not everything.

If you’ve wanted to start blogging but felt reluctant, I’d like to invite you to shift your perspective. Write less, and be at peace with it. It’s your site, and your rules. Blogs were originally a kind of diary, and they were mostly repositories of short pieces, not huge articles. It’s an absolute fallacy that longer works are better, or more valuable; indeed, shorter pieces are more likely to be read and digested, which intrinsically increases their value.

Fewer words are fine. Social-length posts are fine. Link blogs are fine. You get to keep your own output, where you want it, and the form it takes is entirely up to you.

You only need to give yourself permission.