The idea of setting up a personal blog has been swirling around in my head for some time, but I’ve never before managed to shake the nagging suspicion that to write about my own experiences, ideas, life etc, would be unbelievably narcissistic and should therefore be avoided at all costs.
However, I recently came across Derek Sivers via the Tim Ferriss Show (great podcast btw), and he referenced the book ‘Show your Work’ by Austin Kleon. So because of that book, and because the New Year is a great time for starting new things, I’ve decided to kick this blog off with a somewhat meta post attempting to convince myself that blogging is a good idea.
I’ve structured it as a “listicle" because that means I don’t have to spend too much time thinking about structure, and can spend that time catching up on the Medicine work I should have been doing over the Christmas break.
- “No one will care what I have to say"
- “I'm not good enough to write about this"
- “People will think I’m really self-centred if I’m writing about my own life"
So let’s address these concerns in turn, and attempt to come up with some kind of justification for why they’re invalid. Before doing so, a quick disclaimer: The responses you’re (hopefully) about to read are by design, very specific to my own circumstances. I hope that some readers will be able to draw parallels with their own lives, and may perhaps move a step closer to sharing their own work/ideas, but if anyone’s looking for a proper convincer, please do read ‘Show your Work’. That said, let’s jump straight into it.
Concern 1: "No one will care what I have to say"
This concern naturally stems from the general insecurity that what we have to say isn’t interesting to anyone else. I mean, who would care what some random 20-something has to say about anything at all?
The ‘correct’ response to this concern is probably along the lines of ‘it doesn’t matter if no one else cares, because you should write for yourself!’. While this response has its merits, it wasn’t what personally convinced me. Instead, I read somewhere that you should ask yourself the question ‘will this be interesting/useful to at least 1 person in the world?’. If the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’, then you should share what you have to say. If the answer is ‘no’, then you’re probably more justified in holding back, or keeping the post private.
"The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."
Let's take this particular post as an example. Will it be useful/interesting to the majority of people? Unlikely. But will it be interesting/useful to at least one person in the world? Hopefully. I mean, there must be at least a few people who've been thinking of setting up their own blogs, and if this post goes even an inch towards convincing them to take the plunge, it's worth it. And if absolutely nothing else, I imagine a few of my friends/family would be interested to read it. So that's reason enough to write it.
Concern 2: "I'm not good enough to write about this"
Expanding on this slightly, one might be inclined to comment "I’m not good enough at / experienced enough in / knowledgable enough about x to be able to write about it publicly, let alone give others advice about it".
The simple response to this is that you don’t need to be an expert/professional to share work you’ve done, lessons you’ve learnt, experienced you’ve had etc. Kleon explains this point beautifully in the chapter entitled “Be an amateur”. He quotes Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus:
“On the spectrum of creative work., the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something”.
Kleon then goes on to say:
“Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing... [They] might lack formal training, but they’re all lifelong learners, and they make a point of learning in the open, so that others can learn from their failures and successes."
Let’s add another quote to the mix, this time from C.S.Lewis:
“It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten”.
And finally, yet another quote that ends Kleon’s chapter:
“The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others… Be on the lookout for voids you can fill with your own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first. Don’t worry, for now, about how you’ll make a career off it. Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the sae things will find you”.
That’s a lot of quotes (and again, I urge you to read the book, but the point I took from it was that it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re an expert or a beginner in the field you write about. Experts can write for both beginners and other experts, but amateurs/beginners can write for other amateurs/beginners having learnt something interesting/cool, and can often explain that concept better than an expert could.
Concern 3: "People will think I’m really self-centred if I’m writing about my own life"
The first thing to say about this is, of course, that the vast, vast majority of people don’t think about you at all, let alone think that you’re a douche/self-centred/narcissistic. Eleanor Roosevelt has been quoted on this topic so often that, somewhat ironically, I almost feel bad about quoting her here:
“You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
Secondly, provided what someone has written is at all interesting/useful, why on earth would anyone think badly of them for writing it? I personally read too many blogs about design/tech/medicine and various other things, and not once have I thought ‘Wow, this writer is a self-obsessed, narcissistic piece of **** for writing this!’. I imagine most readers feel the same way about the stuff they read.
Finally, for the sake of argument, let's assume that a few people do end up thinking you're self-centred. The obvious response is 'So what?'. A legion of books and articles has been written on the topic of 'Stop caring about what others think', so I won't even try to expand on the point - it's an important one to make nonetheless.
So there we have it. This post hasn't attempted to touch on the numerous benefits of writing, nor has it tried to make anything close to a comprehensive case. Instead, I've reflected aloud about 3 concerns that I needed to address in my own head before committing to this whole personal blogging thing.
Of course, having said all of the above, on some level I think I'm also doing this in that hope that if someone does think I'm ridiculously self-obsessed for having a personal blog, they'll see this post and change their mind. We all have our struggles.
And for the last time, if you're even remotely interested in learning more about the virtues of sharing your work/ideas/method, please read 'Show your Work' by Austin Kleon.