Ideas of March 2012

This is my contribution to Chris Shiflett‘s Ideas of March initiative, which encourages people to write about why they like blogs.

My love of writing comes from a love of problem-solving. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment in finding the right words to say something. And yet, great writing has an inherent unattainability to it that keeps me ever searching. There are good ways and bad ways to communicate something, but there is never a best way. It’s like a video game in the sense that you can level up by writing often, but it’s not a game you can ever beat. There is no big boss fight at the end that proves that you are now the best writer you can be. What keeps me going is the nagging sense that the last thing I wrote could have been written much better, so I’d better keep trying.

There are many benefits to writing, of course. Most importantly, it’s a problem solving technique in itself. By taking the time to structure your thoughts and your words in a way that other people need to understand, you tend to get a better understanding of what’s going on in your head. Clive Thompson addresses this well in The art of public thinking:

The process of writing exposes your own ignorance and half-baked assumptions: When I’m writing a Wired article, I often don’t realize what I don’t know until I’ve started writing, at which point my unanswered questions and lazy, autofill thinking becomes obvious. Then I freak out and panic and push myself way harder, because the article is soon going before two publics: First my editors, then eventually my readers. Blogging forces a similar clarity of mental purpose for me. As with Wired, I’m going before a public. I’m no longer just muttering to myself in a quiet room. It scarcely matters whether two or ten or a thousand people are going to read the blog post; the transition from nonpublic and public is nonlinear and powerful.

Writing in public continues to help me gain clarity about my thoughts and problems. That I expected. But I didn’t expect it to give me such a sense of community. The past few months have been especially gratifying, ever since I’ve been invited to become a contributor to Smashing Magazine. Through that process I’ve met amazing people, and through them, I think I’ve become a better writer. Which in turn helps me to solve problems better. It hardly seems fair that I gain so much from this community. If you’ll allow me the use of a ridiculous phrase, the ROI on my writing seems preposterously high.

I started my first blog on Windows Live Spaces in 2003. I’d just moved to the US and needed a way to feel connected to friends and family in South Africa. It’s 2012 now, and I don’t write on Windows Live Spaces any more. I also don’t live in the US any more. I’ve moved homes and countries and blogging platforms way too many times over the past 9 years. But looking back over many false starts and wrong turns in life and in blogging, I’m grateful for the thread of words that runs from my beginnings on Spaces, through the detour on Blogger, and now my own home on this domain. Somehow, those words anchor me.

So maybe writing this has once again shown me the error in my original thinking, just as it’s done so many times before. I was wrong in my opening paragraph. I don’t write because I love problem-solving. I write to know that I am here.