XSRUS Annual Review: One year of thinking in public
It’s been a smidge over a year since I started this blog. And 24 posts and over 30,000 words later, it’s been quite a good year.
I started this blog to de-clutter my mind and improve my thinking. On both counts I think I have succeeded. Below are some highlights and learnings from one year of being a partially-online-person.
Share to forget
Publishing ideas lets one forget about them. Everything you wanted to say is already written down, the intellectual paths, if not fully mapped out, are at least explored. This process leaves more brain space for new ideas, and more original thoughts.
After publishing tens of thousands of words, the intellectual friction of borrowing ideas has gone way down. I used to think that I could only write something if I was sure it was original or obviously noteworthy. But now I’ve come to appreciate that it is almost impossible for me to judge this of my own thoughts. What seems obvious to me may be insightful to others. The best filter for publishing that I have come up with is simply whether I think something is interesting or not.
Writing online lets other people find you
The blog is a serendipity machine. It is like a tiny net I cast into the depths of the online ocean, occasionally catching like-minded people who become entangled by my posts. I hoped to meet some interesting people due to writing online, but reality has far exceeded my expectations. I’ve been blown away by the number and kindness of people I’ve met through the blog.
A big benefit from writing online has been the readjustment and continual expansion of my comfort zone. Before writing my first post I was absolutely terrified — with little other public writing to my name, it was scary to compress my identity onto a single page of html — to be defined by one lonely post. It was equally terrifying to push my writing out into the commons, where anyone can say and think what they like about it. But the more I wrote, the less inner turmoil I felt before publishing.
The fear of judgement comes from insecurity — deep down, I thought “Who am I to give advice about this?”. This internal inquisition quieted as I shared more of my personality and ideas online. Instead of feeling like I was some nobody pushing advice into the aether, I felt more like myself, writing as if in conversation with a mildly interested friend.
Friends and Feedback
Writing online was new to me a year ago, and doing anything new in public is a good way to tell who your friends are. Whenever you do something new you expand your identity, and sometimes people you know lash out against the change. We all like our concepts of the people we know to fit into well-defined boxes. When our friends do something unusual, we can either encourage them, or say things that push them back inside their box. I am lucky to have had many encouraging friends, and only a few people trying to box me back in. Yet I still took what these people said to heart.
Some posts, which I thought were semi-relevant, I shared to my facebook friends. These were generally received with muted positivity. I always received more positive than negative feedback, though praise mainly arrived via private message while criticism came through public comments under my post.
I took the early criticism very hard. They say it takes 10 compliments to turn back one insult, but when the compliments are private but the insults are public I’d guess the breakeven point is more like 20-to-1.
An early tongue-in-cheek insult “when’s the $9.99 e-book coming?” stung badly. I resented the implication that I was writing purely for financial or exploitative reasons, and wasn’t sharing my authentic thoughts. At the time I was writing for myself, but didn’t yet believe I was providing value to others (certainly nothing that would be worth paying for).
Over the past few months my perspective has changed. I have received enough feedback to know my writing is valuable to others. Ironically, I have even toyed with the idea of writing an e-book (or book of essays). This mindset shift is due to one gradual process and one sudden event.
Finding the others
I have gradually gotten to know several Online People who I admire. A few of them have encouraged me privately which has galvanised me massively. My interaction with these people has come, not through the blog, but mainly through Twitter. However it is the writing on this blog that justifies (at least, to me) my nascent Tech Nerd Twitter presence. I’m still very bad at Twitter, and I find it scary posting ideas right next to a picture of my face and name. Somehow, I’ve managed to write some threads that have gone semi-viral. Without writing longer-form here, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to share very much at all.
This gradual process has resulted in collaborations with people like Paul Millerd, Pamela Hobart, and Vaughn Tan. A year ago I was listening to podcasts with people like Paul, Pamela and Vaughn. If you had told me that one year on I’d be publishing with them and learning from them directly, I wouldn’t have believed you.
A big surprise
My confidence crystallised after a sudden event — the publication of my Onlyfans explainer. This was the result of a combination of a lazy curiosity and restlessness due to recently being furloughed, and I thought it was far from my best work. The data collection was so time consuming that I almost gave up on it, but eventually decided to just publish what I had. This turned out to be a great decision.
You never know which blog posts will resonate, and in this case I was clearly in the right place at the right time. Despite only sharing it to Twitter, the post got views, and eventually climbed to the top result on google for “onlyfans economics”. It now gets around 1k views a day, and is by far the most visited post on this site.
As a result of this organic traffic, I have been emailed by a variety of interesting and unusual people. One Venezuelan researcher wanted to analyse the OnlyFans accounts from his country. A concerned mother wanted to know why her son’s bank account paid $800 last month to this strange website she had never heard of. And I was even contacted by journalists and entrepreneurs researching and working in the space.
If you had told me a year ago that I’d be getting consulting requests and newspaper interviews through my blog, I wouldn’t have believed a word of it. But that’s the power of continually following your curiosity and publishing what you discover. If you share enough things, other curious people will be interested too.
Advice I’d give myself a year ago, and I’m still trying to take now:
Ed Teller said it best: “the trick is to make all the mistakes as fast as possible”. I wouldn’t change very much about my writing, only I’d try to do it more often.
Getting into the writing flow state is tough, and it often feels like you need a long, uninterrupted timeslot to write and think. Mainly, you just have to get over it. Once you start writing, it’s amazing what you can come up with in only 15 minutes.
Write first drafts Fast, Badly and Wrong. Edit mercilessly later. I spent far too many hours editing as I went along. This brings clarity to individual sentences, but you miss the forest for the trees. It destroys your overarching structure and kills flow.
When writing a piece you hope to publish, always keep one or two friends in mind as a target audience. Write it for them. Then when you’ve drafted the post, send them your work.
When your friends do something unusual but great, praise them in public!
One year on I still don’t know the theme of this blog. But I have learned that writing, building general mental models of things, and explaining them as simply as I can are activities I want to continue doing for a long time to come. I’ve got plenty more writing in the pipeline, and I’m looking forward to seeing whether I get my act together and publish any of it. Onwards.