On half-baked thoughts

I recently claimed that my blog posts always have a point to make, however trivial. Ironically, I did that in a blog post that I wrote without knowing what the ‘point’ of that blog post. I knew while I was writing it that there were lots of thoughts in my head that needed to be put down. Surprisingly, even though I started without a conclusion in my head, I reached one while writing the post.

What is surprising, though, is that I felt much more satisfied after having finished that blog post than I would normally feel for a blog post that I knew had a point to make. (I may be hinting at the fact that because I made a choice to write a blog post without a goal, it gave me more satisfaction). But given this realisation, I feel it is worth exploring this kind of writing a little more.

In Praise of Half-baked Thoughts

One of my main arguments for blogging has been that it gives space to people to share half-baked thoughts and half-formed ideas. When sharing, they get an opportunity to explore their thoughts and may be in the process they are able to ‘fully bake’ those thoughts. If not, it allows for a serendipitous discovery to happen. There may be readers who may have the other half of that brilliant idea you just shared on your blog.

Ribbonfarm, a fairly popular blog written by Venkatesh Rao, is a good example of a blog where lots of half-baked ideas are shared. He usually writes long 2000+ word blog posts and many times the blog posts are a compilation of the multiple thoughts he has about that topic. He usually has a point to make but he writes in a manner where the point he makes hardly matters. He gives his readers so many interesting half-formed ideas that even if you don’t read the whole blog post whatever time you spent reading seems worth it.

In The Pipeline, one of the most popular blogs about drug discovery written by Derek Lowe, recently completed 10 years. The success of Lowe’s blog is not just from the niche that he has created for himself in the blogging world but also because of a rare distinction that it has earned as ‘one of (the blogs with) the highest signal-to-noise ratios in the entire world of blog comments’. He considers the many comments he gets on his blog as ‘rivers of gold’ and indeed they are because his readers are ready to explore the half-baked ideas that Lowe shares with them.

In his 10th anniversary blog post, he writes, “I compose quickly, and type quickly, which helps keep blogging from becoming a chore. It really doesn’t add much time to sit down and write up something about what I’ve been reading and thinking. It helps, in fact, to clarify my thoughts – I’m sure that I retain a lot more information for having blogged about it.” Here, I think, he is hinting at being able to confidently publish ideas even if he hasn’t quite got a grasp on them. He uses writing as the medium to understand it better and try to retain what he has been thinking.

Why fear then?

I realised that sharing half-baked ideas can be intimidating. We are acutely tuned to judge ourselves before others can. And, of course, if some ideas don’t even make complete sense to us then, surely, sharing them in public can only make things worse, right?

Well, not really. Consider these two blog posts, here and here. Both the blog posts have more than the usual number of comments my blog posts get. But one is a blog post where people have only commented to appreciate the writing and the other one is where people have commented to express their thoughts on what I wrote. Of course, both kinds of blog posts make me happy and proud but the one with others thoughts gives me more satisfaction – I get new ideas to write about, I am called out on things that aren’t clear to me, I am faced with opposing views, and with all that I grow.

Hopefully, my half-baked thoughts don't look this unappealing

If half-baked thoughts can start a dialogue, sharing them becomes worth it. Of course, this is not an argument for putting forth thoughts without having put in the effort to explore the thoughts. Even if it’s an incomplete idea, it is important to make your case to your readers as clearly as possible (which I’ve done here, hopefully!).

And in the spirit of the idea of sharing incomplete ideas, I am going to leave you with these half-baked thoughts. I hope you will share what you think about it and, together, maybe we can grow.

The blogging dilemma

I have two opposing arguments in my head. One that wants me to support blogging and one that makes me ignore it. I can’t seem to convince myself to choose a side. But does it really matter if I choose a side?

The internet has given everyone a platform to publish. An ability to share their views and thoughts on absolutely anything with those of their choosing or with the world at large. Surely that is a good thing but as a consumer of media, I feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things being created. There is just too much to keep up with.

We have so many quality newspapers, great TV channels, lots of interesting people to follow on twitter, good friends to keep up with on facebook and of course, there is the non-virtual life stuff. With a limited 24 hours daily, I would be surprised to find anyone who is able to keep abreast with everything and not feel overpowered by it all.

My solution to the problem was the information diet. Oh yes, it works if followed like the bible. But unlike a normal diet, this diet is much harder because all it takes to break the diet is the click of a mouse. I do my best to keep up with the diet and what allows me to keep going this way is the presence of a cheat day. It is that one day a week when I allow myself the luxury of reading/watching/stalking whatever I like.

It’s on the cheat day that I open my google reader to find 100+ unread blog posts. I quickly skim through and read what I like (a few). It’s rare that I ever reach the end of the list before the end of the day. Those unread blog posts usually remain unread and the number of unread posts keeps growing. It’s those unread blog posts which have incited me to write this blog post (what an irony!)

I look at that growing number on my google reader and I feel like saying ‘what a waste!’. All those hours that really good people have spent writing those blog posts have gone to waste. And even if I forget the ones that I did not read, what is it that I gain from the ones that I do end up reading? May be a few moments of pleasure and wonder. If that’s all that blog posts are worth and if most will remain as unread posts in someone’s reader then isn’t blogging a big waste of time? These are thoughts that pursue me to ignore blogging.

But then I remember. Every week I derive immense pleasure in being able to share my thoughts here on this blog. I know people read the posts (at least a few). If their two minutes were spent reading this then I better write something that is worth their time. But it’s not just about them (although readers are very important), it’s also about me.  I learn every day. I can see a part of myself evolve with every blog post. There is a peculiar sense of joy in being able to convert a thought into a well-written piece of prose.

Beyond the reader’s pleasure and mine, there is something that we tend to ignore about the power of blogs. They can be places to gain some really good ideas. Steven Johnson explains this is in a superb talk (only 4 mins). He says that good ideas usually come from a process he calls the slow hunch. That usually, a good idea is a combination of two or more part ideas. This combination occurs when you allow them to brew in your head for sometime. This time allows them to come together in your head, if you have all the part ideas, or allows you to gather the remaining part ideas from people you meet, places you visit and things you learn.

Reading blogs can more often than not serve that purpose. A blog is usually a place where raw ideas are shared and they are given for free to the readers for use. You can find parts of that great idea which has been waiting for its remaining parts and waiting to mature. I subscribe to a selected few blogs through email. These are the blogs that I religiously read and I’ve found many really good ideas through them. It’s probably because I’ve taken the time to grab everything that is on offer which meant that I did not miss out on that part idea which I was looking for.

There is one another advantage of reading blogs which is commonly ignored. If you read someone’s blog and read enough of it, you connect with the person in a way which is very different from any other connection that you can have with the person. Whenever I have to look someone up on the web, I try to look if they have a personal website or blog. If it’s someone you want to impress then just the words, “I read on your blog..” are enough to make the person take notice of you and give you a great first impression.

So should I support blogging or ignore it? As with most answers in life, there isn’t a yes or no answer to this. There are certainly a lot of poor blogs out there. They simply don’t deserve your attention but then there are some which absolutely do deserve your attention. It’s for you to find them. As for whether you should blog or not? I think it’s a very personal choice and one that only you can make. May be this extended conversation on blogging will be of some help.

Written while listening to Chillout radio on Last.fm.