andrew burke





Cory Doctorow on Blogging

Posted on: 2024-02-21

Breathtakingly prolific and so-many-circles-in-common-I-can't-believe-we've-never-met Cory Doctorow is celebrating the fourth anniversary of his long-form blog Pluralistic. His post from yesterday includes this great passage about why he blogs:

Blogging has always been a part of this project. For nearly 20 years, I posted nearly every day on Boing Boing – 53,906 posts in all! – taking note of everything that seemed important. Keeping a "writer's notebook" in public imposes an unbeatable rigor, since you can't slack off and leave notes so brief and cryptic that they neither lodge in your subconscious nor form a record clear enough to refer to in future. By contrast, keeping public notes produces both a subconscious, supersaturated solution of fragmentary ideas that rattle around, periodically cohering into nucleii that crystallize into full-blown ideas for stories, novels, essays, speeches and nonfiction books. What's more, those ripened ideas are supported by a searchable database of everything I've thought about the subject, often annotated by readers and other writers who've commented on the posts.

This is a great inspiration for blogging - heck it's inspired me to write this post right now! That said, it's clearly not for everyone. In fact, it may only really be for Cory. I've often wondered how he can be so prolific, writing long blog posts almost daily, and frequently putting out multiple novels every year, on top of all the guest essays and speaking gigs and the like. It turns out that writing is how he deals with his otherwise crippling anxiety. In light of that, it's not surprising (but still breathtaking) that he wrote NINE novels during the Covid lockdowns of 2020.

Kudos to Cory for finding something that simultaneously solves a personal problem and massively helps him professionally!

It's also clear that he's figured out a solid system for thinking and writing. If you read enough of Cory's stuff, the cross-references and topics and quotes start to repeat or at least echo each other, and you can see certain structural commonalities. It turns out he's figured out a workflow that leverages a huge searchable file system matched with custom version control, the kind of thing I use for coding but which he uses for his writing. There is nothing better than locking into a system that works: I remember the moment during my undergraduate English degree when I figured out a system for writing papers (I should write about it here some time), and suddenly everything got a lot easier while I got a lot more prolific.

I get the feeling that Maria Popova may have a similar system in place, as she is a prolific poster in a similar cross-referencing kind of way.

Another thing about reading Cory's blogs is that it really helps understand what's going on in his books. I first noticed this when I read "Eastern Standard Tribe" and realized that years of reading BoingBoing had prepared me perfectly for it.

So the blogging helps Cory figure things out while writing his books, while also getting his audience into the right frame of mind and context for reading his books.

Meanwhile, I may have less anxiety in my life, but I also don't blog nearly as much. Nor have I written any novels. I can still nod knowingly whenever I read Cory's stuff, though.

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