Me the Writer

A few days ago The Typist and I spent an evening talking about a number of things, one of which dealt with the difficulty of developing an audience. During that conversation, he made a rather interesting observation, saying that the giants of today’s tech scene made a name for themselves by writing about more than just one topic, whereas the common refrain these days dictates that a fledgling writer must pick one subject and stick to it. I responded in favor of this advice, for at the time I believed it the best way to differentiate oneself from the thousands of unfocused others clamoring for the finite resource that is time and attention. As I sought to explain myself though, I slowly came to realize that the advantages of this approach I considered so obvious were, in reality, not quite as clear-cut as I thought.

To illustrate my point, consider John Gruber’s site: even back when he started Daring Fireball in August of 2002, he wrote almost exclusively about technology. Sure, he had the occasional linked list item pointing to an article on another topic, but by and large he remained within the confines of his chosen subject. Through a combination of that focus and his unique personality, John Gruber grew quite famous over the following years. Jim Dalrymple’s Loop Insight, on the other hand, whose earliest article dates back to June of 2009, has featured practically every topic imaginable. In stark contrast to John’s more focused approach Jim comes off as much more erratic, choosing to write about anything and everything that falls within his realm of interest. Through a combination of that different degree of focus and his unique personality, Jim Dalrymple also grew quite famous over the following years.

In each case we have an individual with a wildly different approach, yet both achieved great success regardless of how you measure such a subjective goal. And there are many more examples at both ends of the spectrum as well: Federico Viticci covers almost exclusively iOS apps and Apple technology. His work falls into the more focused category, and this choice has fostered a large following as a result. Marco Arment, on the other hand, comments on technology every so often, but drew an incredible amount of attention for his in-depth review of light bulbs; sometimes he talks about development, and at other times he writes articles on coffee and amps. Marco falls into the erratic category, then, and no one could argue against his impressive success as a result of that decision. As I tried to simultaneously marshal my thoughts and speak in favor of a singular focus over its broader alternative, I finally became conscious of these markedly different approaches: whereas by the former a writer focuses on a single topic and denies — or chooses to ignore, at the very least — any additional interests, ascribing to the latter strategy means that the writer acknowledges the entirety of his diverse passions and writes with them in mind. As previously demonstrated, both strategies have merit. The choice, then, as I came to realize while attempting to argue in favor of this methodology, comes down to target audience: do you wish to attract those who share your enthusiasm for you the personification of a single topic, or would you rather target those who share your enthusiasm for you the writer? To put it another way, do you want an audience to read you for that one aspect of yourself, or because you are a multi-faceted and complex individual by nature, with wide-ranging interests likely encompassing more than a single subject? That is the question I have struggled with since shortly after I started this site, and the one I only just now managed to quantify into a concrete query I could have any hope of answering.

My own website started out lacking focus, and so I had articles on writing abutting posts showcasing a cool image I found on Cabin Porn, next to another entry linking to a neat code project. Lately, however, I sought to increase my focus by talking solely about technology, writing, and other topics related to this small tech blogger bubble I live within. Pursuant of this goal, I started a newsletter as the outlet for everything that did not fall into one of those aforementioned categories. In other words, all the things that previously went to my site, but no longer do resultant of this increasingly aggressive filter, went to my newsletter. This seemed like a great idea at the time: start another venture in a different medium, and use that as a channel to allow me greater focus when writing “serious” work on my website. The last few weeks have proved this not quite as great an idea as I originally thought though, and so now I have returned to the familiar inflection point of scope and venue, albeit this time from the other side: last time I came from broad focus conveyed in a single medium, and crossed this line as I narrowed my focus and broadened my attention to two properties; this time, however, as I near that zero, I am coming from narrow focus and multiple properties and approaching less focused work across a single venture. The question of whether I should cross that inflection point is the same one I posed earlier: do I want to write for the admittedly sizable segment whose interests in technology, writing, and other similar topics overlap with mine, or would I prefer to write to the other sizable segment that want to follow Zac the writer?

I have published five issues of my newsletter over the last six weeks. During that time, I have had a great deal of fun putting The Neat and Out of Scope Newsletter together, and significantly less fun working with this site. What started as a secondary priority is verging on my primary now, aiming to replace my website as not only the place I take the most joy in writing for, but the place I end up writing the most for as well. In talking with The Typist a few days ago, I finally realized that this shift in preference is not because I no longer have anything to say, or because I have writer’s block, or because I lost interest in the creative process. On the contrary, this shift began because in pursuit of bettering my writing, I started approaching it from the wrong direction entirely: I am not meant to talk about technology and writing and other related topics to the exclusion of everything else that I find great and interesting. While that may work for some, and for some very well, it will not for me. I have more interests than those three topics, and I want to write to the segment of my readers that will appreciate those additional interests. I have tried both approaches, and having done so I can make my choice: I choose to write as Zac the person, not Zac the personification of this singular viewpoint on a mere handful of topics; because otherwise this is no longer fun for me, and as soon as it ceases to be fun, I cease to write. But that won’t happen, so let me tell you what will:

As of tomorrow, when I send out the sixth installment of The Neat and Out of Scope Newsletter, I will cease work on this publication. I have enjoyed the last six weeks immensely: curating links in the more informal format I adopted has made for a very rewarding experience, and the response has been great; I am flattered to have made something deserving of the subscribers it has attracted thus far. To everyone that gave me a shot at adding yet another email to their inbox every weekend, I thank you. However, I did not enjoy creating this newsletter enough to sacrifice my website for it, for in reality that is the decision I would have had to make in the near future had I chosen to stick with the path I am currently on. Perhaps I will revive this newsletter at some point in the future, or take it another direction. For now, though, I have to put a stop to this good thing that will, given more time, turn in to a bad one I will forever regret not stopping when I had the chance.

To my loyal readers for whom I am more grateful than you may ever know, don’t fret: the same person that built that weekly newsletter, the same sensibilities that gleaned neat and interesting links every week, and the same voice that presented them, is not going anywhere: I’m staying right here, and everything that I would have sent to MailChimp will now come right here, to my site, because I’m finished writing as me the topic; from now on, I will write as me the writer.