Why does this blog take so long to write?

I write full-time. That’s not to say I’m at my desk 40 hours a week, just that I don’t have anything else going on.

In January, I published a post on average every other day, then didn’t publish for a week until today.

The latest post is good, but does it represent a week’s output? Why does everything take so long? Am I even trying?

There are a couple answers:

  • I only publish ~50% of the posts I write
  • Every post I publish has to be rewritten at least once

It doesn’t take too long to hash out a quick draft, but then I try to get feedback, make the post more compelling and easier to read, and fact check my claims. That all takes longer than the original writing process.
Not everyone is this way. Scott Alexander and Byrne Hobart (#1 and #2 in Substack’s Technology section) have claimed they write more or less stream-of-thought. Maybe it’s a magical gift, but maybe it’s because they’ve both been writing for 10 years.

Feedback is tough as well. I try to send every post to at least one person before publication to have some level of editorial accountability. Often, it’s Alexey Guzey, known for his contrarian takes and brutal criticism. This is great for readers since it improves my writing, but also means that rather than nitpicking grammar, feedback is likely to expose a foundational flaw in my reasoning, resulting in lengthy rewrites.

In other cases, feedback takes time because I want to consult the people in question. Before publishing the case against StatNews, I tried to get in contact twice. Before publishing against Lambda School, I tried to get in touch with their Chief of Staff. I also sought out feedback from Adam Marblestone and Ashish Arora before commenting on their respective publications.

Getting feedback from an actual expert is really tough. They have spent, in some cases, entire careers thinking about the topic I tried to understand in a couple days. I am often embarrassed, try really hard to not say anything wrong, and take their feedback very seriously. This all takes time.

Finally, I am not an expert in anything I write about, so there is a learning curve spanning days or weeks. Especially for posts that criticize the original source, I am very scared of making a bold condemnation of someone else’s work, and then realizing that I’m totally wrong.

On that note, I also write about a broad variety of topics, which means I’m more or less starting from scratch each time. It wouldn’t take me very long to write another post about Lambda School since I already have the required context, but I’m not that interested in writing it, and I don’t think you would want to read it. I read their recent report and have attempted to stay updated in case it turns out that I was wrong. My impression is that they are still misleading students, and I don’t have much more to say.

This blog is an attempt to learn in public in real time, which means writing about things I don’t already understand. Additionally, the deeper I go into any one vein, the more context each reader needs to understand what I’m talking about, and the less likely it is they’ll have read all relevant previous posts. Because blog readership is growing quickly, I don’t assume the median reader is familiar with my previous work.

You may worry that this means never going deep enough to get anywhere interesting. So why is this blog even worth reading?

In short, I have different incentives and opportunities. Ashish Arora is an academic, and his only way to express a professional opinion is to publish a paper. He’s not going to make the point I did about Bell Labs, even though he’s more than intellectually capable of doing so. For most of the world, blogging is still a very weird niche.

And on the other end of the spectrum, you have popular writers trying to build their following. They grow their audience by having an opinion and making bold, easy to follow proclamations of belief. Of course, there are exceptions, but you might be surprised how few. Taking blogging seriously correlates with taking Twitter seriously, which means I’m part of a vanishingly small population that does the former without the latter.