A few days back, I read one of my posts from 2007, which instilled a sense of nostalgia in me for the simpler times. It also took me down a rabbit hole as I skimmed my archives and wondered how my writing had changed through this period.
I have loved all forms of my writing. I still do. I enjoy microblogging; it gives my unformed thoughts an outlet. Then there was a time I wrote a lot of fiction. As I said during my Micro Camp talk, I have also written my fair share of imperfect, stupid posts. The post from 2007 that I mentioned above is one such post. Though I still write all these forms of posts, as my friends who have read me through these years know, my love for them is not equal. Then why do I continue to publish them?
Well, Robin Sloan extends the economic concept of stock and flow to media to highlight the differences and the importance of the types of posts we all write.
Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time. Flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but I think we neglect stock at our peril.
It is such an apt metaphor for how I think about my posts. I publish updates on stuff that I read and find interesting. Sure, I am not a prolific writer who writes multiple times daily about everything that happens to or around her. So, I respect those who can be this open about their life with the folks on the internet.
But these bitesize updates - flow in Sloan's words - aren't the only words I write. They are fleeting. I don't remember most of such posts I wrote last week. But I still remember each stock, the long-form, more thoughtful posts I wrote a few years ago. If a post does not make me pause as I write it or make me reach out to the views of others, it doesn't satisfy me. I had quipped this while writing about thinking in long form.
Do I want to post just the spontaneous thoughts or also at times go deep and word something more meaningful? I have always known that the answer to that question is both, but I haven't found a right balance to achieve that yet. The regularity of microposts lends me a feeling of achieving the writing goals, but as I look back at the archive, that achievement feels hollow.
I know to call publishing a post an achievement is an overkill. But when I make writing regularly a habit I track, it does feel so. Anyway, this balance that I talk about in the snippet above is the precise point why Sloan draws this metaphor. He recommends adopting a hybrid strategy, sacrificing neither flow nor stock.
As I read Sloan applying this concept to writing media ("the content you produce"), I realized we could also use the same in our reading habits. While flow is to swim the feeds on Twitter, Instagram etc., the stock is to read the essays and books. Where feeds are fun and quick, they lack the depth the books provide. There is no shortage of research claiming a decreased interest in reading books. Is there a causality relationship between this behaviour and the increased consumption of feeds (the flow)? Not exclusively, but there has to be.
I am not saying the short posts are meaningless — sometimes, the strongest arguments are made in the least words. However, it is not a post's length but the depth of the thought behind it that matters.
Nonetheless, Sloan's underlying argument with the metaphor is to balance the ephemeral, short updates and the meaty, profound ones. It came as a healthy reminder to give my mind a chance to think deeply.
This space, Slanting Nib, has had a special place in my mind. I have written some of the most personal essays under the header. I did stop writing here in between, and something felt amiss. With this essay, I begin writing personal, long-form essays again under Slanting Nib.
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