In a recent thread on Farcaster, I mentioned my ongoing quest for a good low-friction way to publish casual snippets that are too long for social media, but too short for an essay.
Of course I could use Paragraph as a microblog or "text incubator" of sorts. That's part of what I originally set out to do; it's one of the reasons I called this publication A Digital Incubation Space. But so far, for whatever reason, I've only published polished essays on Paragraph.
Questions came up in the discussion: why not put the more casual writings on social media? Could Paragraph add features to help integrate all my published writings in one place? Perhaps the unpolished work could be "linked" to the finished essays somehow?
In this piece, I'll explore those questions through the lens of my creative process.
As I’ve mentioned, I'm a long-form writer. I write hundreds of words daily at minimum, and many thousands of words weekly. Writing is a form of thinking for me. In some cases I can't even tell you what I actually think about something until I write about it, because the truth only shows itself in text form on a page. Yet I publish only a tiny fraction of that work.
As much as possible, I arrange my life to accommodate my writing-as-thinking inclinations. I block off long stretches of unstructured slow-time to read, reflect, and retreat from context-switching demands and notification streams. That's one reason I've never been among the most active presences on social media: the states of attention required for me to produce good long-form writing don't mesh well with the cognitive modes I use for online social interaction.
But why the hesitation to release more casual writings publicly, even after explicitly designating a space for it? Is it related to my creative process or motives? Is it a consideration of context — thinking about how it might fit or be perceived? Perhaps it's a shortcoming of the available platforms? Or something else entirely? And while we're at it... can I even answer these questions adequately through conscious reflection? Probably not, but I'll try.
For one thing, like many Ethereum nerds, I'm easily nerd-sniped. Instinctively I gravitate toward long-form philosophical writings on systems thinking, deep ecology, ontology, depth psychology, architecture, business models, principles of finance... text that dives deep, unpacks complex ideas, invites me to chew on it for a long time, and sparks insight. I like infinite rabbit holes and layers-upon-layers to unfurl. If I have to look up new-to-me words in the dictionary and try them out in different sentences until they make sense, so much the better.
In order to understand, integrate, and retain what I learn, I need to write and edit. Writing is my most reliable means of sense-making. But there's a catch: the Watcher at the Gate. (N.B.: I recommend following that link to read Gail Godwin's short essay about her Watcher).
My eagle-eyed Watcher likes to overthink and cross-examine the minutiae of everything I write with a fine-toothed comb. That's great for the professional editorial work that pays my bills, but not ideal for less formal contexts.
Because I use writing primarily as a process tool to help me make sense of philosophical inquiries and inchoate learnings, I usually don’t know where a piece is going to take me, or what it'll ultimately become. The process might reveal that I'm in over my head and an unruly section calls for a more nuanced approach than I imagined, so I set aside the in-progress piece and let it incubate. When I pick it up again, I might realize it's unsalvageable, so I'll have to start over. Or maybe one paragraph can be cherry-picked for another essay, but the rest ends up on the cutting room floor.
When I'm left to my own devices, most of what emerges is the sort of creative nonfiction that takes weeks or months to wrangle into proper shape. Short-and-sweet doesn't seem to be my forte. Yet I can't get the long-form writing up to a level that my Watcher will rubber-stamp as worthy of publication without ample blocks of open-ended time for deep work, and I don't get anywhere near as much of that time as I'd like. (How many of us do? Don't get me started on the US "time tax").
In the meantime, my drafts are all over the map, and I still hesitate to release half-baked material even though I'm well aware that there will never be enough hours in my life to properly edit and release everything I'd like, and maybe some readers would prefer more of the casual writing anyway.
But let's say I convince my Watcher to green-light the public release of snippets. Or maybe I find some other work-around. The next thing to consider is the platform and context. I'm still interested in exploring better ways to publish snippets in between long-form releases.
What might an ideal solution look like in context? An incomplete list of guidelines:
Web3 publishing platform.
Does not require signing up for a new subscription/platform. (My attention is already stretched thin, and writing-as-sense-making demands a lot of it. Additional cognitive overhead doesn't help).
Easily searchable/taggable posts.
Allows me to organize all my writings under one publicly visible digital "roof." (For example: casual snippets could appear in a separate micro-feed or numbered archive on the same page as the featured essays).
Enables readers to subscribe to a feed of my work that they can customize according to their interests (any mix-and-match combination of keywords/categories).
Offers options for one-off payments or recurring "non-quid-pro-quo patronage" via crypto or fiat.
Social media threads don't meet these criteria, and furthermore they have a very short half-life. Since any snippet might conceivably become part of a discussion that could influence the direction of an essay, I'd like to group them all together for easy reference.
This ideal solution would also be a platform with a credible path away from the forces of enshittification and toward full interoperability, with ways for network effects to accrue to the users and not the platform. That rules out web2 platforms, and points to Paragraph as the most attractive option.
The ideal design would respect limits of human time and attention (both mine and my readers'). No endless scrolling, for example, and nothing that reeks of engagement farming or contrived efforts at community-building. While I enjoy a good discussion, I don't need engagement from readers on every post. My primary work is writing, editing, and publishing. Like the creative process, good communities are emergent structures with their own indwelling intelligence and a logic that resists coercion. Bottom line: I want to give readers attractive opportunities to opt in at their own pace, not steer them into an environment that forces them to opt out.
Ideally I'd like to shape my existing Paragraph presence into a publishing home base where readers can browse at their leisure without these hindrances:
Having to go to multiple sites to track down work I've published on other topics.
Micro-pressures to follow, like, and subscribe, especially before they've even had time to read. (This includes pop-ups; I'll never enable them, because they interfere with the flow of the reading experience).
I write about creative processes, web3 media/culture, funding for art labor, philosophy of work + leisure, dark ambient music, and spiritual life. Few if any of my readers take an interest in all these topics. Some readers followed me from one of my former Substack newsletters over to Paragraph out of interest in my writings on spirituality or music, but then unsubscribed after they started receiving my web3 deep dives. It would be great if these lost subscribers had the option to follow a feed composed of only certain keywords/categories. They might opt into, for example:
Short notes on dark ambient music + web3 only.
Only writings about spirituality (both short- and long-form) but no other topics.
All casual writings but no long-form writings (or vice versa).
...et cetera. By all means, I'd like "superfan" readers to have a way to subscribe to everything I publish, but because I write about such disparate topics, it's best if that's not the default.
OK. That's a good start. As I hover over the publish button, other ideas continue to jockey for my attention with seemingly innocuous little nudges like: "But this is all so nebulous! Are you sure it's ready for prime time? Did you address every question you started with? Can't we add something about curation to this wish list too? Perhaps a browsing library using the Paragraph quote-highlight feature? Musician interviews paired with NFT music playlists? Don't forget mood boards! Typography! Also, 'non-quid-pro-quo patronage' in web3 contexts deserves a deep dive of its own..."
Instead of following those tempting idea threads, though, I'll publish this now, in open defiance of my Watcher's admonitions. If I don't, it might languish in my files for months on end and get stale, while I humor myself that it'll be hopelessly incomplete if I don't add everything but the kitchen sink before publishing.
As always, special thanks to the Farcaster scenius for inspiring me to articulate, clarify, and publish these thoughts.
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