Top 10 Reasons I Write Long Blog Posts

Top 10 Reasons I Write Long Blog Posts November 11, 2014

1. Fair argumentation means considering multiple sides of an issue. Taking into consideration other people’s views and either arguing against them or incorporating their nuances into my own views makes posts longer.

2. Thoroughness is persuasive. Being able to pack in more arguments into a single piece has a cumulative effect of strengthening each individual argument.

3. I want to close off as many expected objections as possible. I find that no matter how persuasive a particular argument I make is, if I don’t explicitly address adjacent concerns, I will immediately have readers who wave away my whole argument and focus on what I didn’t cover and seemingly not internalize the importance of what I did cover.

4. When I nearly exhaustively cover my own thoughts on a topic, I find that the comments I get in reply are far more likely to advance my own thinking because I have cleared all the brush. I have caught up readers on exactly my replies to all the objections I can think of and thrown down the gauntlet to them to push me in a new direction. And remarkably often readers come through with points that show they understood and accept the strength of my arguments and show me the room for challenging them or going beyond what we agree about to new objections. In short, by laying out all I know, it catches the reader up to me and makes it possible for our novel disagreements to be discovered and worked through so we do not have to rehash the same basic conflicts of prima facie opinions that lead to people feeling like they simply have the same argument with people over and over without ever getting anywhere.

5. Sometimes it’s important to emphasize a point in a way that readers can’t miss it. In the movie The Prestige, Christian Bale’s character is a magician who reveals a trick that is so incredibly impressive that Hugh Jackman’s rival magician character goes to great extremes, including terrifying bodily and psychological risks, trying to find a way to replicate it. But when Bale’s character first reveals it on stage the audience is relatively non-plussed and unimpressed. They don’t see the magnificence of the accomplishment the way Bale’s fellow magician does because the trick goes by too fast, obscures its own difficulty by looking too quick and easy, and fails to construct itself in the audience’s imagination. I feel like sometimes the force of crucial philosophical ideas can be missed if they’re just stated simply and quickly in skimmable sentences. Putting a little presentation into a key idea, devoting a whole paragraph or two to putting it on the stage and drawing out explicit attention to it, highlighting its nuances, repeating it once or twice with a little rhetorical flair and varied emphases that focus the attention of the reader on different aspects of its strengths is worth the effort. Shorter presentation is not better if it flies so fast that it does not get the reader thinking about it long enough to grasp that it’s important and dwell on its importance for themselves from numerous subtle angles.

Do I sometimes err on the side of overly repetitive writing by adopting this rhetorical style? Guilty as charged. Even once in a while reading one of my own posts months later I have moments of saying, “wait, this thing keeps going??” But I would rather err on the side of a reader who ends the post saying, “Alright, enough, I get it!” than that they not get it. Repetition is the mother of learning. My goal is to get ideas across, not to engage in elegant concision for its own sake. And usually I’m not just being repetitive, I am adding nuances that I think make all the difference between getting the issue especially right and getting it sloppy in the typical way. And I’m presenting them with the kind of unmissable presentation that makes it easier for readers to get (and remember) the point. And as part of that sometimes some repetition that’s eliminable from a content standpoint stands on its rhetorical merits. Sometimes it just says it a different way that drives it home for a particular reader that the other way of saying it didn’t.

6.  I cannot count how many times I have put off writing a piece because I just had too much to say. Sometimes those posts don’t get written. Ironically having more things I think I can contribute to people’s understanding means writing less when I get anxious about post length. But when I just free myself to write out all the nuances, the posts get written faster and readers get content which is unusually nuanced for blog writing and appreciate me (when they do appreciate me) precisely for that. I get that what I do is not everyone’s taste. But I write more frequently and produce more quality distinctions in each post when I free myself to just work out all the nuances that matter to me.

7. Readers who don’t want more don’t have to read more. But readers who do want more get to read more. Those readers who only want to read a 500-1,000 words can do so and get about as much as they would have had I written less. That doesn’t bother me. But if I only publish 500-1,000 words then all the people who would like to read more can’t and I can’t express all I wanted to say. So what is the point of giving everyone less just because some people want less? The longer the post, the more people can find what kind of an experience they want out of it. I’m not naive, I don’t think every reader is obligated or at all willing to read every word. The fullness is there for those who want it. Everyone’s free to take less.

8. I write under the (reasonable) assumption that most readers have not read very much of what I have written and take many posts to be my one shot to get across key nuances to them they might not otherwise come across. So I don’t think of this as people reading thousands of words from me over and over day in and day out. I think of it as people only once ever or maybe a few times a month or a year using an in-depth post to glean a lot of what I have to offer to a topic. So I don’t imagine them as unduly overwhelmed by a one time or merely occasional challenge to read something long and in-depth. And meanwhile I trust my loyal regular readers are sophisticated enough that they can skim the parts where, for the sake of thoroughness, I make my standard caveats and distinctions that are main emphases of my writing. I trust my regular readers to know their way around my writing and get what they need out of it. I trust that they don’t have to read every word of a 3,000 word post but can skim to the 1,500-2,000 words in there where I’m doing something new and benefit quite fine from that

9. My most popular posts are hands-down longer posts. Long posts do counter-intuitively well at going viral. I provide a service that there is a real interest in. Who doesn’t want to have available to them a resource that comprehensively makes an argument that it is important to them themselves? Who doesn’t want to read a meticulous take down of a bad idea that cathartically expresses all 300 things wrong and frustrating and hard to articulate about that terrible idea. People love this stuff. Of course it doesn’t work every time. Of course people don’t always have the time or the energy to put into something long, deep, and involved. But when they do? So often the recommendations people give my writing are ecstatically grateful. It’s very gratifying to me to provide people who want the substantive, thorough resource.

10. I want to say original things and really develop ideas. Most short philosophy blog posts are, to me, a waste of time honestly. Or they just give me a nugget that leaves me wanting much more. The worst is they often do a lot of unoriginal brush clearing, present an inkling of a fresh idea and stop right there without actually developing it. I can’t bring myself to do that just to be short.

It is a real art form to say something really striking in just 500 words. I admire the rare people who can pull that off. I would do it more if I had the time to write that concisely. But I don’t get paid enough writing this blog to put the extra hours into a crystalline 500 word bit of prose which miraculously says 1,000 words worth of ideas and nuances. I have to write and publish more rapidly or nothing will get done.

But even doing a great 500 word post will usually mean only providing one brick in a wall. And my interests are different than that. I want to do the constructive work of putting whole walls together, not just giving people isolated bricks. I see a ton of need for good synthetic writing that brings together disparate ideas into a coherent whole. Atheism and humanism need much more philosophically cohesive pictures out there. I aim to contribute to the project of presenting them.

And for all the flak I get for writing so long and at a sometimes challenging depth, I still write pieces that are remarkably succinct and accessible by the standards of normal philosophy writing. This stuff does still fit a blog as is.

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