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by Jacob O'Bryant

Into the shell I go

Off-and-on I've wondered: should I try to use my writing to introduce people to the stuff I build, or should I use the stuff I build to introduce people to my writing? I've gone back and forth on this, but I think I've reached a definitive answer: the latter.

For one thing, I personally find it a lot easier to get new users for an app than to get more newsletter subscribers. Especially since now I mostly just rely an advertising. Ads are such a calm, relaxing way to grow a product, as long as you don't think about how much money you're losing. Of course you can grow a newsletter with ads also, but since my revenue comes from the product, it makes more sense to just advertise that directly.

Besides that, I'm simply more attracted to using the newsletter mainly to develop ideas than as a marketing tool. It's freeing to write in this way, with no thought for traffic or subscriber growth. I've been doing entrepreneurship for so long now that I think that mindset has taken up a little too much room in my head; not to mention the teenage years I spent with my mind steeped in Paul Graham essays. Getting metrics to go up is good and necessary, but there's a time and a place.

This builds on another experience I've had recentlyish, which is that I've stopped using social media. Just over three months ago I wrote my last tweet, after I'd finally had enough of you-know-who. And I really haven't missed it. It's been relaxing to be disengaged from whatever the current topic of discussion is. I read stuff that I care about, I write stuff that I care about, and in neither case is popular appeal relevant. Last week for instance, I spent all my (limited) reading time over about three days getting through a long article I'd bookmarked some time ago. Refreshing! And I still end up hearing about major news events one way or another (I heard there was a bank collapse or something?).

Even Mastodon/the fediverse, which is great and whose growth I support in spirit, has been removed from my folder of daily-visited bookmarks. I'm active in one Discord server (my own) and two Slack workspaces (one for Clojure and one for newsletters), and that's about the limit of my online social interaction. That, and whenever you send me emails, which I always cherish, even though they're mostly support questions.

Occasionally I think about how nice it might be to have one or two more consulting clients—then even growth for Yakread wouldn't be urgent. I could immerse myself in thinking and writing and coding and not worry about metrics at all. I'd still think about metrics of course, because I want Yakread to grow and benefit others, but the I'd-like-to-have-a-house-someday thing wouldn't be a motivating factor.

I even sometimes have morbid thoughts about getting a job—but to be honest, I really can't see myself doing that except as a last resort (i.e. if I'm unable to turn either Yakread or consulting into a sufficiently profitable/growing business by, say, the end of the year). The problem is I never would be able to fully commit myself to a job; tools for online speech and Biff will always be my Main Thing. So until someone offers me a job working on those things, contract work I think is a much better fit. Better to keep things transactional.

I read a wonderful post from Michael Nielsen, How to use a personal website to enhance your ability to think and create?, which is what spurred today's post:

Most personal websites aim at personal connection with other people, or at establishing oneself professionally. They're not usually about helping the author think and create, except incidentally.

Those things – personal connection, professional marketing – are important. But as the purpose for a website I can't get excited about them. But I can get excited about the idea of using this website to enhance my ability to think and create.

Reading it made me feel almost embarrassed that my own site is so obviously designed for the banal task of driving newsletter signups. There's so much more that could be done.

So I've been thinking about what I want to do with the TFoS website/this newsletter/my writing habits. I'm not sure yet. I kind of like the cadence of writing the newsletter weekly, but it does have some drawbacks: it'd be nice to have more give-and-take, so I could e.g. put a full week of coding into a consulting project or one of my own projects, and then spend more time writing on other weeks. And even just with respect to writing, the duty to post something weekly means I never write anything for longer than about a day.

I'm considering instead shifting to a more asynchronous writing habit: spend more time writing "lab notes," most of which I'll likely write in the Discord forum, and gradually grow those into completed essays. Rather than sitting down to write a post, I'll continually funnel my thoughts into the website as they come.

Maybe I'll still send the newsletter weekly, but it'll turn into more of a list-of-links-with-summary thing, with links for any posts on the site that I've updated. On weeks when I feel like it, I'm sure I'll still end up typing some blog-style/stream-of-consciousness thoughts, as I am today.

With this process, I'd like to turn my website into a map for the ideas I'm thinking about, instead of the current mostly-chronological list of homogeneous blog posts. Sadly this does mean I'll have to find time to redo the coding behind the website, which I have approximately zero time for. (At least it's fun.) And that's after I figure out what the website should look like in the first place. That will take some iteration.

A final note for anyone reading this via The Sample's publisher report: I'm going to stop including these posts there. I rarely talk about The Sample anyway, even though it continues to have a place in my heart and in my bank statements. So if you want to keep reading my pontifications, you should subscribe to the main newsletter.

Published 13 Mar 2023

I write an occasional newsletter
about my work and ideas.

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