July 5, 2019

Twitter isn't your friend: FOMO and self-promotion

Remember that post about changing priorities?

I think fear of missing out (FOMO) makes most people use sites like Twitter or Facebook. They might know how harmful they can be, but the fear keeps them enthralled.

People who want to promote the things they make get a second tier of the FOMOmenon. They aren't just afraid of missing people. They're afraid no one will ever see the things they worked hard to create!

I've been there. When a post is a hit on social media, it's great. A billion hits I didn't have to do much for. Neat. And then...nothing. You have to keep getting those hits. Or you have to keep re-retweeting your links so everyone sees them. This is exhausting.

Technology is supposed to free us. Technology is not supposed to lock us down or make us afraid and dependent. Every startup backed by billions of venture capital dollars heads down the same road. First they lure you in with "engagement." Then they lock the platform down, shutting out app developers. Twitter did this over the years. Then they crack down on people who don't fit neatly into the boxes adored by advertisers. Then...you're trapped.

But you aren't trapped. Not really. Growing a blog or newsletter or whatever takes longer without these big walled gardens. So what? That's how it was before they came along. You can still do it.

Growing numbers with RSS and newsletters takes longer, but you don't have to work as hard to keep people coming back. And you own that connection. Sites like Twitter and Facebook own that connection when you depend on them. You might lose 90% of subscribers if you switch newsletter providers, but at least you won't start from 0. Zero is hell.

What happens if Twitter shuts you down? You're just gone. Unless you have another way to reach people. If you must use these sites, use it to direct growth to platforms you control.

But what does it mean?

Twitter says I "earned" over 270k impressions in the last 28 days.

Reddit says I have over 13,000 "karma."

I have almost, maybe more than, 10k points on Hacker News between accounts I've made over the years. All of them were exploration.

Most of the connections I made on these sites fade away if I don't stay there. Even the connections I maintained depend on participation on other things: chat rooms on Telegram or Discord, message boards, et cetera. These people are notoriously difficult to get to know elsewhere.

I'm aware of all the tales of people becoming great friends online. Even I had such a story! But it turned out he only connected on Twitter, and he was glued to the app in person. Trying to pull him away for a substantial in-person conversation just led to resentment on both ends.

You know all those '90s shows about virtual reality gone wrong? People jacked in and that was it. You never saw them again unless you joined up. I hate to sound like a luddite, but that's how it feels. If I disconnect, all those connections that felt so real fade away.

Maybe it's me. I've decided to cut way back and try something different. I remember conversations over email and in comments felt more substantial even if they were more fleeting. RSS has no push notifications, and email seems more transactional these days, but I want to see.

Sometimes the only way to get a fresh perspective is to try on an old one. Making friends on message boards and in blog comments seemed easier. I may not talk to most of them anymore, but I remember those conversations in a way I never have with Twitter or link sharing sites.

We'll see.

June 28, 2019

How I draft stories

I discovered that trying to write one big blob does not work for me. I can get as far as 2000 words before the volume overwhelms. As with many things in life, breaking it down into pieces helps a lot! This is where most outlining writers suggest a big bulleted list where you work out all the beats of a story.

That's gonna be a no from me. Tried it. Didn't work. My method uses stubs. Here's an example. The example character is named Bean. While this uses a fiction example, it works for nonfiction. I developed this in college to get through all the things I had to write.

[Story opens with Bean climbing an ancient ruined skyscraper]

The brackets help set the outline apart from the story. Paragraphs grow off these bracketed stubs.

Here's some more.

[Bean climbs into a room][finds some food so she won't die]

I don't always do one per line. Sometimes I have to map out an entire paragraph to write it. Something about the noncommittal nature of stubs makes it easier, and then it's less stress to write actual story.

Personally, I start with dialogue.

[Bean goes through the room's door and meets another traveler]

"Hello," Bean said. The stranger's hand moved to grip their side. "I come in peace. Don't shoot."

The stranger's grip loosened. "I don't like surprises."

"Sorry. I didn't know anyone else came here. I'm indifferent to surprises." Bean took a deep breath and extended the hand opposite the stranger's, still on their side. "I'm Bean."

"Coffee?"

"Cocoa. My parents loved chocolate when you could still get it."

"No, I mean would you like some coffee. I found some that's still fresh."

[the as-yet unnamed stranger makes cowboy coffee in an old stainless steel pot with a fuel cell-powered portable stove]

[they spend the evening getting to know each other]

I do another writing pass to fill out senses, stubbing it out to write later unless I know exactly how I want to proceed. Every writer has at least one persistent foible. Mine is talking heads suspended in dark rooms. They project words at each other without the slightest awareness that other people are talking. I do a writing pass to build senses, then another to show how characters react to what's happening. Trying to compress these steps into a single pass makes my writing slow and stilted.

Think of it like the way painters work. Some of them draw outlines. Some of them block it out with big forms then refine them. Some of them do sketches on paper. Every person who creates develops their own process with enough practice.

The writing passes you make will probably be different.

[Bean wakes to the smell of stale coffee in the pot]

[Bean hasn't had coffee in a long time and tried to drink it stale and cold][reaction goes here]

I try to write every sense for every beat in a scene even if not all of them make the cut. Doing that builds the scene in my head so I know what I'm working with. Beyond that, I keep stubbing and writing until it feels like a whole story. I sit on it and start on another story, then come back to edit it weeks later.

June 27, 2019

A reintroduction, reclamation, and rebuilding

Hello! The name I was given at birth is Michael Robinson. You may have seen something I wrote in the past. Only a handful are worth preserving, and I only reposted one with plans to follow up on it.

I spent the last ~5 years exploring the heck out of identity. Unless otherwise stated, assume any view I expressed in the past is either no longer current or has substantially evolved. While none of it was egregious, I was headed down the extreme right rabbithole. I feel like it's a good idea to preempt some questions and concerns.


  1. Trans rights are human rights. I understand the myriad arguments people make against trans equality, and not one of them is compelling to me.
  2. Black lives matter. Contrary to popular misconception, saying this does not assert the opposite for other identities. I actually read Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case For Reparations" to the end and understood it as a chronicle of mistreatment of black people and the attacks on their communities that continue to this day. I can't have read something like that and not think it's worth asserting that black lives do in fact matter.
  3. Intersectionality means everyone. That means men and AMAB (assigned male at birth) people, too. While this is almost uncontroversial in 2019, saying it made one a pariah in popular progressive discourse back in the social media chaos of 2014/2015. This fact is old hat in more niche feminist discourse, but that's always been crushed under popular narratives. Common knowledge changes slowly. #MeToo and Terry Crews claiming some space for AMAB people in that discussion helped a lot. I present male out of convenience, but I identify as nonbinary due to the way gender roles (among other things) cause feelings I identified as dysphoria after much research and introspection.
Now enough about me. Let's talk about me.

Five years of exploration leads to many discoveries. A journey into the self is as valuable as any globetrotting adventure.

  1. I'm largely indifferent to gender. This goes for attraction and experience. In fact, this journey started when I ran across some racy furry art and thought the character was a woman. They were not. Becoming a furry, even if only for a little while, is a great way to speed run personal development. I identify as bi for convenience since most people understand it in a rough way, and it's easier to build on for a full understanding.
  2. I'm furry-adjacent. I went to a convention. I had fursonas. While I still participate, I don't consider msyelf very furry anymore. This is normal for people who find their way into the community for the purpose of exploration. I may go back in, but for now, I want to try on what I learned on the outside.
  3. I'm nonbinary. Sometimes she/her pronouns feel good. Sometimes it's the same with he/him and they/them. It rarely matters. Pronouns and names rarely cause gender dysphoria or euphoria. This is why I reclaimed the identity handed to me at birth and began the process of refining it into something for me. It's just easier that way. "Sir" and "man" and gender roles sting.
There's more, but as an experienced writer, I know better than to tell instead of show without a good reason. Stay tuned.

The web is a mess

A long time ago in a blog far away, I wrote a post titled "The web is a mess." Over 25,000 people saw it. Plenty of people agreed. Plenty of people did not! This was back in 2012 before the current tech boom went into full swing.

I've reproduced the post here and plan to do a followup with 7 years of hindsight.

--

You remember way back in the early ’00s when your favorite blogs posted a few times a day at most, had a handful of great writers, and were a joy to read. Then something happened. Your beloved Lifehacker got out of hand, and you couldn’t keep up. TechCrunch bombarded you with shallow coverage of every little funding round and seemed to create ten new scandals a day.

The story repeated itself over and over, and you turned to the filters of Twitter and Facebook to keep up on the news. I want you to do a little experiment, to confirm that you aren’t losing your mind.

Go back to that favorite blog you abandoned when you realized you couldn’t keep up. You’ll find that it posts between 40 and 100 things a day. It’s no coincidence. Let’s face it: no person can keep up with that kind of volume on more than one blog and stay sane. You might be able to follow one or two, but not much more than that if you have anything else to do during the day.

These blogs don’t do it for you. They do it for Google. They flood every keyword you might put into a search engine to deny that traffic to any blog that dares to compete with a low volume of high quality content.

I’m going to let you in on the dirty little secret: digital publishing lost its mind. The mind that kept the quality high and the volume low. The mind that cared about your time, and only shared the best with you. That mind is gone, lost in the mad dash for advertising dollars, trampled under diminishing CPMs and acquisitions that ripped editorial control away from the people who built your favorite sites.

Most top blogs don’t deserve the top slot anymore. All they do is generate a flood of shallow writing, hoping to collect all the traffic from people searching for news. I’ve seen this effect on a smaller scale when I write posts on events in the news. I’ll instantly get 20-100 hits on the topic, and enjoy a small spike in traffic over the following few days as the story runs its course. Now imagine you’re running a huge website with plenty of poorly or unpaid writers to flood every news topic with content.

Coverage of a single story could get thousands of dollars worth of ad impressions from the traffic on one of the bigger sites like Huffington Post. And the writers will see little if any of that money.

And it works. A blog with only a few hundred thousand readers might pop up in the #2 or #3 slot on Google, but the first result looks like a better match to most search engine users. If I ran a search engine, I would ban these sites from the index. Google and Bing can’t do that without drawing the gaze of regulators.

I have no solution to offer. I’ve thought about this for years, worked on ideas, and haven’t made any progress in breaking through the noise without doing the same thing the big sites do. This is an unhappy position for someone who’d like to make a living giving content away while making the money from ad dollars. I don’t see a way to do that when an ad pays pennies for thousands of impressions. That means I have to link to my eBooks [no longer available--more on that in the followup!] a lot since a single sale is worth thousands of ad impressions. I’d rather give them away.

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