Forever writing.

Ta-Nehisi makes some observations about writing regular columns that has a lot of relevance to mine and Aveek’s recent exchanges about academia:

Here is an exercise: Spend a week counting all the original ideas you have. Then try to write each one down, in all its nuance, in 800 words. Perhaps you’d be very successful at this. Now try to do it for four weeks. Then two months, then six, then a year, then five years. Add on to that all other ambitions you might have — teaching, blogging, writing long-form articles, speaking, writing books. etc. How do you think you’d fare?

… I end up recycling ideas in my own blogging, and blogging is a much more forgiving form. I can’t imagine how’d cope with the demands of staying fresh for a regular column. The point I’m making isn’t that you shouldn’t criticize columnists at the Times (I’ve done my share of criticizing), but that you should have some sense of the built-in structural limitations of the form. They are formidable.

I’m tempted to just say to this – look, if it’s true that nobody can sincerely come up with something original to say of this length on a biweekly basis, then there’s something fundamentally dysfunctional and dishonest about the way the Op-Ed system operates. I sometimes feel like even geniuses such as Krugman struggle with it, churning out the same point each week and only applied to a slightly different news story. Hire more people to write less each. Shift the focus to brief blogging with no pressure on people to write except when they want to, rather than people being obliged by their job to try to come up with some idea of length on regular deadlines. Otherwise, what is the point? We’re all just wasting one another’s time.


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