Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

A Clarification

A lot of people seem to have misunderstood my piece A Non-Programmer’s Apology and my blog more generally. Let me explain:

I am 19 and live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in an apartment with two others. The three of us together work full-time on the site reddit.com and I spend most of my days working on programming and various related tasks for it.

In the nights and weekends I read and think and write. I’m working on a large book project, which I expect to take years, and which I don’t discuss much on the Web.

I also think about lots of things, many of which don’t relate to either reddit or the book project. When a thought crystalizes I type it up and post it to my blog. I don’t read it before I post it, I don’t show it to anyone, and I don’t edit it. I literally sit down and type one word after another and hit save and hit upload. (Obviously, there are some exceptions, but this is standard practice.)

If you think the writing here is poor, that’s probably why. Real writing takes editing. But I don’t consider this writing, I consider this thinking. I like sharing my thoughts and I like hearing yours and I like practicing expressing ideas, but fundamentally this blog is not for you, it’s for me. I’m sorry. Maybe that isn’t how it should be, but at least for now that’s how it is. In my defense, nobody’s making you come here.

I plan to keep doing this until the company fails or becomes a huge success.

Afterwards, I hope to work on the book project (and a related project) full time.

I hope that clears things up.

You should follow me on twitter here.

June 20, 2006


Here’s my theory on why people are pissed at you for posting drivel:

In the past, you’ve written many inspired and well-argued posts. You’ve also written crappy ones going way back, but people forget about the crappy ones pretty quickly, and start thinking “Aaron’s weblog is really fascinating!” So they keep coming back, but occasionally have their (false) expectations disappointed by nonsense about how Bach sucked or how the Shangri-La diet is going to re-make society. I think this “clarification” is fairly dishonest, as many of your recent posts have very clearly involved more work than “type, save, upload”.

My advice would be for you to fork this blog. Have one blog for things like your Non-programmer’s Apology and book reviews and other interesting stuff, have a second one for pithy little bon-bons that you dash out in 15 minutes.

posted by mark on June 21, 2006 #

I think this “clarification” is fairly dishonest, as many of your recent posts have very clearly involved more work than “type, save, upload”.

Like what? The problem is I don’t know where the line is…

posted by Aaron Swartz on June 21, 2006 #

“When a thought crystalizes I type it up and post it to my blog. I don’t read it before I post it, I don’t show it to anyone, and I don’t edit it.”

Well, that’s the right way to improve your writing (i.e. you really do need to do it constantly), but why post it so publically in its raw form?

Would [insert the name of your favorite artist or designer] show you all his rough sketches and false starts?

Maybe if his masterpiece is already done, then its instructive to look back on how it happened, but definitely not while it’s a work in progress.

(Robert Greene has a great quote on this about a Japanese artist — I’m too lazy to lookup the exact reference now, but the essense of it is “Don’t look at the canvas until I’m finished”.)

posted by Jones on June 21, 2006 #

I for one enjoy the raw thoughts very much. Not everything comes out polished the first time ‘round, and that’s okay. If you’re writing a book or a magazine article that’s one thing, but a blog is quick and spontaneous and I really like yours. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

posted by chris on June 21, 2006 #

Like what? The problem is I don’t know where the line is…

So your Chomsky experience is as same as your writing on suburbs or one bad concert? (They indicate how your thought goes with simialr pattern always but…)

You can’t really say every single entries you put on here is ‘same kind’. If you are really working on book, web applications, you’d better label/distinguish them, what’s raw, what’s essential but also raw, - or some casual thoughts.

If you are REALLY talented or ‘hard working’ writer and/or programmer, you’d sense the need to do that kind of labeling and structuring. (to work with people at many levels and setting.)

Or you do it naturally - so people’d go along naturally too. Ah, this is serious piece - or no, this is just an interval - life can be that way. We all know that. What’d show up on ‘canvas’ would naturally makes sense.

Skipping doing something about this dimension - or you can’t be ‘sensitive enough’ to think about this? How you think about people and how you design the platform/space for them?

Was Infogami - what? - and now the Plum is coming - (to make people share things probably quite at raw level) - and reddit’s ‘majoritarain or what?’ problem…(before voting you gotta be educated. I heard America’s founders said something that…)

All for - to make best out of us? because - baseline is - we shouldn’t be ‘(just) wasted’?

posted by a.kusaka on June 22, 2006 #

As someone that often wonders how to separate work from life, thoughts into categories that make my words have meaning to anyone that should venture into my world - I see your writing as just that YOUR Writing. Your blog, your writing and what you choose to write is yours to do with as you wish. People can read, comment, have opinions but to question why you write something in one place rather than another. Unless you hire me to be your editor (not likely) then it’s not my job to try to edit your work.

Life is tangential. Work is ordered but random ideas and clever words can tip your work world as much as anything else. If a blog becomes an entity - a shadow of you - it will show in your writing, your passions, your conflicts, your ideas. As with people, this entity will resist being categorized.

Your narrative will be yours to define - you are doing it well.


posted by Tammy on June 23, 2006 #

Seems like a sane philosophy to me. For the record, I enjoy it (and not out of some sycophantic adulation). Your thinking out loud makes me think about things that might not normally cross my mind, gives me things to discuss with friends over dinner & drinks, that sort of thing. The “rawness” has never much bothered me (and when looked at in light of the myriad of crap that exists online, your writing seems closer to the “scholarly” end of the scale, unpolished though it may be).

posted by David Warde-Farley on June 24, 2006 #

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