Publishing or not?—That is the question
Or why I'm moving from Roam Research to Substack
I’m launching a public newsletter to replace my private diary. Here’s why.
In February 2020, I started to write my personal diary with the note-taking tool Roam Research. I loved writing my daily experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Roam offers an amazing UX to do that: every day, it creates a new blank note. All those notes are then displayed in a vertical feed so that you can easily “scroll back in time” and see what your previous self used to think. Simple. So simple that I don’t know any competitor with the same feature.
However, after 8 months, my friend Nicolas and the recent launch of his personal newsletter convinced me to start mine…
I realized I was getting lazier writing my personal notes on Roam Research. I didn’t refine my thoughts. Often just a few words or quotes copied from articles I read that day. William Zinsser wrote in “On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction”:
“You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.”
But even though I’m writing to please myself, I need readers to challenge me and force me to write well. The acts of writing and reading are symbiotic. There’s no good writer without readers. I had to find readers.
So I decided to tweet more instead of just retweeting as I used to do. When I found something exciting in my daily note, I would repackage it, polish it, and tweet it to share it with others and, hopefully, start a discussion.
Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed: most of my tweets ended up in oblivion. Sometimes a “like.” Rarely a retweet. Or, thank God, an exceptional answer. But seldom a meaningful conversation. On the other hand, when I shared those same tweets with friends privately, an interesting debate would often follow.
Twitter’s format prevents long discussions. And as you can’t be both brief and nuanced, the best answers on Twitter are extreme. Extremism excludes moderate people who become afraid of commenting publicly, especially on sensitive subjects such as politics. So it leaves Twitter with extremists only. This vicious circle gradually increases the polarization of our world.
But moderate people still want to express themselves and discuss. They can do so way more easily by answering by email privately to the author of a newsletter. Or by forwarding a newsletter to a friend with a personal private comment.
Public writing but private comments. This may explain the success of Substack (the platform I use to host and send this newsletter). A product for our divided societies. Whereas Medium, as a “Twitter for long content,” would only reproduce Twitter’s extremism.
I wanted to know if other people had compared Roam Research to Substack. I found Brandon’s tweet below. Brandon recently launched his own newsletter to “build a habit of expression,” and I couldn’t say it better than him:
I want to communicate to humans, so Substack, here I come!
That being said, Substack lacks Roam’s amazing linking with Wiki-style brackets [[ ]]. WordPress offers backlinking with pingbacks: I hope Substack will implement them! Also, I will still use Roam, which is great for my decision journal, for instance.
To move to Substack, I imported all my articles from Medium. Most of them were themselves imported from my previous WordPress. The process was super easy. I forgot some of those articles written more than 4 years ago. I reread them and realized they were more refined and developed than my current daily notes. It made the decision even more obvious.
What will you see here? My daily discoveries and thoughts. Especially in fields I’m interested in: law, economics, geopolitics, minority groups, languages, product, and technology.
Substack also imported my drafts from Medium blog, which started 4/5 years ago. This gives you an example of what I may talk about and if you’re interested in any of those subjects, let me know, I may eventually write them and publish them 5 years later!
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Education and Price Signal
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How can citizens do lobbying?