Simple Justice and Blogging Exhaustion

Has Scott Greenfield retired from Simple Justice?  Scott, who routinely tweaks law academics from his beloved trenches, writes:

“Recently, it’s struck me that some of the new blawgers have written posts that mirrored things I had written years earlier.  They wrote good posts, and they did so without any clue that anyone had discussed the same issues before them. It dawned on me that I’ve gone through another circle, as happens when we get older. Every year, maybe day, new people come into the blawgosphere and it’s a rebirth, where everything old is new again.  As this thought occurred to me, I realized that my work is now part of the old, forgotten blawgosphere.  This is probably how it should be.

Five years in real time is a blink of the eye.  In internet time, it’s an eternity.  Thanks for reading, and keeping me honest.  With that, I offer this concluding video.”

Scott’s commentators are bewildered. Was this a farewell post, written (uncharacteristically) in an obscure style?  Was it some kind of publicity stunt?  Who knows – you’ll have to click to find out!

Regardless, I empathize with Scott’s complaint.  Though the Internet remembers everything you’ve done, what it reminds you most of all is that you are less than a speck in the eye of the multiverse.  Everything you write has been (will be) written by someone else, and no one will know your name next month.  You’ll find yourself drafting posts to reiterate points you’ve made before – not because you can express the idea any better, but because you’d like to climb a bit higher on the pile of sand in the hourglass. (In fact, I am 99% sure I’ve written this exact post before, but I can’t find it!)

I should know. This is my tenth year blogging! I started at Cravath in summer of 2002, when I created a small blog on constitutional law with a friend.  When I joined Temple in 2004, I switched to Prawfsblawg, and then to CoOp, which has been my blog home since the fall of 2005.  In that time, I’ve written several thousand posts (like Scott).  Very little I’ve written has managed to stick. On this blog, and others, things I’ve said in the past are repeated with no awareness that I once said them. How could they not be? There’s nothing new under the sun, and the very point of blogging is to get to not do preemption checks!  Of late, this blogging ennui, and despair about the possibility of productive conversation on some topics, has made me less motivated to blog, though I think it’s a temporary lull.

I’ve managed to stick with it this long mostly because I find blogging to be an ideal outlet for small ideas, which I wouldn’t write about in articles, and which I’d prefer to have some evidence of having came up with.  That’s not a utiliarian position. I doubt that blogging has made me a better scholar. I don’t think my blog posts have made a bit of difference in public debates.  (It might have, but the effect is incidental and contingent, not by design.) I certainly don’t think that Concurring Opinions has built a deep virtual community (cf. Volokh) to play with.  (Maybe we should?)  When I look around, I can think of only a few examples of law professors whose blogging has moved the needle.  Then again, the same is true of long-form scholarship!  Blogging is a cheap form of self-expression, and it’s nice to own my own printing press. It is as simple as that.

I thought I’d let this serve as an open thread for folks who’ve been at this for more than five years. What keeps you going?

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9 Responses

  1. Orin Kerr says:

    Wait, you mean we’re allowed to stop? That possibility had not occurred to me.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    Only if you want to stay on top of the hourglass.

  3. I started a sports blog in 2005 just to get in the habit of writing daily. Now it’s 2012 and I’ve written for ESPN, CBSSports and Sports Illustrated online, because people read my work on blogs. I’ve often considered stopping the free stuff, but that’s still where my personality gets full expression, something that often falls away in a corporate environment (have voice but not TOO MUCH voice, y’know?). I doubt I’ll ever fully call it quits.

  4. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Why restrict your opinions to friends and family?

  5. David Zaring says:

    Because I’m famous!

  6. shg says:

    I’ve long argued that the motivation for prawfs to blog is very different than the practitioner. Writing for recognition and peer validation is what you guys do for a living. For trench lawyers, it ranges from marketing to narcissism.

    As for me, I don’t think exhaustion was an issue. I could write all day long, every day, forever. It was more a matter of general disgust with the level of thought and gutlessness coming from the trenches, preaching to the choir and fighting the tide of sleazy lawyer marketing and puffery. I wrote for fun, and when it stopped being fun, I stopped writing.

    I was never so ambitious as to think my writing would “move the needle,” though I tried to get Kerr to see the light a few times. I was more than thrilled to know that I persuaded a few judges to rethink their views, pushed a few lawyers to conduct themselves with integrity and inspired a few new lawyers to spend their time working harder rather than market themselves deceptively.

    And maybe my tweaking prawfs on occasion gave them pause to focus their efforts on improving the law and the profession rather than writing pointless drivel. Not such a bad thing.

  7. Orin Kerr says:

    SHG Lives!

  8. Max Kennerly says:

    It’s hard to measure if you’re moving the needle or not. Consider something far larger than most blogs: having a NYTimes column. Sure, you can measure “moving the needle” by how often a column is discussed in some other column, but I don’t think that’s really a good proxy for how much something is changing society. Fact is, most of the impact of even the top tier of commentators is entirely invisible and impossible to measure.

    It’s pretty clear, however, that the wrong approach is to fret when you see someone else write something similar to what you wrote a while ago. I don’t know why you and Greenfield seem to think that means something other than (1) your thought wasn’t particularly original the first time around or (2) it’s a big world out there, and lots of people reach similar original conclusions.

    If you don’t think you’re getting enough external feedback (a common problem for writers of all stripes), go through your visitor logs some time and see how people got to your site. That’s far more feedback than even your typical newspaper columnist gets, and it’ll show you just how far your posts have reached and touched people. Publishing into the void isn’t a problem unique to blogging, but we at least have some tools to get a sense of what that void looks like and what the people wanted to know.

  9. Frank says:

    I would not worry about influence. Just keep telling the truth as you see it.

    One last reason to blog: you can start a series on the topic and leave it unfinished, as I did a few years back!:

    As Beckett would put it: “fail better.” Or “fail worse” ( Just keep at it.