On blogger’s block

Yes, I used the b-word, as “website-writer’s block” has neither beauty nor alliteration. At any rate, I usually have a few things to read in the evening that I might post about here the next day. Yesterday I had nothing: everything I read, including a science paper, was either tedious, poorly written, said nothing new, or wasn’t intriguing.

And then I remembered that for about the first 8 years of this site or so, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what I was going to write about when I walked to work in the morning. In fact, that was a pleasure: to see a website appear out of neurons and thin air.

Those days are gone. In fact, they’re so gone that, when I was in that situation this morning, I felt I had to apologize for it here. Why? I suppose I feel a greater responsibility to produce content, and that’s buttressed by the many people who write me saying that they’re faithful readers, with some averring that WEIT is the first thing they read in the morning with their coffee. While that pleases me immensely, it also has imposed a bit of pressure on me to keep the interesting posts coming. I remember fondly the days when I didn’t feel that pressure, though I haven’t looked back to see if I post more now than I used to.  (The total number of posts, by the way, has been 22,285, including this one, with 1,098,183 comments.)

One result is that I’m constantly starting posts and discarding them when I lose interest: the third figure below is stuff that you’ll probably never see:

There’s an 80-page list of draft posts, and I might as well delete them all save the Caturday felid posts, which I construct as readers send me cat items.

The other result—and not a good one—is that sometimes I weigh what interests me against what might interest the readers. When they coincide, it’s good. Often they don’t, as in cat posts, boot posts, duck posts, and even science posts. But when I think that what interests me might bore other people, I go ahead and post. When the converse obtains, I deep-six the post, accounting for the 1,586 draft posts.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 10+ years I’ve been writing this site, it’s that I have to write about what intrigues me rather what I think would incite readership and discussion. (I could, for example, write a gazillion posts dissing Trump, but that’s just boring; go to HuffPost or the New York Times if you want that.) So nothing much will change, though I’m delighted to receive suggestions (except for those urging me to can the duck and cat posts!) The mantra will remain, “to thine own interests be true.”

Oh, I just thought of something to write about!

53 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I think you’re suffering from Covid-19 Shut-in Syndrome™, at least in part. I’m not a prolific writer and can’t attest to a loss of desire-to-write, but I do know that there is a certain tedium that has set in here at Chez GBJ with one day following another with little to distinguish it from the one just past. In any case, my advice, such as it is, would be not to stress it. You are under no obligation to us freeloading page-turners. 😉

    • Jim batterson
      Posted July 13, 2020 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      I have noticed the same phenomenon as gbj. Writing and even thinking about how to phrase ideas have become, how should i say it? More difficult. At first i thought it was a more rapid accumulation of brain plaques, but with gbj agree that it one impact of isolation and a sameness to certain aspects of life. And this from someone who has it pretty darn good with a reasonably comfortable and quiet suburban abode, 3-6 friends to walk a five mile wooded trail several days a week, a wife with whom to argue politics regularly, share meals, (and who is facile with ordering anything my heart or mind desires from amazon prime!). Not to mention weekly zoom cocktail hours with our kids and grandkids…i know that this constitutes whining on the yacht, but it is real. You are missing the stimulation of the regular travel you planned for over the years as well as the real time personal stimulation of inperson discussions and q&a with old friends and new lecture audiences. In reviewing some data from 1918 flu epidemic (no this is not flu but it is a new disease like in 1918, for which we had no immunity) in a 2006 cdc workshop on preparing for a pandemic and raul rabadon’s just published cambridge university press booklet, understanding coronavirus, it appears we will get back to normal…eventually. Meanwhile please just write on what you are motivated to write and share with us.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted July 13, 2020 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        I recently “attended” a conference via Zoom that had been made freely available. I would never have attended the conference, and most of the people who were “there” were presenters. I really enjoyed the intellectual stimulation. Being away from my workplace has meant no serendipitous contact, and that kind of contact sparks so many more neurons for me than a phonecall or zoom meeting with my boss!

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Probably the best rule is – don’t tell me what to write about. But writing about stuff that gets you the most readers is not the way to go anyway. If you are going to do that state an on line magazine and just do junk. One of the best things about this site is, you never know what will be written about. Having mystery in it is part of what makes it good. Many of the people on this site end up spending some time reading other comments by other readers. I don’t think that happens too much at other places. The challenge is to each other as much as to you. That is, as long as it does not turn into the long winded argument no one likes.

  3. eric grobler
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I have “readers block”, cannot read papers like the NYT or the Guardian anymore 😦

    However I scan your posts every day.
    I love the Hili dialogues!

    This blog with the it’s community is a sanity corner, my safe space 🙂

  4. Leo Glenn
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Just want to let you know that yours is the only website of this kind that I follow. I have been receiving your emails for years, and I have received tremendous value from this association. I regularly share articles, images, commentary, from your website with friends and family. When I show my wife and kids something fun or fascinating, (particularly if it’s science or cat-related), they automatically ask, “Was that from Jerry?” You have become a virtual member of our family, and I can’t express how much I appreciate the time and effort you put into this endeavor. I don’t often comment, but that’s out of shyness, not a lack of interest. I love the diversity of subjects you post about, the food, travel, moggies, science, political commentary, etc. And I enjoy reading comments from other readers. Now more than ever, I’m grateful for your emails because they remind me that there are still decent, intelligent, thoughtful, kind people out there. So please don’t change a thing (unless you want to).

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I agree absolutely (except that I post too many stupid comments).

    • Debra Coplan
      Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      That is exactly how it goes for me also.
      I can’t always add a comment, but certainly gain from everyone’s input.
      The website has opened my eyes up to information I would not even be able to know about.
      I spend a lot of time reading the posts and trying to understand science posts that are very difficult for me to understand.
      The excitement and expansiveness I feel after reading some of the posts is tremendous.
      This website is a connection to another perspective for me. I appreciate whatever is posted and grateful to have this website, especially during this very trying time.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted July 13, 2020 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        Agree with everything said above. WEIT is a lovely place to visit every day. Love reading everyone’s comments, love the science (almost always above my pay grade), love the moggies & ducks, love Hili etc. etc. etc. And as Debra says: “…grateful to have this website, especially during this very trying time.”

  5. Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Ducks, cats, boots and science. I love it all. Hang on in there,despite the politics. This site is my daily breath of fresh air amidst the gloom.

  6. Linda Calhoun
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Well, I was going to suggest more cat and duck posts, but I guess I’m in the minority about that.

    Seriously though, I hit this site several times each day, depending on how busy I am with real life, and I read most of the posts, just skipping over the few that don’t interest me.

    It might be fun to do some open threads. I enjoy the comments as much as the posts. Lots of thought goes into those, and some humor, too. I thoroughly enjoyed the pecan pie thread, although recipes might not interest the larger readership.

    And, if you wanted to, how about a few guest columns?

    L

    • boudiccadylis
      Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      My sentiments too, but I don’t like pecan pie. However, it was interesting to see how the corn starch nuts on top conversation went.

      • Linda Calhoun
        Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        There are plenty of recipes out there that are not pecan pie.

        And, the aesthetics/taste issue is a big one for me. I go for taste every time. Food has to look appetizing, too, but elaborately decorated cakes leave me cold, especially when the cake and frosting under the decoration don’t taste as good as simple fare made with quality ingredients.

        L

  7. Erik
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I subscribed to your site to read your thoughts on just about anything – including boots. Whatever strikes your interest is fine with me. However, I hope at some point you can do a summary of the current duck season.

  8. roscoefielding
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Comments 1-4 say it all better than I could. Hear, hear! Well done, Prof.

  9. Frank Bath
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    In addition to the biology, the cats and the ducks which I have come to enjoy, what I get out of WEIT in a big way is what of importance is happening in the distant USA. But above all it’s the privilege of being able to spend time in the company of a deeply warm and super intelligent man. Post whatever you like, I’ll read it.

  10. Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I go to other places that interest me, relating to science, news, and photography, but this is ‘home’. Your daily output is incredible too.
    If ever you have bl*ggers block for long, I think it perfectly alright to re-run an old post and put it back up. Posts from many years ago would seem new to us! Science. Politics, whatever.

  11. Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Hello Jerry,

    I seldom comment, but I have been reading your pages for years, almost from the beginning, and yes, it is one of the first pages (or emails) that I read every day, I have all your books, and have seen and listened to a number of videos and podcasts where you participate, but please don’t feel pressured. You really do a great service. But is not like you are getting paid for it.

    I guess, we will eventually miss your writings, like I missed the stuff Eric MacDonald used to write.

  12. alexander
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I like your travel stories, even the ones about trips you made 50 years ago. Especially those, traveling then was much more exciting than what we have now: boring and uniform. Everything has to be reserved a long time in advance, etc. Interesting adventures, clashes with other cultures leading to funny situations, misunderstandings, etc. These posts often elicit interesting similar posts by your readers.

  13. Jody Hey
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    This is the only blog I regularly visit.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted July 13, 2020 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      Yup, me too.

  14. Karst
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I rarely comment, but usually come here multiple times a day. I appreciate the diversity and quality of post topics. Also: the fact that commenting is amazingly free of the nasty strife found on so many websites.

    I’d recommend not stressing about post frequency. We all have way too much stress to deal with. It won’t hurt us to have more entire days with no new posts.

    Finally, I really appreciate your posts of stories from your life. They made for interesting reading and filled in a few details that we had heard little about (especially the conscientious objector story) but (mostly) were too polite to inquire about. I too faced the draft (#92) but the draft ended shortly before I could be called up, so I did not have to make hard choices.

  15. Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Whatever you want to write about and whenever the muse strikes you is great with me. Thank you for this interesting and entertaining site.

  16. Snake
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know that cowboy boots were so interesting until I started reading your posts about them. I’m not so into ducks or cats, but that’s hardly your fault.

    Write if it’s interesting to you. If you don’t find anything, then don’t write. You don’t owe readers anything, although we owe you a ‘thank you’.

    Best wishes Prof.

  17. Simon Hayward
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Consistent with the comments above. You should write about what you enjoy (and damn the torpedoes!) You do not have a sacred duty to entertain the largest possible audience. If that’s what you wanted to do there are better paying options!

    I fully concur with Randall’s comment above, and also with GBJ’s thought on feeling “shut in”.

  18. Posted July 13, 2020 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I alos start most of my mornings with your website. Whatever it contains is welcome!

    • Mike
      Posted July 13, 2020 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Me too: coffee and WEIT, every day, first thing.

      • Steve
        Posted July 13, 2020 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        I read WEIT everyday, all of it.
        But the first things I read are “Bloom County” and the “Far Side.”
        😀

  19. Nicholas K.
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I’ll always want to read updates on the ducks!

  20. Posted July 13, 2020 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    You should probably check through those drafts before just dumping them. Might be some gems that you just forgot about. Also, your thinking might have changed since you started them. I am always surprised by my own rediscovered writings. Sure, mostly it is crap but it is still interesting to see one’s trash from years ago.

  21. HBB
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Same here – I look at this site first thing every morning with my coffee (I admit to peaking at the weather forecast first most mornings). Like several other commenters, I think your editorial policies have served us all well. I really enjoy your science posts although I rarely comment on them. In fact, I have included the info from some of those posts in my Evolution course lectures. Keep up the good work! (at a level you find comfortable).

  22. Roo
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Agree with those who noted it may be a result of quarantining. My understanding is that our brain churns out chemicals like dopamine (that makes us feel motivated to start new things) when exposed to novel stimuli. Most of us aren’t getting much in the way of novel stimuli these days.

    FWIW, my personal recipe for dopamine boost is green tea, light aerobic exercise, and yoga. A trip to a new place – even if it’s a new Target for groceries or a different path around the neighborhood – can also help.

  23. nay
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Dear Perfessir:
    The only thing you have to post is the “posting will be light” notices so we don’t worry about you. Otherwise, like everyone else here, please post whatever you want, including about “the current resident of the White House” (as Whoopi Goldberg refers to him because she won’t say his name on air) – until YOU get bored with him (it won’t take long). Agree with other commenters that you should review your drafts, reminisce about past travels and travails (with pictures!), repeat some old posts and keep up your cat, food and boots posts (what are you wearing today?).
    You once worried that few commented on your science posts. I never do because I don’t feel qualified. However, in this shut down/shut in period, I’m finding difficulty even reading those – like I’m losing my vocabulary and ability to focus. Indeed, I find myself skipping the text between readers’ wildlife photos and just admiring the pretty pictures. By the way, what happened to the Squirrel Lady?

    • nay
      Posted July 13, 2020 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Yay! Squirrel Lady (Diane MacPherson) was in the prior post, which I just saw.

  24. Mark Reaume
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    On potential topics that may interest you (not sure if you read or wrote about this already) is Carl Zimmer’s piece titled “DNA Inherited From Neanderthals May Increase Risk of Covid-19”. It’s way above my pay grade and was wondering what you and fellow readers thought of it. It doesn’t look to me like it is a big factor in the risk of Covid-19 but what do I know?

    FWIW, I’ve always been impressed by the amount of content on this site, it’s hard for me to keep up as it is 🙂

  25. Brian
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I read your post about nothing interesting today. I want to sing high praises to you for this service. I read all of you posts whether they are science related or political. Plus, i forward them to many others. The only thing I do not read are the cat posts. Do not get me wrong. I love cats. However, I am highly allergic and there may be some classical conditioning (sniffles) when I read about them:)

  26. Reggie Cormack
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    For me it’s all the subjects that I’d probably never otherwise read about, or know about, that I find irresistible.
    More, ducks, boots, food or whatever else catches your eye.

  27. rickflick
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry you feel pressured. Pressure can be good to make people make a deadline or accomplish major goals, but for a daily blog, there shouldn’t be pressure. One small suggestion, shift more of the burden to the readers. There are lots of interesting people who read this site who can contribute (they already do in the form of discussions). Maybe put out more question posts, where you solicit opinion on some issue. Books people are reading, favorite film of all time, etc.

  28. Steve Pollard
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    What everyone else has said. Your first alert usually arrives late morning in the UK, and it’s always the first high spot of the day. Anything you’re interested in, or have a view about, is fine for me. Don’t feel any obligation to keep us entertained: we’re the ones who are deeply obliged to you.

  29. Teresa Carson
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    As so many others have said, keep up the good work. I don’t have time to read everything because I am still working full time, but I enjoying reading your first post of the day after my morning walk. I always learn something new, and I love the cats, ducks and boots. It also reminds me that you have always been incredibly smart, funny, kind and generous to a fault. So, you be you and post what you like. It’s always more interesting to see what’s going on in someone else’s mind, especially yours.

  30. ladyatheist
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I was reading something last night and thought “Jerry should read this!” but then I thought, “nah, Jerry has too much to read.”

    Now I don’t remember what it was.

  31. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    It seems like ages since there was a boot post.

  32. C.
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps I’m in a similar situation, not with writing but reading. I’ve started but not finished Murray’s The Bell Curve, Cobb’s latest book on the brain, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Matt Parker’s Things to do and Build in the 4th dimension, and a few others. I can’t find the joy, the spark that usually drives my interest, I often can’t get through the longer posts on here, finish a full movie, tv show, or podcast although I did find brief respite reading an old zoology textbook by Libbie H. Hyman on frog dissection last night, so go figure. The virus, social distancing, depression, anxiety (high anxiety by Mel Brooks is on right now) everything one needs to disrupt and disquiet the mind.

    Perhaps you could write about classic tv or movies, books everyone should read, hit music of summers long past, or just an open thread when nothing else inspires. Or just take a break. You owe us nothing, so don’t worry about it too much.

  33. Grania Deviine
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Dear PCC(e),

    I’d like to thank you for all the hard work and hard thought you put into this website. First thing upon waking, I check the weather, then turn to WEIT. Whatever you’re thinking about, I’m interested in reading about. I get a tremendous charge out of the cats, ducks, boots and food. I’ve only ever posted one substantial comment in the six plus years I’ve been following WEIT, but I read every essay, every day. I REALLY enjoy this site (and your books, too). I’m also very impressed with the intelligence of the commenters and the high quality of their comments (still miss Ben Goren). I’m sorry you’re feeling pressured and blocked. I hope that it doesn’t last. Please keep on keeping on, but don’t feel that you owe us anything.

    Gratefully,
    GD

  34. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Creative juices, may ooze without pressure.

  35. Cate Plys
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for doing this PCCE! If you ever wonder, yes, this site is a key part of many people’s days, morning coffee or lunch or whatever. This post reminds me of Mike Royko, my favorite newspaper columnist ever, not that that is unusual for a Chicagoan. Royko wrote five days a week, which today doesn’t sound so exceptional, but in those days, the expectations for something IN PRINT were much greater than for today’s daily postings. And Royko was expected to come up with originally reported columns for the most part, not just opinion. Other newspaper columnists typically wrote more like 2 or 3 times per week. Anyway, he was really tortured by that daily deadline. Kudos to you for keeping it up. We all appreciate it.

  36. Peter (Oz) Jones
    Posted July 13, 2020 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Agree with you all about the personal benefit this site brings. It is amazing that it is the product of one person. Originally I came as it was mentioned for errata in the WEIT book.

    Now, being time shifted by +13 hours, my day begins by reading the posts & comments and the day ends with the latest Hili post.

    It is a delight to be allowed into your “lounge”.

    I too miss Ben’s input.
    And, wonder what has happened to Michael Fisher. Anyone in the UK know?

    • Keith
      Posted July 13, 2020 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

      I have wondered about Michael Fisher also. He was one of my favorite commenters.

  37. Posted July 14, 2020 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    I’m one of those people read WEIT every day when I wake up (3am, usually, I keep bonkers hours). I discovered it a few years ago and enjoy it every day – you’re very funny and I’m interested in the kind of stuff you cover. I write for 3 or 4 publications, including Forbes and Counterpunch (I know, separate ends of the spectrum) – all of which I rarely read myself!
    Keep up the good work – it is appreciated.

    D.A., J.D., NYC
    https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/06/10/photos-of-readers-93/

  38. Posted July 14, 2020 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    Just to say, post whatever you feel like posting is fine by me. like many others, I start my day here, and come back from time to time t check the comments.

    Good to see no Black Dog today.

  39. Robert Bray
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Every one of the comments above testifies to the attachment readers have to WEIT. Add mine too. Your dedicated energy and labor in bringing out, each day, what amounts to a magazine of science and culture are astonishing to a comparatively lazy person like myself.

    In short you’re doing us all an existential favor. And I need it!


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