This post is a translation of a blog post from I read a long time ago, with the intention that my friends whose Chinese aren’t that up-to-scratch can have a taste of this article (and so that I can refer to it).

URL of the original post:

1) Why you should blog (starting right now)

In a nutshell, keeping a blog has many benefits, but no obvious downsides.

Let me put this down in more detail: Recording your meaningful thoughts in the form of a blog can bring many benefits, but doesn’t do any harm. Note: things like mumbling about trivialities, making miscellaneous emotional dumps, or writing for the sake of writing etc. – these don’t count as valuable thoughts.

Here’s in my opinion a few of the greatest benefits of keeping a long-term blog:

1) You can find friends of similar ambitions. While I write my own blog, I read others’ blogs too. In this Information Era, perhaps one of people’s most important channels of getting to know more friends is through the internet. But through the wire, how would we be able to tell whether the other person has common interests with ourselves? Trying to do such distinguishment by reading through unorganized SNS posts seems far too inefficient. The friends of mine whom I admire almost all use blogs as a long-term effort for recording thoughts; hence even if we haven’t met in a long time, we can still know each others’ thoughts very well. Even friends whom I haven’t met in person before might inspire enjoyable conversations when we meet.

Why does blogging far outrun primitive conversational methods when it comes to the efficiency of getting to know people whom you share common ambitions with?
It’s quite simple: Firstly, blogs are free of geographical limitations. On the internet, the distance between any two nodes is always just one hyperlink away, while the usual ways of making friends are limited to where in the physical world you happen to live. Secondly, and more importantly, if we make friends the conventional way, we’ll need to have conversations with each other, share thoughts, gradually get familiar with each other – which could very well be a long process. What’s worse, is when you meet another stranger, you’ll have to repeat the whole process again, just to reiterate whatever it is that you’ve talked about with your many old friends years back. Blogging achieves “write once, read everywhere”. Whenever I’ve read a blog which someone has been keeping for many years, I always feel as though I’ve had conversations with that person and known him/her very well. As programmers would put it – “blogging greatly increases the reusability of language”.

I’ve kept a blog on CSDN for nearly six years , and created a Google Groups group (TopLanguage). Due to the fact that my long-time blog readers already share quite a lot in common (amongst themselves, and with me), TopLanguage has seen enthusiastic conversations right from its beginning. And because the technical discussions there seems to quite inspiring, more people gradually joined in; and so the snowball started rolling. In about a year and a half, I’ve learnt many things from reading discussions in this group [1]. For those who aren’t programmers, SongShuHui is a good example of a helpful community similar TopLanguage.

2) Writing is better thinking. I summarized the good things about writing in Writing is better thinking., so I won’t copy and paste it here. The thing about our thinking process is, that if we don’t make a note of thoughts, they’ll just slip away. In Anecdotes of maths geniuses (honour belongs to ukim), there’s this story about Hilbert: Once in a seminar of Hilbert’s, a young man used an elegant theorem in his talk. Hilbert said, “This is a really beautiful (“wunderbaschon”) theorem. Who discovered it?” The young man was confused: “It’s you, sir…”

3) Teaching is the best learning. If you’re not able to explain something clearly, there’s a fair chance you haven’t actually mastered it. You’ll likely have heard that in the software industry’s interviews, the interviewer often asks you to explain something to him, while saying that he/she “doesn’t know about it beforehand”, and your job is to explain until he/she gets it. (The effect is more obvious when he/she really doesn’t know about the topic beforehad.)

In order to turn someone who “doesn’t get it” into someone who “does”, you must know exactly which concepts are the ones that needs to be mastered to get one from “not getting it” to “getting it”. This forces you to turn your tree of knowledge upside-down, look at your knowledge “under the hood”, and dig out all those knowledge you took for granted and those assumptions you made without realising, and move them from Implicit Memory to Explicit Memory. Only a person who knows, and knows that he knows, all the frames down the stack of abstraction, would be able to give an explanation that’s crystal clear.

But then you might wonder: apart from being able to explain things clearly, what’s so good about knowing which things you know? After all, one might not bother making the effort unless he/she want to be a teacher.

sagasw on TopLanguage once told us this little story: in a famous software company, a teddy bear can be found on the desks of each developer. Before asking each other a question, everyone first phrases the question to the teddy bear, to see whether the question can be put into a sentence yet. It endded up oftening being the case that once the question is clearly worded, the answer came naturally. Of course, you don’t have to talk to the teddy bear – you can simply imagine a person who knows little about your topic, and try explaining stuff to him. This is practicable; I often do so when I’m on the road. But if you’re seated at a desk, I suggest that you give your words to an actual audience – for example, write down your thinking, because writing is better thinking.

Most of our knowledge is hidden in our subconsciousness most of the time, because our window of consciousness is very small, and our working memory can only fit few entries. (Remember the sort of Flash minigame where you try to memorize as many as possible simultaneously flashing numbers on the screen?) Most of the time our reasoning process is done automatically, taking place in our subconsciousness, automatically – and we can only sense the existance of few intermidiate corollaries. Try it our yourself: count the number of times you had a discussion with someone where you were thinking “Well it’s quite obvious to me that’s statement X is true. However if you ask me why it’s true though, it would actuall take me quite a while to figure out the reason.” Doesn’t it bother you? If your propositions can’t even be logically supported by yourself, how would you be so sure that it’s indeed true? Simply because your hunch tells you so? Well then what happens if a person standing right next to you has a conflicting “hunch” on the matter, and he says that he’s sure that he’s right? “His hunch is wrong, while my hunch is correct”? So you’re really that confident of your intuition?

I don’t know about you, but I for one cherish moments like these – namely moments when “I strongly feel that it’s true, but I can’t explain why”. It’s moments like these that your brain is running around places, looking everywhere, trying to put together all the pieces of the puzzle, questioning the obvious, correcting false assumptions, and working things all out. On the other hand, moments when you think “I really think there’s something wrong about this statement, but I don’t know what are also extremely cherishable moments, because it almost always means that you’re holding a certain bias or contradiction, having certain misunderstandings of the matter, having unknowingly introduced an underlying assumption that doesn’t actually hold, or swapped out an important concept with your own interpretation etc. It’s exactly during moments like these that you’re deep in conflict and reflection. When you’ve dug to the roots, and seen the whole iceberg beneath the surface, you will have this grand sense of achievement and satisfaction for finally knowing how you knew what you know.

Why did I mention the above? I’ve been saying that we should make good use of such chances of reflection. But if you regularly summarize your system of knowledge, and write it out for your readers, you’ll find that you’re creating those chances by yourself, for yourself. If you don’t reflect enough in our day-to-day life, you’ll consider many things “obvious”; but as soon as you need to explain it to someone, you’ll immediately realise that the whole thing ain’t so “obvious” afterall. As you try to explain, you’ll find yourself using the word “anyway” before you even notice.

And so the opportunity of reflection arose.

As soon as you strat digging thoughts and beliefs out from the back of your mind, you have the chance of direcly facing them, and hence reflecting upon them, instead of letting them steer your judgement subconsciouslyp Oftentimes when there’s a flaw in our reasoning, it’s not because we can’t introspect, but instead because we don’t know our hidden assumptions. How would you know what has gone wrong, if you didn’t know the reasoning your brain did before arriving at the conclusion? On the other hand, once we figure out the logical process we’ve gone through to get to the conclusion, we won’t be too far away from finding the error in it – if a person who’s debating with you only ever states his position without giving any justification, you’ll find it hard to debate with him; whereas if he exposes to you the process of his reasoning, it’ll be a much easier job for you to criticise his logic. (And for the exact same reason, some people like to hide their reasoning, rather than show them to us.)

Most of the time we reach conclusions without much deliberate thinking, like a wound-up piece of clockwork, while we don’t really know how these conclusions are reached, or what was going on behind the scenes of our automatic thoughts. Hence when we discover that our conclusion is wrong, we’re lost, not able to find the “bug” that caused it. If you pay close attention to peoples’ sayings (blogs, forums etc.), and split their prose into “pre-condition”, “assumption”, “proof”, “conclusion”, you’ll soon realise that most of what most people do is stating conclusions (i.e. declaring positions), with little trace of pre-conditions, assumptions, or the logical deduction required in proofs. It’s usually not that they really aren’t willing to write down their logic; it’s just that inspecting one’s own thought process is a really difficult thing to do. Too much of our reasoning happen “under the water” – only the few noteworthy conclusions bubble to the surface, which we’re then able to grasp. And this hasn’t even taken into account that we usually actually end up using a thought shortcut instead of a proper, complete chain of logic.

To teach an oblivious(?) learner is the strongest way to reflect – because he doesn’t have any preparatory knowledge. In order to let him understand what you understand, you must completely decompose your tree of knowledge, figure out the foundations on which this whole theory is build, where its “load-bearing walls” are, and how it’s “laid out brick by brick”. You can’t just stand on floor 11, assume that your reader is on floor 10, and hope that just by telling him what’s between floor 10 and floor 11 that you’d be able to enlighten him.
Your reader is always standing on the ground floor. You have to know how all those 11 floors beneath you are built. This is what requires you to perform a complete, thorough re-examination of all that you’ve mastered, or all the theories that you thought was correct. The more innocent and oblivious your audience is, the deeper your introspection would need to be.

4) Discussion is excellent reflection. Sometimes we don’t actually want to explain stuff to someone who has no idea at all about your topic – in fact, we often end up explaining things to our peers in the same field anyway. It’s not true that in this case there’s no more “reflection” that needs to happen – you’ll in fact realise that if you publicise your ideas, you’ll most likely run into people who hold different or opposite opinions disagreeing with you, and by comparing your view with theirs, you’ll realise that there are often divergences right at the beginning of the chains of thoughts of the two of you. Now the natural question is: “What caused this divergence?” As the discussion between you two progesses deeper, you’re each forced by each other to show deeper reasoning and understanding. Besides “explaining to an outsider”, these discussions are also an effective way of encouraging yourself to reflect. The deeper the discussion and questioning goes, the closer you’ll be from the essence of the issue, the more likely it’ll be that you discover hidden differences in the thought processes of the two fo you that you’ll likely overlook otherwise. And so you’ll have had another valuable chance to inspect your own knowledge system in seek of incorrect information or flawed logic.

5) It encourages you to continue learning and thinking. If you didn’t have a habit of persistently learning and thinking, your blog would soon run out of topics, or just end up being a record of daily trivialities or reposts of blog posts from other bloggers. Your readers would leave, you would end up closing down your blog, then you’d also give up blogging altogether, and you’d discover that there’s now one less way of encouraging yourself to reflect, and then you’d be even less keen on reflecting and summarizing, and then…

Don’t get caught in such a vicious circle. Don’t decide to permanently stop blogging. Even if you don’t publish any posts for two or three months, as long as every post in your blog is the outcome of meaningful thinking you’ve done, your blog will be found valuable by others on the internet – because lots of information aggregation platforms are begging to find valuable content like yours. There are search engines there to provide a vast potential audience to your content; there are also humans who are looking for, and forwarding meaningful content like yours. The worst decision you can make is to stop doing something that doesn’t cause any harm, but does various goods.

In order to make your blog valuable, you must continuously summarise what you’ve learnt; you must think continuously, reveal deeper truths, and pose independent opinions. This might seem like some upside-down logic – weren’t we blogging to help ourselves think in the first place? Don’t worry, it will all make sense soon.

6) It’s a chance for you to learn to do something persistently. Lots of people feel lost in life, not knowing what to do. This is because they haven’t found a thing they can persistently do. In the terms from Positive Psychology, these people haven’t found activities in which they can experience Flow. Writing down one’s own thoughts seems to be something that often creates a flow experience. This is especially true when it comes to writing rationally: the brain enters a “logical analysis” mode, and all unhappy emotions and frustration silently fades away. But then again, the pre-condition of the whole thing is that you start writing. After you’ve made it through the most difficult starting period, it will soon all just come naturally to you.

7) A long-term blog is the best CV. Here, “CV” doesn’t specifically mean the piece of document you use when seeking a job. After all, it’s currently not yet the era of valuable blogs – most people are just re-blogging articles from around the internet, or just posting trivialities; hence the interviewer wouldn’t really take personal blogs as a serious, reliable means of knowing more about the applicant. Here, “CV” is a channel through which other people can get to know you. Although one might not be able to make one’s blog a pillar of one’s career like Yonghao Luo or Keso (who made 5gme (translator note: now obsoleted)) has done, at least you can get to know more people because of blogging. The more valuable your blog is, the more capable(?) the people you get to know in this way would be, and the more your knowledge horizon would extend. You’ll then be able to grasp more opportunities and jump to touch more of your goals, and then you’ll gradually become more capable yourself as well… This is a virtuous cycle.

2) How to keep a long-term valuable blog

It’s worth noting that I didn’t mean that we need “perseverance” – when thinking, summarising and externalising has become a habit, putting thoughts down into words, and in return using words to assist thinking would have already become a habit too. Thoughts will be begging to be written down – the blog itself will have become merely a by-product.

At first you think very hard about your topics, trying to condense your thoughts down into words so that you have a blog post, hoping to seem a bit more novel to others. Later down the path, because you’re accustomed to thinking and reflecting, and because you realise that writing is better thinking, you just need to turn your thoughts into words. When this happens, the logic will finally start to seem the right way around – finally it appears that we’re not trying to assist blogging by thinking, but rather trying to assist thinking by blogging.

Well then how do we make this long-term effort happen? I can imagine people give various little techniques as advice to create more motivation and inspiration, e.g. how to do better SEO, how to encourage interaction from readers etc.. I need not mention any of those; I will only mention what’s in my opinion the most important thing to keep you going:

Become a person who persistently learns and contemplates. Write only the outcomes of true thought. All the rest will fit themselves in place.

This has the same spirit as that saying “Do what you love; the money will follow”.[2]

There are lots of examples around this topic; I’ll save the effort of listing them, and instead re-emphasise that: whatever you do, do not post trivial chat and small talk. I can understand the occasional urge to rant about stuff etc., but there is now a perfect medium for that – Twitter. Stop posting things on your blog that did not come from sufficient thought on your side. Readers who subscribe to your blog wish to receive the signal, not noise. If you really can’t help but want to talk about trivialities, step yourself into others’ shoes and think: if they wrote about those trivialities on their blog, would you want to spent your time reading and filtering through it?

3) Possible problems, and some strategies for coping with them

Even though so far this article has given lots of reasons why to blog, sometimes all it takes to hold a potential blogger back is just one reason not to. As mentioned in the fifth chapter of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything (Amazon, Douban) [3] – “Much of will is skill”. Whether or not you can be determined enough to keep going largely depends on your methodology.

1) Worrying that people don’t consider your blog valuable. The problems that you face that your blog talks about would more likely than not to have been faced by others too. If you put your original thinking into the issue, the outcome is basically valuable by definition. Of course, it wouldn’t be a surprise that there may be people who really does just already understand what you’re talking about; but then however “smart” you are, there’s always going to be people who’re “smarter”. We shouldn’t reject recording our thoughts just because there are “smarter” people out there; a good understanding of a topic always only comes after one’s own thought, and writing about it is helpful. Besides, even if other people has thought about a certain topic, there are always some aspects of the topic yet to be covered, and some ideas people haven’t thought of. When putting thought into things has become a habit, your ability to think and analyse things will steadily increase, and your blog posts will become steadily more valuable. Let me repeat this: Whatever problem you’re facing must have been faced by others already. Whatever comes out of your own thinking will always be valuable to others.

It is also possible that after you’ve “figured it out”, you think that “this topic is actually really simple” and “it’s not worthy of a blog post”. Be aware, that problems always seem “simple” when you’ve already “got it”. It’s not how difficult the problem seems in hindsight that tells us something about how hard to solve the problem is – it’s how much process it requires you to go through before you can get from confused to clear that counts. The more time and effort it took you to go through that transition, the more people out there would we expect to not have go through the same transition. The harder the task, the fewer that will complete it.

Although if I now look back at articles I wrote a year ago, it’s likely that I think they’re immature or flawed – if I haven’t gone through such a process of writing, thinking and repeating, I wouldn’t have arrived at the position today, at which I can have this sort of opinion in hindsight. In the same way, it’s quite likely that in a few years’ time when I look back at my writings today, I’ll find them “immature” and “incomplete” in the same way.

2) Worrying that your thoughts are too naîve or flawed, and that others will laugh at it. We’re all human; we make mistakes. It’s exactly because an individual’s thoughts and beliefs are almost always flawed, that we should share our thinking and fill in each other’s gaps. There being a possibility for your mistakes to be pointed out is exactly what’s required to get rid of them and improve your understanding. Thoughts that are always hidden behind your back and never spoken of will never become mature.

“Much of intelligence is knowledge.” There is a thought-provoking(?) pyschology experiment [4]:

Split some children into two groups, and give each group a different type of reading material. For one group, give material that states intelligence is innate, and cannot be improved via effort. For the other group, give material that states that “intelligence” is just another word to mean knowledge and skill, and is entirely dependent on one’s effort. Subsequently, the children are asked to perform a set of tasks. Those in the “innate-intelligence” group tend to avoid difficult tasks and pick the easy ones. We can imagine the logic going on: “If I pick the difficult tasks, the probablity of failure will be larger, and I will give others the impression that I am of less intelligence. In order to avoid my apparent intelligence level from decreasing, I should avoid those tasks that I’m more likely to fail at.” Children from the other group tend to be more willing to attempt the more challenging tasks, and are noticeably less disheartened than those from the first group when faced with failure – because even if the task resulted in a failure, more knowledge, skill and experience is gained in the process, and the level of intelligence must have increased either way.

Besides, those people who only know to criticise, or even ridicule others are the least helpful people. Just ignore them.

3) Worrying that you aren’t getting reward. This is actually a rather nonsense question. Only blogs that talk about nothing other than trivialities should face such a concern. If what you write down is your own thinking, then just the fact that you’ve thought about it carefully enough such that you’re able to write it down should be already a rewarding thing itself, even if you were to write it down in your private little notebook for no one else to read.
Besides, if you are authoring a valuable blog, you shouldn’t worry at all about its popularity. Maybe in the beginning it would start out small, but that’s a necessary step of the process. Both Paul Buchheit (a core member of the Gmail team and the founder of FriendFeed) and Jeff Atwood have commented: “Overnight success takes a long time.” ((1), (2)). However nowadays, there are more and more information aggregation services on the internet, some where humans do the work, some where bots do; from the viewpoint of idendipendent bloggers, this situation is favourable and encouraging, and it’s even getting more and more true.

4) Worrying that you’ve got nothing to write about. This is also quite a nonsense concern. The process of thinking is not something you can rush on. Those who subscribe to my blog long-term will know that my publishing frequency is about 3 to 5 posts per month. In fact sometimes I don’t have anything published for months. The reason behind such delays is simple: either I’ve got urgent work at hand that needs to be dealt with before some deadline, or that the topic I was thinking about were big ones, which would require more time and more thought. It isn’t a problem for you to keep your blog quiet while you think carefully about stuff – if you don’t feel like you’ve thought enough about a topic, just keep working at it until you’re ready. There’s a difference between those who are keen on thinking and those who aren’t: the former always lets a few topics float at the back of their minds, which come out and demand thought whenever the mind has its moments of pause or boredom; the latter doesn’t have topics “floating” like that – they don’t even pro-actively think about anything, and even always try to let others “help” them do the thinking for them when they’re faced with a problem to solve.

It’s ok to spend some more time and think slowly. Dig deep on a topic, and you’ll always find edges and corners overlooked by others. The longer you can make a topic stay floating behind your head for you to think about during your idle times, the more likely it is that you will discover new things about the topic. Usually, for topics which I consider meaningful, I would keep thinking about it intermittently, consciously or subconsciously, for some period of time, ranging from a week to a month, depending on the difficulty/complexity of the topic, and use the idle time when I walk, eat, or commute to think about it.
(I’ve discovered that many people whom I admire have similar thinking habits.) Sometimes even when I seem to have thought enough about it and wrote and published a blog post on an topic, my mind still has the inertia of thinking about that topic subconsciously; and hence when I then come across a certain article or book on a related topic, I would again be struck with new ideas and sentiments.

The ability of letting questions stay in one’s subconsciousness for extended periods of time is a capability that can bring great benefits. The more time the thinking spans, the more you’d be able to understand. Only by observing the world around us while thinking would we be able to make new discoveries. The typical example is Archimedes’ “Eureka!” moment – if he hadn’t keep thinking about the same question for a long time, how would he have been able to come up with the idea of “using the volume of displaced water to measure volume”? If no extended thought is needed to understand things, he would’ve long discovered this techinique due to years of taking baths. [5]

Therefore, if you have formed the habit of thinking, you will always have things to write about, things to summarise, which will in turn inspire more thought.

Of course another technique you can try is to write down those thought-in-progress-es themselves, and try to organise them into words of clarity, and see what new thoughts and conclusions you can draw by going through this process. This is often viable. For instance, this very article was at one point in time only three mere lines in my notebook (each containing around ten keywords) – and the question that started it all was just yet another thought I had while walking down the road: “Why should anyone blog?”


[1] You can also take a look at my collection of interesting topics

[2] Although I don’t completely agree with this saying, I do agree with its spirit of “dealing with a cause further up the cause-and-effect chain when faced with a problem to solve”.

[3] The Chinese version of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything is cleverly titled (roughly transliterated as) “Influence 2”, in effect borrowing the fame of the other book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (see it on Douban too), although being written by completely different authors.

[4] I can’t quite remember the source of this experiment, but the idea of it is unforgettable. If you happen to know its source, please let me know.

[5] Whether Archimedes’ story is true is controversial. After all, who can be so certain about things that happened thousands of years ago. However, the moral of the story should be very clear, and I imagine that many people can relate to this sort of experience. Plus that “Eureka” is so well-known, I think it probably doesn’t matter that much for me to use it as an example.