Sunday, November 25, 2018

Downshifting to Accelerate

This year the Slog turned ten years old. A writer friend had warned me early on that I'd quickly run out of things to write about. For some reason, that hasn't been a problem.

At the time I launched Chowhound, I was a "hot" writer. I'd just published my first book, which was very well reviewed, and was starting to get busy as a freelancer after several years as a cult figure. After a thoroughly deflating job offer from the Daily News (story here), I decided to chuck it all and went to ground with a flaky web community. I was abandoning my shot at The Big Time - it felt like a stabbing wound - but it seemed right to go small-time, so I stuck with it. I'm assuming most of you have read the tale of how it turned out, so you know it wasn't entirely a success story from my perspective, but one thing's for sure: it wasn't small-time.

Upon finally leaving Chowhound, no one remembered I'd ever been a writer. I was treated brusquely by a succession of editors and publishers I approached (one old contact, having reached a lofty position, asked me how my trombone playing had been going), and, once again, I went to ground, this time with a, Slog. There would be no small-time/big-time inversion, however. While web sites were sexy in 1997 (I reluctantly admit that Chowhound's success had more to do with the currency of its platform than the merits of my vision), blogs definitely were not circa 2008. Also, by writing about a very broad sweep of topics - and not pre-masticating every thought - I ensured there'd be something to repel every reader. As I'd rued very early on (in fact - ha! - it was only one month after the Slog's launch), narrowed scope is essential for building a crowd.

So this never blew up. In the long view, it's been a shaggy dog story where I kept upping my game out of gleeful curiosity to discover whether there was any level of insight great enough to procure wider attention. Eventually I looked back and realized I'd brewed up a theology, a cosmology, a slew of successful predictions and several hundred original insights.

Links to this Slog could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the average post is read by a few dozen souls, so in that sense it's been a failure (not that I'm not pleased to have you!). But I would never have generated those ideas and insights if I'd tried to publish all my material in magazines, web sites, and books, under the uncomprehending gaze of haughty media gatekeepers. I wouldn't know even a fraction of what I've uncovered here, at least not in any conscious, articulated way. 

Twice I've ripped my attention away from The Big Time to take a painfully amateurish diversion with surprising results. Having tolerated the stabbing sensation of those extreme downshifts, and applied my ant-like work ethic, I was twice rewarded with the sight of something unexpectedly ambitious heaving itself into existence. As if by magic.

See "The Inside Story on Asceticism" and "Deprivation" for more on deliberately cutting back growth to stimulate fuller foliage.

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