The Offhand Taste of Even a Genius Is Still Offhand Taste

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Ryan Cooper points out that in the world of paid blogging, you don’t get to write posts only when the mood hits you. You have to write every single day, no matter what’s going on and what your mood is:

The expectation is that during the day you will write 10-12 posts. This includes an intro music video, a lunch links post, and evening links and/or video. So that means 7-9 short, punchy essays on something, with maybe 1-2 of those being longer and more worked out thoughts.

….If I had my dream job, I’d like to post 4-6 times during the day, and write longer pieces during the extra time. More importantly, I don’t want to get into the situation where the demand for content pushes me so hard that I stop taking new stuff in. (I think I could get the hang of full-time blogging, say, but no more than that.) And Andrew Sullivan’s habit of regular long breaks, disconnected from the machines, seems very smart, even necessary. I don’t think I could keep up with the likes of Matt Yglesias or Joe Weisenthal, and trying looks like a recipe for burnout.

I’ve long thought that although putting up a dozen posts a day may be good for your traffic numbers, it’s a mistake to do it even if you have the talent to pull it off. It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from The Power Broker, about what happened to Robert Moses when he simply got too busy to pay attention to his building projects the way he had early in his career. Those early projects had been works of genius because Moses, for all his faults, was a genius. But later in the book, author Robert Caro passes along an anecdote from Richard Spencer Childs, who was in the room when architect Aymar Embury interrupted to present Moses with a stack of drawings for some new parks. Moses zipped though them, making split-second decisions about which ones to keep and which ones to discard:

“There were no hard feelings. Moses and Embury were good friend,” [Childs said.]….”But here perhaps $100,000 worth of public business was settled on Moses’ offhand taste.” And, recalls Childs, when Moses finished with the drawings, Embury pointed to one he had rejected and said, “That one you threw away was the best of the lot.”

Embury may well have been correct: the offhand taste even of a genius is offhand taste.

Even if you have the talent, it’s hard to consistently produce good work, let alone memorable work, if you don’t have time to think. And these days, I suspect that an awful lot of writers no longer really have time to think.

In any case, I have good news for Ryan: his dream job exists! The bad news is that I already have it. I try to write about half a dozen posts a day, not ten or a dozen, and I doubt very much that anyone misses the four or five posts that therefore never get written. And the extra time (mostly taken during the afternoon, West Coast time) allows me to spend a few hours reading stuff I might not otherwise have time for, and to escape the tyranny of my RSS feed for a bit and think a little more about what everyone else is saying. Or even to change my mind about something I’ve written myself. It also gives me time to write three or four longer-form pieces each year for the magazine.

If I had the sheer energy and stamina to write more posts each day, maybe I’d do it. There’s no telling if I’d have the self-discipline to deliberately pace myself. But I don’t, and in the end I think I’m better off for it — and my readers too.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate