Write for Your Grandkids
I imagine that everyone who writes online started with only a subconscious inkling of why they wanted to do it. Then, through the act of doing, I imagine that their "why" comes into perspective.
I discovered a joy for writing in 2008, and I've been returning to it in one form another for the last 12 years. Despite the effort, I had nothing to show for it. No portfolio, no Medium account, nothing to share.
Could I have written one million words that went missing? Where did they go? What would have happened if I published a decade's worth of ideas instead of keeping them to myself? Will my tombstone says "no essays in his name?"
I love to write, but I made the decision to do it online out of regret and urgency. If I didn't create a net to catch my ideas, they would continue to leak into a vast sea of digital notes called limbo.
I joined a writing group in July of 2020. I picked up many things that I still value today (routines, friendships, advice), but in hindsight, I got stung by leaning on a collectively agreed upon "why." The reasons to write online are vast, but underpinning much of the community is the hope that writing can be used as a tool to build and monetize a niche audience.
In order to better calibrate your internal compass, you should double down on reasons that scream to you, and throw away the ones you're half sure about.
Write for one person
When I've read about "writing for a niche," I get advice to create a hypothetical person with specific interests that represent your audience." A 23 year old Subaru driver who reads both Harry Potter books and Paul Graham essays while dollar cost averaging into Bitcoin."
Kurt Vonnegut gives similar advice: "Write to please just one person, if you open a window and make love to the world, your story will get pneumonia."
Holding the image of that one figure in your head as you create can go a long way. What if you wrote for people who aren't alive yet? What if you wrote for your grandchildren?
Website as a Time Capsule
My grandfather, George, was an electrical engineer, but he also had a dream of writing. He died a few years before I was born, but I know him through the artifacts he left behind. I have a draft of an alternate-history World War 2 novel he was writing. Whenever I visit my grandmother's house, I make a point to glance at his dusty book shelf. He was interested in computer science, Greek mythology, alternate currencies, and even had a psychology book with a chapter on psychedelics. Did he read that one?
We forget about the time when writers didn't have an internet to write on. Citizens of the before-times could write into a private physical journal, but if they wanted to spread and share their ideas, publishing was a big endeavor. The internet not only gives us the ability to spread writing instantly across distance, but also, the ability to preserve it through time.
Writing online is a way to cryogenically freeze the ideas in your mind. Writing doesn't have to be an act of producing profound works. It can be a simple documentation of your evolution. A personal website can be a time capsule if you plan for it. Get domain hosting for 100-years, and then leave instructions, a password, and some money for your grandchildren to renew it for you (if they like you enough).
A good example of immortality through the Internet is Terence McKenna. He was a prolific writer and speaker in the psychedelic movement from the 1970s until the early 2000s. He had hundreds of hours of recorded video, and decades later, some of them are getting over a million views on YouTube. His brother Dennis said it feels like Terence's "ghost" is still with us, and will influence the minds of generations to come.
Media of all forms, since ancient times, have enabled humanity to preserve it's ideas. But the Internet creates an accessible way for anyone to do it. Most people won't ever take on the endeavor of writing a book, but writing online could be a simple endeavor you do every morning..
The idea of "immortality" doesn't have to come from a desire of post-humus fame. It doesn't have to be about legacy. It doesn't have to come from an insecurity of death. I don't write online so that my essays can be the training material for a synthetic AI consciousness called Mike 2.0. It can be about feeding the curiosity of your descendants. That's something I can get behind, because I can resonate with the wonder and perspective-shifts I get when I learn about the ideas and experiences of my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.
If I'm going to come up with a theoretical person to guide my writing, instead of inventing a cold stranger across the internet, they might as well be a future descendant of mine with a curiosity to learn about their past. It makes me wonder how a young person might evolve differently if they have access to unfiltered wisdom from the generations before them.