My biggest blogging mistake

Here’s Dan Diamond responding to my request on Twitter for topics on which to blog:

I’ve given this some thought, and I am going to disappoint Dan. I haven’t made any big mistakes. (Yet?) Sure, I’ve gotten some details and facts wrong here and there, but those are par for the course. I don’t even count those as mistakes, really. Dan’s question calls to mind more strategic or systematic errors in the art of blogging. I can think of two important ones:

First, I used to try to blog outside my area of expertise but on things of interest to me. The problem with doing that isn’t that I am more apt to get things wrong, though that’s true. The problem is that it is harder for me to defend myself in areas I’m not expert in even when I’m right. I just lack familiarity with the standard counterarguments and counter-counters, etc. Then they come up in the comments or on some other blog and I feel helpless.

Sure, this would be an opportunity to learn more. But when it is an area outside my field, typically I don’t really want to or don’t have time to learn a great deal more. The post ends up becoming a burden, and I often regret I even went there. So, I don’t bother trying to blog much outside my wheelhouse nowadays. Though, when I do, I am clear to acknowledge I don’t know the area deeply and readers tend to be forgiving that I’m just exploring something lightly. In response to pushback I can say, “Hey, I wrote that I was just exploring something new to me and didn’t know the details. Thanks!”

Second, I have made mistakes in the sense of accidentally irritating someone I’d rather not have irritated. Usually this is due to something rather minor, like failing to acknowledge their prominent work on a subject I’m writing about. (“How could you have covered X and not noticed my seminal paper on it!?”) Or, this is due to poor or imprecise wording on my part. (“You wrote that my view was diametrically opposed to X, but it isn’t. I just disagree with [some subset of X].”)

The thing I’ve learned, though, is that though these are mistakes — and ones I’d rather not make — it’s all in the recovery. After I apologize and patch up my post (when and as appropriate), I tend to have a new, friendly correspondent, sometimes an important and valuable one. I’ve learned that almost nobody wants to stay mad, particularly at someone who can promote their work. What they want is to be properly recognized. Once that’s done, they’re happy and willing to help. That’s a great outcome from a mistake! So, is it really a mistake?

Well, this shows that irritating someone can be of value. But I don’t recommend (even to myself) trying to do it strategically. The lesson is just to be gracious in response, provided the irritated individual has a valid point. When they don’t, I’m still polite in defending my work and interpretations, provided I haven’t left my area of expertise and am able to do so! Back to mistake number one.


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