• 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.


    • Since a person shouldn’t pose a question that he can’t answer, I thought about this too.

      And I’ve been doubly lucky — I can’t think of any glaring errors in a story I’ve written, largely because I work with talented editors who can clean up my work. (Amanda Wolfe has caught a few goofs from going live on California Healthline.)

      So like Austin, I keep coming back to errors of omission rather than errors of commission — forgetting to include a few clarifying sentences, for instance. And also failure to file; there are so many half-written stories that I noodled over for hours but just didn’t like enough to ultimately post. Very jealous of folks who are simultaneously insightful AND prolific.

    • We southerners call it being polite. Dr. Carroll, who resides in the mid-west, would understand, as mid-westerners are, like southerners, polite. There is a difference, though, as I was told many years ago by a transplanted mid-westerner: with mid-westerners, it’s sincere. Have a nice day.

    • I think you are way too hard on yourself. Keep up the good work.

    • Correct response: “I was wrong once; I thought I was wrong but I was right.”

      This is exactly why I’ve never responded to the “What would you go back and change in your life?” question. The first problem is that it calls into question your entire decision-making process (even if it may have been impaired at the time). The second is that we have all gained valuable experience from our (non-fatal) mistakes which flows back into and modifies our decision-making process (“I won’t do THAT again.”) People who are afraid of making mistakes don’t get out from under the covers in the morning…

      • One of the pillars of my life philosophy is that I have never really made a mistake. Nor do bad things happen to me. It only seems like I/they have in the heat of the moment. I’ve always found a way to grow and learn. (Plus, I’m very fortunate, as is virtually everyone reading this, relative to the rest of humanity that has ever been.)