The Years Of Writing Dangerously

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 6 2015 @ 3:00pm

Thirteen years ago, as I was starting to experiment with this blogging thing, I wrote the following:

[T]he speed with which an idea in your head reaches thousands of other people’s eyes has another deflating effect, this time in reverse: It ensures that you will occasionally blurt out things that are offensive, dumb, brilliant, or in tune with the way people actually think and speak in private. That means bloggers put themselves out there in far more ballsy fashion than many officially sanctioned pundits do, and they make fools of themselves more often, too. The only way to correct your mistakes or foolishness is in public, on the blog, in front of your readers. You are far more naked than when clothed in the protective garments of a media entity.

But, somehow, you’re liberated as well as nude: blogging as a media form of streaking. I notice this when I write my blog, as opposed to when I write for the old media. I take less time, worry less about polish, and care less about the consequences on my blog. That makes for more honest writing. It may not be “serious” in the way, say, a 12-page review of 14th-century Bulgarian poetry in the New Republic is serious. But it’s serious inasmuch as it conveys real ideas and feelings in as unvarnished and honest a form as possible. I think journalism could do with more of that kind of seriousness. It’s democratic in the best sense of the word. It helps expose the wizard behind the media curtain.

I stand by all those words. There are times when people take this or that post or sentence out of a blog and make it seem as if it is the definitive, fully considered position of the blogger. Or they take two sentences from different moments in time and insist that they are a contradiction. That, it seems to me, misses the essential part of blogging as a genuinely new mode of writing: its provisionality, its conversational essence, its essential errors, its ephemeral core, its nature as the mode in which writing comes as close as it can to speaking extemporaneously.

Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio elenchi. What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews. Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting). I have therefore made mistakes along the way that I may not have made in other, more considered forms of writing; I have hurt the feelings of some people I deeply care about; I have said some things I should never have said, as well as things that gain extra force because they were true in the very moment that they happened. All this is part of life – and blogging comes as close to simply living, with all its errors and joys, misunderstandings and emotions, as writing ever will.

I tried, above all, to be honest. And you helped me. Being honest means writing things that will make you look foolish tomorrow; it means revealing yourself in ways that are not always flattering; it means occasionally saying things that prompt mass acclamation but in retrospect look like grandstanding. It means losing friends because you have a duty to criticize what they write. It means not pretending you believe something you don’t – like a tall story from a vice-presidential candidate or a war narrative that was increasingly obsolete. It means writing dangerously with the only assurance  – without an editor – that readers will correct you when you’re wrong and encourage you when you are right. It is a terrifying and exhilarating way to write – and also an emotionally, psychologically depleting one. But I loved it nonetheless. I relished it every day. I wouldn’t trade these years for any others.

And I felt continually blessed to have such a readership and to be surrounded by such amazing people – Patrick and Chris (whose final genius was in creating that final Moments Of Dishness thread until 5 am this morning), Jessie, who wrote some of the first memos and went on, with Matt, to create a weekend section beyond compare, with Chas, our fixer of boundless energy and love, with Alice, our wonderful poetry editor, with Jonah, perhaps the most brilliant and ebullient natural blogger I’ve ever met, and with Zoe, our former frat-boy-girl, whose spirit never left us, and with all the interns who made this place what it became. This was their creation as well as mine, in the end. I grew to love all of them. That almost no one ever left, that Chris and Patrick and Jessie were here in 2007 and still here in 2015, says something about how close we became and how we all made something extremely hard look increasingly effortless.

But it was effort nonetheless, as the exhaustion in our minds and bodies now proves. And it was the effort to keep honest that matters to me now. I hope that this fifteen-year catalog of insights and errors, new truths and old lies, prejudices and loves, jokes and intimacy, prescience and forgetfulness, will not be taken for anything more than it was, or ever could be. I hope we can all simply look back at the journey, and the laughs we had, and the pain we lived through together and the love that sustained us as a team and as a community, as we struggled together to figure out the truth about the world.

And yes, this was a labor above all of love. Love for ideas and debate, love for America, love for my colleagues, and love, in the end, for you.

I sit here not knowing what to write next. And yet, in the end, it is quite simple.

Know hope.