WTF is Stock & Flow: On creating a daily blogging practice

Man in library with white, wave-like shelves.

So I kinda decided, arbitrarily, to blog everyday. I’m in a new life season — see last post — which means I’ve been more or less trying on new hats and seeing what fits; daily blogging feels like a worthy exercise to blow away some mental cobwebs.

I haven’t blogged regularly in, well, ever. For the last decade, give or take a couple of months, I’ve always written or edited for another publication, so personal blogging just felt indulgent. Unnecessary. Now I question that mindset: What if I had also been producing my own work all along? Where would I be as a writer?

Oh, I was always writing for myself, sure. Snippets of a journal entry here, a longer Facebook update or a tweet or a longer-than-advised Instagram caption. The quick dopamine hit of “publishing” that “content” was enough to keep me away from here, my platform (or whatever this website is). And then, last week or so, I came across author-illustrator Austin Kleon’s blog post about daily blogging, where he cites Robin Sloan’s adaptation of the economic ideas of flow and stock. Applied to blogging, Kleon/Sloan explain the idea thusly:

The idea started out from my anxiety about “stock and flow.” As Robin Sloan wrote seven years ago: flow is the feed (It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.”) and stock is the durable stuff (“It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.”)

I’d like to take that idea further, as I think there’s a key component missing between stock and flow in this definition: One gives you the impression you’re doing something, while the other is the long-game, which feels abstractly far-off. As we increasingly become a society of information and quick hits, in a few short years, we’ve already been conditioned towards leading more unexamined lives, in the name of flow. When I started to process these ideas, I had to take a breath. A professional media maker, even I was tricked into a mindless state in lieu of actual creativity.

There’s another side to this. As a journalist, I think about platform a lot, and how some of the current crisis in the journalism industry can be traced to trusting so much of distribution to third-party platforms (Facebook, Twitter) versus establishing a foundation and homebase (their own websites, for instance). Of course, this is fully a whole other essay, that’s still being explored by minds better than my own, but the general idea is that outsourcing links and content to social platforms gave those outlets power, and how discoursed was shaped. I’m all for the democratization of the internet, but algorithms have done much to shape stock/flow in terms of media literacy

I digress.

De-platforming can affect indie writers and civilians, too, especially in the context of stock/flow: How many of our ideas are we just sending out into the social media ether, never to return to them, because we are so addicted to just sharing what comes across our mind, in that moment? What is lost when we no longer consider what we published? Are we just sharing fleeting moments, or are we giving up potential moments for further self-examination for the sake of a like or an emoji? “Flow is ephemeral, while stock sticks around,” writes Sloan. What are we putting stock in?

I had lunch with a long-time friend this week who is going through her own transition phase. We exchanged some thoughts about media, working independently, and what’s next; she’s going off to travel for three months, and god, do I envy her. In the meantime, I shared with her the idea of stock-and-flow in relation to my work, and she told me, “You’ve always had great ideas, and I never wanted to miss what you wrote on either FB or Instagram, but I always thought ‘why is he sharing this and not writing more instead?’”

That struck me silent.

Had my years-long candidness and honesty on social media really been a font of projects and ideas worth exploring? I mean, I’m smart enough to realize that likes, notifications, reactions, the timeline et al served to keep all of us users in the clutches of the site, but did I let myself fall into the trap, too? Did I get complacent?

Obviously, the answer is yes. After a lot of soul-searching, I’m going to focus on stock, not flow; like Kleon, I’m going to give this daily blogging a try, instead. I’ve already set up some apps and extensions like Freedom and “Block Facebook” on both my phone and computer, though I can’t quite quit Twitter — it’s where my friends and many freelance jobs/potential new editors are.

The hope is I can stretch my writing muscles a bit. Rediscover my voice. Experiment with new ideas and writing forms. After working for so many others over so many years — publications, editors — what is my voice, even?

Photo: “Library @ Orchard, Singapore” by Fahrul Azmi, via Unsplash

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