1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Thirteen: Whatever

One, today’s entry title is a little reflexive. Two, it doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years.

But I don’t think anything ever does. Time is a funny thing which spans backwards and forwards from you, but at the moment it’s only ever now. You keep living right now, and being now, and in my case, writing, now. And then you look up and you have twenty years of writing, all on the same site, all pretty much in the same mode. It’s piled up behind you, and around you, two decades of it.

In the last ten years, I’ve averaged 806 entries here a year, and an average of 435 words per post. Take out about a hundred of those annual entries for Big Idea posts, and let’s say that’s 700 posts a year, 435 words a post. That’s three million words, more or less, in ten years. Let’s be conservative and estimate than in the ten years previous to this last decade, I wrote “just” two million words here on the site. So, basically, five million words of Whatever, in 20 years, give or take a couple hundred thousand on either side. For contrast, in that same twenty years I estimate I’ve written something like 1.385 million words of fiction (fourteen novels, several novellas, a modest stack of short stories).

So you’re saying you could have written three and a half times more fiction if you weren’t writing here, Scalzi! Well, no. That’s not actually how it works. Every once in a while someone takes it on themselves to say to me, here or elsewhere on social media, to stop playing around online and get back to work on the novels. I find this annoying, not just because part of is simply just fuck you, I’m not your word monkey, but also because it reminds me that people who don’t write don’t understand how writing happens and who writers fundamentally are.

First, let me assure you that the five million words here would not have magically transmuted to five million words of fiction. Rather, the five million words here would have magically transmuted into hours playing Descent, or Half-Life, or Left 4 Dead, or Civilization or Fortnite, and hours of binge-watching shows on cable and Netflix, and hours of reading countless books, and other writing, online and off. Whatever is what I do for fun. This is actually my down time! (Well, mostly. Some days it feels kind of workish.) Believe me when I say the fiction you get now is roughly the fiction you would get if Whatever didn’t exist. If Whatever didn’t exist, that time would be spent with me doing something else for fun.

Second, let me now contradict the thing I just said: In fact, there’s a very good chance that if Whatever didn’t exist, you would see less fiction from me. One obvious reason for this is Whatever is how I sold my first novels in the first place — they were discovered here, when I posted them on the site because I was too lazy to submit them elsewhere. It’s entirely possible without this site I would have never sold any novels, or at the least, sold them in a manner and time so entirely different that the path of my fiction career would be vastly different. That’s actually likely, in fact: I would have written entirely different novels. It’s not a certainty that I would have written science fiction novels. It’s not a certainty that I would have written as many novels as I have at this point.

But another reason is that over the last twenty years, writing on Whatever has generally made me happy. It’s a fun hobby, it’s a place for me to blow off steam, and it’s a place where I can write about the world, so my fiction can be (mostly) about other worlds. Here’s a hot tip about how I (and, I suspect, most writers) work: When I’m happy, I write more. When I’m not, I write less. Knowing myself and who I am as a person, I can say that it’s a very good chance that I would not have been as happy, not writing Whatever. And that in itself would have had a negative effect on the amount of fiction you would have gotten out of me.

(Honestly, if anything, Whatever affected the amount of saleable non-fiction writing I did. It’s less of an issue now that novels are my primary source of income, but when I was still freelancing, I probably lost a fair amount of revenue writing pieces here rather than pitching them to editors at magazines, newspapers and Web sites. Never forget that Whatever was originally started because I wanted to stay sharp in the column-writing format. It worked, possibly too well. Once I started getting readers here, I was less inclined to bother trying to sell this sort of writing elsewhere.)

The shorter version of this is: Like my fiction? Then be glad I write here.

I’ve noted elsewhere that Whatever rode the “blogosphere’s” cresting wave of popularity, and now that the blogosphere is increasingly a ghost town it sees rather less random foot traffic than it used to, even if does reasonably well with followers via WordPress, email and RSS. It’s a reminder that nothing ever stays the same, online or off. Times change, fashions change, social media changes. I can be sanguine about it because I never tried to monetize Whatever via ads; I don’t have to worry about losing income because Google changes its algorithm or whatever. I miss the former vibrancy of the blog world, but I’m not going be one of those people shaking his cane talking about how things were Better Back Then. It was here, it’s mostly gone now, and something else will come along.

But even when the words “blog,” “blogger” and “blogosphere” become even more dad rock than they already are, I suspect I’ll still be writing here, because, as noted above, I like it and it makes me happy. It makes me happy because writing makes me happy. It makes me happy because writing helps me understand myself and what I’m thinking. It makes me happy because at the end of the day, these are my words and I get to own them, and people get to see them. I don’t expect that anyone but me will have read every single word of the twenty years I have here, or of the however many years I have left writing here. But other people have read a lot of it. They still do.

And they still may, in the future and possibly long after I’m done writing here and shuffled off to whatever happens next. Dear future graduate students: Thanks for picking me for your thesis! Hope it’s going well. Have fun sifting through five million words at least.

In the meantime, for whatever it is I’m writing on Whatever: there’s no future or past, just now. If you’re reading this, this is at least part of who I am (or was) in this moment. This is who I have been, in the moment, for two decades now. It’s a long time, and seems like no time at all.

20 thoughts on “1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Thirteen: Whatever

  1. Happy Whatever 20th! Now shinier and moss-free! What’s cool about Whatever (to me) is being able to really like a novel, or series, or editorial, and then be able to go a little deeper and discover that I can really like the writer too. Thanks for all the great words, here and elsewhere.

  2. “hours playing … Civilization”

    This is clearly virtue signaling bullshit. There is no possible way anyone can play Civilization in “hours”. The game takes months, at a minimum.

  3. I discovered Whatever when Old Man’s War was published in Spain. That was March 2007, so I guess I’ve read just a bit more than 50% of the five million words. And I’ll keep reading the blog as long as you write.
    Happy 20th anniversary, Whatever! And thank you, John, for sharing your thoughts in the shape of a blog.

  4. John,

    I’m just curious as to why you use the words “White Nationalist” rather than “White Supremacist?” I often see people choose the former whereas I would choose the later. I’m not trying to start a political argument here, but wondering if it’s a political or linguistic choice. I find the former a little weak and tending to obscure the true nature of what’s going on

  5. One other reason why you wouldn’t have written five million more words’ worth of books if not for Whatever…

    I’m sure you work hard on each blog entry, but do you rewrite, re-rewrite, get beta readers, rewrite again, let your editor read and make note, and re-rewrite yet again each post?

  6. I like most of your fiction, but I’ve gotta say I enjoy you bloggery as much if not more. Your serious pieces, your rants, your thinky bits… all of them. When you go on hiatus my days are a little gloomier. Which is to say keep doing what you do “word monkey” ;)

  7. Now, I’m thinking about those alternate worlds- John Scalzi, mystery writer; John (possibly Jane) Scalzi, romance writer, etc.

  8. I read “Whatever” for years before I ever tried any of you fiction – you had me from hello. I’m glad you still enjoy writing it, because I certainly still enjoy reading it.

    I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the absolute present, so your discussion of the passage of the past 20 years resonated for me.

    And like Pam, I’m speculating about an alternate reality where J Scalzi is the phenomenally successful author of a series of cozy mysteries, each of which includes a cat…

  9. (Nearly) Whatever you post here is welcome by me. ;)
    (Did you intentionally the link to your Twitter account from the blog page?)

  10. I first read one of your books long ago and became an immediate fan. Much later I was introduced to Whatever and I’ve enjoyed reading it, particularly your cogent and delightful skewering of our current political morass.

  11. Happy 20th! I’m sticking with my blog, too – I’m ten years and eight months in, and it’s changed my life and career in ways I never could have imagined.

  12. Happy 20th! This is where I get to read htoughts from actual people actually thinking about whatever the topic is you bring to the blog. Tack so mycket.

    And, as an aside, I realized early on I am not a blog writer. Not sure what the difference is from other writing exactly….column inches does not seem to quite cover it.
    Talking about writing for fun, I find blogs work work work. Letters, poetry, short books are fun. You can have all my apportioned blog space.

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