is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Was that because pinball isn’t among the topics that ignite tremendous passion, at least among the Subtraction.com audience? Maybe. But I think it’s more likely because of the way I wrote the piece.
I’m a long-time reader and fan of The New Yorker, and yesterday’s piece was my clumsy attempt at aping a bit of its editorial style. That magazine’s matter-of-fact yet constructionally elaborate prose has always been very attractive to me, both because it’s so incisively compelling and because it’s so efficient. I tend to go on and on when I write, using a lot of words to say relatively little. Writers for The New Yorker use a lot of words to communicate quite a lot of ideas with great richness. Can you blame me if it’s something I aspire to?
My Secret Passion for Pinball
I won’t pretend that I came anywhere close to the quality you’ll find every week in that magazine, but I do know one thing: in the interest of capturing a particular kind of style, I temporarily forsook two key elements that I’ve come to understand are essential to blog writing.
First, the idea that blogging often works best when it’s personal. Re-reading what I wrote yesterday, the post comes off as dispassionate, stand-offish, even cold. I was vaguely aware of this from the start, but became even more aware of it when Greg Maletic wrote me an email to say, “It’s so gratifying to hear of a non-pinball fan that enjoyed the film.”
Actually, I count myself a pinball fan, for sure. I may not know much about the history, art or business of pinball (I’m much further along in that knowledge now, thanks to “Tilt”), but I’ve always enjoyed it. When I walk into an arcade, I’m typically disinterested in the video game machines, and am invariably drawn to the pinball machines instead. In fact, I spent an entire leisurely, jobless summer immediately after college wasting quarter after quarter playing Midway’s “Addams Family” pinball game in the arcades of Washington, D.C. Good times.
That I didn’t mention that sorta interesting bit of trivia at all seems like a mistake, in retrospect. As does the fact that I eschewed another common blogging practice: writing in such a way as to engage the audience in conversation, rather than writing at the audience, as if readers were captive to my prose. I’ll admit it: there was a certain highfalutin, know-it-all tone to yesterday’s post that didn’t necessarily invite engagement. (For those who did add their remarks, special thanks.) Perhaps moreso even than acknowledging a personal dimension, blogging works best when it’s a conversation between blogger and audience.
To Write Better Should I Blog Less?
I fully accept these particulars of the blogging medium; blogging is not just journalism or journal-keeping or email conversation, but a medium of its own, with unique rules of play. It’s a wonderful medium, actually, and I enjoy it immensely; I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have written some 1,170 blog posts over the past seven years if I hadn’t.
One thing I worry about though, is if by becoming a better blogger over the years I haven’t also stunted my progress towards becoming a better writer. I often describe my persistence in this medium as predicated on my generally unflagging compulsion to write. I’ve certainly grown some as a writer while authoring Subtraction.com, but how much closer am I to writing the book that I want to write, to penning the articles that I want to publish, to developing a more insightful critical voice? Had I not preoccupied myself so many evenings and weekends hammering out hastily composed, poorly self-edited and only glancingly critiqued passages, would I have come any further along as a good writer than I have? To answer that honestly, I’d say I suspect that the answer is yes, I would have come much further. Which is to say that becoming a better blogger hasn’t made me a better writer.+