I'm about a third of the way through Jim Fallows' cover in this month's Atlantic on coal and the keys to climate change. The piece is typically intelligent, thoughtful, and informed, as Jim's stuff tends to be. That said, forgive me for a slight divergence. Jim's piece was, for me, another reminder of why I think bloggers really should fight for opportunities to write long-form--books, magazines or otherwise.
The beautiful thing about blogging is it eliminates the need for exposition, and set-up. A certain amount of familiarity is often presumed, and a good hyperlink is worth a a paragraph of explanation. Long-form, on the other hand, really forces the writer to take the reader by the hand and assume they know almost nothing about the topic. I can't speak for others. But I'm one of the people who needed Jim to say things like this:
All human activity together puts roughly 37 billion tons (37 gigatons) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. That number has been rising, as the world's population grows and the number of cars, factories, and power plants increases. Twenty years ago, it was less than 25 billion tons. Twenty years from now, it could well be 50 billion tons. Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas--that is, a substance that affects the atmosphere's ability to absorb and emit heat, so that a growing portion of the sun's energy is trapped to warm the planet rather than radiating back into space. Methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols, and other emissions play a major role, and ton per ton can be more powerful in greenhouse effect. But the focus is on carbon dioxide because we produce so much of it, and because its effects are so long-lasting.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but this strikes me as the kind of information that most bloggers--especially when in dialouge with each other--either assume the reader knows, or more often just hyperlink in. But the magazine writer has to spend the energy crafting these kinds of expository sentences in order to get to what he really wants to discuss--his argument.
It may seem like a drag, but I found that writing down the basic elements of your thinking--even the most mundane parts--forces arethinking. Writing lays it all bare, and the writer will find that things he or she has assumed aren't actually true, or aren't true in the way that the argument needs them to be. Long-form writing forces you to show your work in a way that I don't think blogs or op-eds do. In fact, it's worse in op-eds because, on paper, there are no hyperlinks, and I've found that often the writers aren't interested in any kind of re-thinking.
My point is that I think long-form can not only make you a better writer, it can make you a better, more nuanced and more precise, thinker. I urge all up and coming bloggers to fight for the opportunity to try it. And I urge all my readers to subscribe to the magazine, and reap the rewards of all of this hard thinking.
OK, off my soap-box.