Reflecting on a Year of Writing About Crypto
I began writing in earnest about crypto 12 months ago, blissfully ignorant to the new career path and opportunities it would open up. A year on, I thought it worth looking back on what I’ve learned. It is a perhaps self-indulgent reflection, but just as there is a great demand to understand crypto I also think there will be many who now wish to write about crypto. I have learned a lot in the past year, and I am sure my experiences are far from confined to me.
I started writing mostly out of boredom. I worked a decent paying but intellectually limited job in which I would routinely spend 4–5 hours browsing the internet, reading about all things crypto. At the same time, friends and family were increasingly asking for links that would explain Ethereum and crypto more generally to them.
I wrote a series of articles, forming an introduction of sorts to all things crypto. People seemed to like it (although it is very much in need of an update now). So I kept writing. Before I published my first article I had a gnawing doubt that I didn’t really understand the tech, that my lack of a dev background would expose me, that people would immediately pounce to highlight my mistakes.
This never came. This is not to say that I haven’t written incorrect things — as my understanding has increased I have become more aware of all that I don’t know. However, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am always extremely appreciative of those who take the time to contact me or leave comments.
Because I cover more topics as a result, it has also meant that writing has been an excellent tool for increasing my own understanding. There is no better way of understanding a concept yourself than to try and explain it to another. The ensuing rise in confidence in my own knowledge is one of the best results of having begun to write.
This wasn’t always easy — my piece on Maidsafe’s PARSEC nearly drove me to despair because I just couldn’t make sense of it for a lengthy period. It is the article of which I am probably most proud because I found it borderline impenetrable and required me to read it numerous times and draw my own diagrams to try and figure out what was going on. Even once done, the team still had to correct me on a number of points. However, the article garnered a lot of applause from a tight-knit community who I think could appreciate the effort that went into it.
This interaction with teams is another bonus of writing. As I have frequently focused on projects about which there is little existing material, or which tend to be more obscure, I have benefited from many genuinely wanting to help refine my understanding of their project. This isn’t done for PR or publicity purposes (it is always very easy to tell the difference) but simply because I think often they see the time that has gone into writing.
Writing for a living
It was my relationship with one team that ultimately marked a turning point. It came with the first Project Spotlight article I did, focusing on Radix DLT. Radix was a project I’d been following for a while and so sent the finished article off to the Radix team in case of any inaccuracies (and admittedly also in the hope of some additional publicity). This sparked off a working relationship with the team, which had two benefits:
Radically improving my knowledge of crypto, by making me focus on writing articles addressing not just obvious topics (such as breaking down the various consensus algorithms) but also the technology underlying the protocols themselves (such as digital signatures, hash functions etc)
Made me realise people would actually pay me for the stuff I was previously writing for free
Such was my surprise at the offer of paid employment that, when asked for my rate, I didn’t know what to say. As in, I didn’t even have a ballpark figure — it was just not something that had crossed my mind. Fortunately, the Radix team were fair in their offer, because it wasn’t until afterward that I looked up what I should charge.
Writing for a living was not something I ever really thought about. The death of journalism is well known, and I had no intention of writing corporate puff pieces. However, I have been fortunate enough to work with a number of teams who I believe have their heart and mind in the right place. This counts for an awful lot when it comes to forging a working relationship. It has also meant that I have generally been writing about things which interest me, which I think is key to maintaining enthusiasm and not burning out.
And I think it can be easy to burn out, particularly when being paid. As soon as you accept payment for services and move from writing for self-enjoyment to writing for someone else, the whole dynamic changes. I hated it initially, coming close to quitting. It was hard, I was being constantly corrected, vast amounts of track changes coming back with every revised draft.
I didn’t think it was worth the money but persisted with it and eventually broke through. I began to understand what it was like to write for a client rather than myself and adapted to that. Because I was writing for companies with whom I shared much ideological agreement, it also meant that I was always able to write honestly.
There have been perhaps just two articles I have written that I regret — they erred on the side of being shilly — but they were part of the learning curve and I now turn down such work. I have always tried to avoid anything that resembled a shill, disclosing my holdings in any articles featuring particular crypto assets. In general, I aim to write as I would an essay, presenting contrasting arguments so people can come to their own conclusions.
Writing for me
When I began I was resolutely opposed to social media, has never been a fan. Until this year I had never used Twitter, have used Facebook only sparingly and have never used Snapchat or Instagram. Although I am not (that) old, it has basically passed me by and it wasn’t until April this year I began to use Twitter for my site.
I think that as someone who naturally shies away from both online conflicts (you never know the person you are arguing with and I just don’t really care if someone thinks I’m wrong, that’s fine) and who has no desire for publicity I have made poor use of it. It has undoubtedly meant that I am missing out on opportunities with the many publications that source through Twitter, but it’s just not really me. I use it sparingly to maintain a presence, but I can never be someone who builds through it as a primary tool.
However, Medium has been extremely useful in gaining a wider audience for my writing. Although I began by only writing on my own website, by around June I realised that I was getting 10x more views on Medium (with no additional work) than on my website. I now maintain my site more as an index of my articles in case Medium delete or suspend my account, as well as to publish articles I am not allowed to on Medium.
Another of the better decisions I have taken is to avoid editing my articles, bar a quick spell check. This means there are frequently missing words, grammatical errors and a general lack of polish, but it also lets me publish quickly and thus write more. Moreover, I just don’t enjoy the editing process. I’d rather submit something 90% of the way there quickly than obsess over the details.
One of the curiosities in writing is that I have never been able to predict which article would gain an audience. I think this has actually worked to my favour, because it has meant that I write what I want to write rather than what I think others want.
For example, one of the most read articles I have had was my breakdown of Liberal Radicalism, the paper co-authored by Vitalik Buterin, Zoë Hitzig and E. Glen Weyl. I would have predicted very little interest in such a paper, and only wrote it because a) I didn’t understand it on a first reading and b) none of the news sites seemed to be able to explain it either. My general rule is that if I don’t understand something, I assume most people won’t either, and therefore it is worth writing about. The only metric I do pay attention to is the read rate — I have generally found articles that are a c. 6 minutes read perform best.
I suspect many either new to crypto or new to writing find it difficult to know which community they fall into, who they should write for and where they can publish. One observation I often hear surrounds the seemingly incongruent stance I take on trading objectively poor or non-innovative crypto assets whilst simultaneously aiming to write mostly about the technology.
I am sympathetic to this, but my position has always been the same — I treat the two as essentially separate exercises. I may find the technology interesting — which is why I focus on it for my writing — but it would be foolish to let that dictate trading decisions when it is has been clearly proven it is not the reason for price movements. Until crypto asset valuations are fundamental driven it makes sense to continue to divorce the two.
This has, I suspect, placed me on the outside of both camps. I do not fall into the crypto trading community, because I rarely write on technical analysis or on daily movements. Similarly, I do not fit into the more tech-focused community, because I am unabashedly happy to own crypto assets seen as the preserve of morons.
I began writing to try and help others understand, and I hope that this remains consistent in my writing. I also hope that my enjoyment of the technology still comes through. It is such a cynical space, and I am no exception, having written liberally about the ongoing failings. It is also the most interesting thing I have been involved in and something that inspires my passion unlike almost anything else. Channeling that into my writing has been one of the best decisions I have made — if you are considering it or on the fence, I would certainly encourage it.