It’s been a month since the Investoralist officially kicked off, and I thought I’d briefly pause and write about what I’ve learned so far. Granted, a month is barely a blip, and some of the musings may seem pretty amateur to bloggers that have been labouring in this medium for years. But hey, this is the Internet, everyone gets their piece. And there’s hardly anything that I can do to prevent you from clicking away. So off I go.
The need to provide value. Before I enrolled in politics – that was my choice for graduate studies, I was interested in the Middle East. To prove it, I went traveling in the region and ended up living in Egypt for three months. I took Arabic classes. Then I went to grad school, and realized that everyone was interested in the Middle East, and everyone has seen the sufferings of the Palestinians, first-hand. I then promptly decided that I was no longer interested in the Middle East, since whatever problems it may have had, it was not for a lack of concerned political science students. And if all these smart, motivated, and outraged graduates of political science studies around the world have yet to find a solution to the problem – other than becoming bitter and indignant and depressed, I had little to offer. At least not through the same path. Or not at all.
So now I find myself blogging about investing, which is a subject that’s pretty vast and covered by a lot of people. The same issues are frequently debated up and down the journalistic and blogsophere chain. Some opinions are fruits born from careful examinations of arguments and data, some agenda-driven, some are pure drivel and derivatives. The issue of adding value to the discussion is never far from my mind when I write.
The need to be interesting. I’m not sure if the importance of being interesting should take a back-seat to providing value. God knows that we are subjected to enough dull and dreary readings. I can barely work up the will to look at my tax re-assessment from 2007 and call the government to see why they are demanding $64.36.
The issue with investment and perhaps any kind of personal finance writing is that the subject itself is not something most people naturally gravitate towards. It’s not escapist, because reading about something that tells you how to sort out your money is usually pretty serious stuff, and you need to pay attention. Not like reading snarky news on some dumb celebrity’s impending divorce or rehab mishaps when you are waiting for your dentist appointment or sitting in the salon chair. Because at the end of those, you roll your eyes, shake your head, slap the stuff down and get on with your life, feeling just that slightly happier and relived. But what you read on personal finance probably just makes you more jittery and agitated. Most writers on those subject are out to teach you something that you are doing wrong. And there’s always a call to action at the end that more often than not leaves you feeling guilty, because you know you should do it, or at least look into it. But that to-do list just gets longer.
Investing and managing your finances is also not sexy. I’m not sure if there is anything instinctual about the subject that pulls one in, compared to say, gossip or productivity and inspirational writing. Let’s face it, the subject itself does not have broad appeal. But we deal with it out of necessity, and competitiveness. Or perhaps greed. That could be a good motivating factor. Except most advice served in this subject tend to be conservative and very sensible. Too sensible to rouse that Donald Trump I-will-make-you-rich-if-only intensity. Personal finance bloggers are a prudent bunch, dishing out advice from frugal living to high-yield saving accounts, to carefully monitoring the market and discussing amongst themselves whether there is potential for an upturn. It does not promise a quantum jump in the quality of your life in one sweeping gesture of dramatic change.
So what makes, interesting?
Writing what I want to write. I had no idea what the personal finance blog landscape was like a month ago. I had no idea what other people wrote, and I had no idea what people liked to read. A few days into writing, I figured it was a good idea to find out. I did, and now I know.
So now I can write with the peace of mind that everyone does it their own way. Sure, there are plenty of people out there talking about SEO, writing catchy titles, baiting existing bloggers, stirring up controversy. I’ve seen what HuffPo resorts to in order to get more pageviews, I don’t think I can do that. At least not before moneymaking become a concern and Google AdSense goes up. But for now, I really just want to focus on what I want to write.
I know what I cannot write. I am not fit to give out frugality tips, nor tell someone how to organize their bank accounts when I can’t do the same, nor graph my way to stock-picking stardom. So I will write what I find interesting – the market, and how it absorbs ebbs and flows of political and economic decisions of past and present, how it translates and amplifies our various rational and irrational expectations of the present and future. It is as close to an oracle as it can be: it reflects the fundamental health of the economy, but it also deceptive in its momentary indulgence of collective greed or fear. In good times, it’s mellow and eternally optimistic. But in times like now, it is a wild beast unleashed.
To me, that is dynamism worth learning and writing about. Because learning about the market is akin to learning about the world. For there is not one force that dominates, but an intersection of competing and antagonistic ideas that battle against each other on a daily basis. In that sense, the topics that I can bring up in an investment-focused blog is endless.
Write less and talk more. It’s no fun talking to myself. It’s even less fun talking to myself in verbose and stuffy sentences. This is an unfortunate side-effect of spending time in graduate school writing essays that nobody reads. I will work on simpler delivery.
I left graduate school last year. There were various reasons. But one that bothered me the most was the tendency for everyone to talk past each other. And everybody talked too much, the least of all me. The thing with school is that you pay to voice your opinions, and nobody can shut you up and say, “Hey, that was completely ridiculous and irrelevant and please just shut it because we can’t take it anymore.” It’s the same idea as saying “There are no stupid questions.” Actually, there are, lots of them.
So what ultimately happens is that everyone sits around for hours on end, pontificating on theories developed by long-dead Europeans that would probably turn in their graves if they so much as overhear some of our self-involved interpretations of their life’s work. It gradually dawned on me, on how the whole field of social science is like setting up the scene to accommodate breakthroughs, not unlike waiting for the Second Coming. The rest of the time, people mull around to recycle, re-test, quote and mis-quote, agree or disagree with mountains of academic journals before them. To me, there just wasn’t enough value generated to justify the huge expense in time.
Back to blogging. I hear time and again that community and dialogue is the most important aspect of blogging. I am looking forward to that. There is no shortage of good discussion in the blogosphere, and I’m as eager as the next blogger for some heated and engaging conversations. I also like to be disagreed with. So bring it on!
picture source: *eduardovieira