Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

This blog is now 27 years old. On April 11, 1997, I made my first post here. This seems like it was both 20 minutes ago and about 167 years ago. I know I burn a lot of cycles on anniversaries and numbers, but felt it might be a good time to riff on a few things.

This blog was originally called Tell Me a Story About the Devil, based on some dumb joke between me and Ray Miller. In 1997, I was only a few years into being A Writer, and spent most of my time scrawling in various spiral notebooks when I wasn’t either working or actually writing books. I spent all day in an office, scrolling through the nascent web, trying to find stuff to do when I wasn’t doing my job.

This was definitely in the era of Web 1.0, because the term Web 2.0 would not be coined for two more years. The Information Superhighway was still figuring itself out, and had not been completely destroyed by commerce yet. There were roughly a million web sites in existence. The term “blog” would not be invented for another eight months. Google was about a year away.

Back then, I would fixate on a few different sites like CNN, which I’d reload and reread a dozen times in a row. But I would also go into AltaVista (the Google before Google) and dig for content. A lot of definitions of Web 2.0 call it the “participatory” web, but if you were around last century, you might think of Web 1.0 as participatory, but just not by regular civilians. If you had something to say, you’d be on GeoCities or Usenet or hand-coding your own HTML. And people did. And I burned a lot of cycles searching for people who carved out their own personal sites. I loved it when I’d find a “web journal” where someone documented a long trip or pet project or the day-to-day in their life. Before blogs were blogs, this was the web.

And in 1997, I decided I needed to do this too. I mean, since 1992, when I first created what was then called a “hyplan” I tried to think of what cool stuff I could do on the web. Should I publish a magazine like the heavy metal zine I photocopied and mailed to people? Should I write a choose-your-own-adventure with hyperlinks between the pages? Was there some kind of hypertext novel in my future? I had the technology, but never had the idea or plan.

But I decided to chronicle my writing process, and maybe eat up my lunch time at work. I figured if I created a framework, I’d eventually hit a cadence with the thing. So I did.

* * *

What’s funny is that in the first implementation of this thing, I’d inadvertently invented the static site generator probably ten years before Jekyll existed. This was way before I could even think about database-driven CMSes. This is basically how it worked:

  1. I would telnet into Speakeasy.net, which was my dialup provider, which gave me a shell login.
  2. Fire up the emacs editor.
  3. Press Ctrl-x Ctrl-j, which ran a hit of elisp and opened up a text file in the right directory with the filename containing today’s date.
  4. Write. This was not done in HTML, and it was seven years before John Gruber started talking about Markdown. Just plain text.
  5. Save the file, and run a little C program, which would generate the index pages and other junk. The output directory was on the live host so there was no staging or mirroring or file transfer.

There are like 19 problems with what I just described. And there are at least two or three things I probably should have named, expanded, and sold.

Anyway, that was all fun, and I kept writing and publishing. The mechanics of the site slowly improved over time. I switched from plain text to HTML. I figured out a way to slap a commenting system on the site. I got rid of the frames layout (ugh, remember that junk?) and added rudimentary CSS to the thing. Finally in 2009, I gave up and moved to WordPress.

What’s funny is I’m actually half thinking about moving back to a static site generator. I’m sick of WordPress and I use Next.js at my real job. I keep thinking about making the change, but with so many posts here, it’s a monumental task. Yeah, I’m sure you Hugo apologists can break out a StackOverflow post from ten years ago that explains how to export WordPress to Markdown with a script written by a teenager in his mom’s basement in Latvia, and it will waste at least a week of my time and still mess up every post containing an image that was written on a Tuesday. I could do that, or I could sleep. I’ll think about it.

* * *

The thing about this blog is it’s still hard for me to explain what I do or don’t do here, and even with a million and a half words written over the last few decades, I still can’t. I rarely wake up in the morning with an idea of what to blog, and when I do, I often find I already wrote about the same exact thing ten years ago. Travel stuff is obvious, as are big life events. But there’s also a lot of self-censorship involved. I can’t talk about my job. There are people who I don’t want reading about my private life who militantly stalk me to find out about my private life. I have issues with persona. I have little interest in writing reviews. What do I write about?

I journal a lot, in a lot of places. I still write on paper every day, usually a page or two in a Moleskine diary. I use Day One pretty religiously for day-to-day stuff and dream journals. I use the Notes app to jot down ideas and things to do later. I freewrite and do the actual books-and-stories writing in Scrivener. None of those are public-facing, so where those end, this begins.

I think the thing I’m almost comfortable with now is this being about nothing. Part of blogs being essentially dead as an art form is nobody asks me anymore. In 2002, you had to focus your blog, have an elevator pitch, be niche, because everyone was chasing a book deal with their blog. I don’t know if people still do this. I don’t know if people who got seven-figure deals to turn their blog in a book had a one-and-done publishing career and owe seven figures of an advance. None of that was why I blogged, and none of that is why I still blog.

Anyway. Old man yells at sky. It’s been fun so far, and I’ll keep doing it. I’m not sure I’ll make it another 27 years, but we’ll see.


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