P&B: Jamie Crisman

This is the 10th edition of People and Blogs, the series where I ask interesting people to talk about themselves and their blogs. Today we have Jamie Crisman and his blog, longest.voyage.

Jamie is an American software developer currently living in Japan. I first stumbled on his site thanks to the Marginalia Similar Website Finder and followed his blog ever since.

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Let's start from the basics: can you introduce yourself?

I am Jamie. I am from the US, but moved to Tokyo at the beginning of 2020. I've been enjoying the adventure despite the questionable timing of that move. I have a small website called longest.voyage that I use to blog, keep notes, and post pictures of my life in another country. I have too many hobbies that I am bad at and like to talk about them on my site. I cycle through art, photography, programming, and studying Japanese. For work, I try to move data from one computer to another with code.

What's the story behind your blog?

For a long time I've maintained a personal site in some form. When I wanted to learn a new programming skill, I would often (re)make a CMS/blog to learn it. Write the site with a new programming language, or use a new technology. I would go through an iteration or two almost every year doing this.

When I moved abroad I gained more purpose for the site. It was a way to communicate back home that I am okay. Which was especially important when I first moved. I decided before I left that social media sites were not a good place for that due to a variety of reasons. Using my own site seemed like a good idea.

What does your creative process look like when it comes to blogging?

It is significantly easier to write a blog if you're already writing. I do this through journaling. Journaling is way for me to reflect on things. When I journal I naturally go through a ton of random thoughts or ideas. Sometimes I'll copy-paste something directly into a blog post. Other times the idea is simply sparked in the journal and I expand on it by writing for the blog. However, most writing stays in the journal. I used 750words for a long time and highly recommend it. Lately, I am trying out a physical notebook with a fountain pen.

Since starting the blog, I've learned a lot about how real writers approach crafting their stories. "Writing is rewriting" is shouted from the rooftops. I don't necessarily rewrite, but I try not be attached to what I have written. You gain a lot to not overly value your own words. I usually review everything the next day with fresh eyes. Fix any mistakes and toss out any redundant repeating unnecessary frivolous words. iA Writer has a neat feature to try and highlight these for you, but I am cautious of such tools because I feel you can lose your voice in it.

Depending on what I'm writing about, I may do a "Saunders Pass". Based on what I've read of how George Saunders writes. In his early drafts he says he's inclined to be initially sarcastic and throughout his editing process he tries to be more specific and less boring. George noticed for his writing this has a tendency towards love and compassion. I want to emulate that as much as possible even though I am not writing fiction like George. I can be sarcastic myself, so I try to be eager to give grace to anything I'm writing about. I am not perfect at this. It takes practice and iterations (rewriting!). The "slow" speed of making a blog post gives more space for this. And social medias have a strong tendency away from that compassion. This is why it's important to not overly value my previously written words. I want to be ready to toss out everything when I realize I am not hitting the mark.

Do you have an ideal creative environment? Also do you believe the physical space influences your creativity?

I've written a lot of words from an uncomfortable share-house bed. Depending on what I want to do, I may have a low bar on the physical space aspect. Though I enjoy my big desk now. My ideal environment would provide positive feedback loops or removes distractions. Part of that can be deciding on restrictions for myself. For example, use existing tools and stop making things from scratch. I'd spend more time trying to make "Japanese learning" tools than actually trying to learn. I enjoy the feedback loops that I get through (online or local) communities and having a few people to collaborate or share ideas with.

A question for the techie readers: can you run us through your tech stack?

All those handmade iterations of my site? Gone. Too much of a distraction for what I want to do. My site is a static site built with Hugo. I don't run any server myself. I use Github pages and it auto deploys when I push updates using Github actions. I set up Cloudflare a long time ago to get https (though I think Github is able to provide this now). I could probably remove that, but I've been lazy. This has been my set up for ~5+ years with very little maintenance. The site does not have comments. I pretty much only use javascript to provide simple search. Cloudflare can do basic "analytics", but I don't use it.

Given your experience, if you were to start a blog today, would you do anything differently?

Owning my domain name I think I got right. You can point it to where you want. It doesn't matter as much if you're using Wordpress, Medium, Github Pages, etc, because you can switch later if you want. However, when picking a domain name, do not forget to look at the renewal fees as well as registration fees. They're not always the same. The other problem I ran into with my "non-standard" domain name is when websites don't recognize the cool new TLDs that exist now. Several sites have decided my .voyage email is not valid. I really enjoy my domain name, but if I had known at the time I might have chosen something else.

The second thing would be focusing on writing and reducing anything that adds friction to that. I avoid spending time on the software (no matter how tempted I am to make it myself). Use an existing solution like Hugo or Wordpress. Don't bother with analytics. Find a good enough theme to get started. The blog software/design/creation/customization process is fun, but it distracts from the writing itself. Make it as easy as possible to consistently write and publish. Do that for a while. After that I can give myself permission to customize.

Financial question since the web is obsessed with money: how much does it cost to run your blog? Is it just a cost or does it generate some revenue? And what's your position on people monetizing personal blogs?

The domain name is a bit expensive. Looking at Namecheap, if I were to try and add another year it's $45 USD right now. I also have a paid Github account ($4 a month), but I think technically you can use Github pages for free as long the repository is public (mine is not). It's possible to reduce these costs, but that's what it is for now.

I make no money from my site. It's all for fun. When I hear monetization I think of ads and sponsorship posts. For that, do what you want or need to, but I likely will not want to read your blog. Another option is the Patreon/Substack/membership model, but I don't know if anyone is doing that for a personal blog. Membership has a better mutual understanding of the transaction. You pay money to support them, they write regularly (I'd hope) about what ever they write about. The membership model feels more "pure" to me, but it becomes a proper job to make content. That seems hard to keep as a "personal blog".

Time for some recommendations: any blog you think is worth checking out? And also, who do you think I should be interviewing next?

Oh, I am subscribed to so many people on my rss reader.

I think these three may have interesting and varied responses to these questions.

Final question: is there anything you want to share with us?

There are people still doing web rings! There's various ones out there already. I am a part of the Merveilles web ring. I recommend trying to join one or make one with your friends.

This was the 10th edition of People and Blogs. Hope you enjoyed this interview with Jamie. Make sure to follow his blog (RSS) and get in touch with him if you have any questions.

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