in blogging, commentary

Have you ever seen people using a Moleskine notebook in public? You can see them using a fancy pen or pencil, writing in beautiful cursive, making excellent sketches, drawing straight lines without scales, right into their beautiful overpriced notebooks. It’s a gorgeous and truly scary sight.

I’ve never been able to buy a Moleskine notebook. I’ve often come across them in shops and stores, but every time I flip through the well weighted, elegant pages, which can give you paper cuts all day, I realize that I’m not worthy of a Moleskine. My handwriting is terrible. My ability to sketch wouldn’t save my life! Besides, the most important thing I want out of any notebook is the ability to scribble random ideas, or write small notes into. I want to just dump chicken scratch and small paragraphs in, without having to worry about elongating, or writing perfectly. Do I furiously scratch out words as I’m writing? All the time.

Would I ever want to use a Moleskine for that? No.

I recently came across this post by Jeff Perry –

It got me thinking – do we sometimes treat out blogs as Moleskine notebooks? Do we worry that we must only present our best writing on them, instead of just putting our ideas out there, perfection be damned? Yes, we do. We write entire posts and then save them in drafts, only to forget them forever. Either we’re not proud of our writing, or we’re not sure if it’s the right time to publish them, or we’re unnecessarily being perfectionists. Whatever the reason, what happens when you open your blog the next time? You come to the homepage, or the admin dashboard, and what do you see? The drafts? No. That’s a hidden page somewhere, totally ignored. So we move on to the next idea, and then the next, until our creativity is stifled and our spirits dampened by the lack of publishing. Why do we do this? Because the home page of our blog, at least in our minds, is a public space, and on it, only our best work should be displayed. But this is not true. CMSes allow two states – logged in and logged out. When you’re logged in, your blog’s home page is, in fact, not a public space, but a private one. Most of us do not realize or understand this, let alone capitalize on this simple idea.

I learnt about this problem in 2017 and solved it for myself. I want to share the idea with you, dear reader, so you can also stop moleskinning your blog. I’ve alluded to me writing this post before, specifically mentioning a key aspect of my solution – that when you see my blog’s 2018 archive, you see 25 posts, while I see 59. Yes, that’s thirty four posts that are not sitting tucked away in a drafts folder, but active and alive on my blog, albeit only for me.

Here’s how – this plugin on WordPress can set the default visibility of every new post you create on the web to Private. If you’ve never done this before (and I had not, till I discovered this solution), go ahead and manually try it now. When you change the visibility of a post to Private, WordPress immediately changes the save prompt from “save as draft” to Publish. You can finally get it – you can hit that Publish button and get that sweet, sweet rush of publishing something, but you can also get the freedom to read your post after some time, catch a few errors, a sentence you don’t like and such, and finally, when you’re happy with it, you can publish it publicly, which, by then would be a much smaller cognitive step than publishing it for the first time.

Side note – I’ve long recognized that seeing your blog posts on the front page of your blog, with theme and all, is a much different experience than writing and editing inside a text area and then publishing it. The feel is different, your eyes move differently to that beautifully set font, but most importantly – your mind responds differently.

I’ve tried hard to capture this feeling. A few years ago, when I found out about front end editors, I tried every single one I could get my hands on. One of my favorite ones was Barley. It was very well built, and a charm to work with. But front end editors come and go. Besides, the mind’s response to an editor is still that it is just that – a workspace. Even in the look and feel of my blog’s theme, the words seemed to flow differently when they were in edit mode.

I’ve been excited about Gutenberg since it was announced. But when I installed it in beta, it was horrible. However, the first release was actually quite good for me. For some reason, when I turned on SSL on my blog, one of the Gutenberg JS files crapped out (probably something to do with bad caching) and I can’t use it any more for post creation. I’ve gone back to the Classic Editor for now.

Just as well, because I noticed that when I was using Gutenberg, my willingness to quickly pound out an idea to the blog actually went down. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Private Posts by Default plugin only works on the blog when using the Classic Editor. That’s because it uses JavaScript to change the visibility setting on the fly. It’s a little silly, but it’s a better solution than the other hacks I’ve found, including a database script that’s changes the visibility setting as soon as you actually publish a post to public <shudders>.

Coming back from that long winding side note, when you’ve published a post to private, go your blog’s front page and just read. Be a consumer. Be a reader. The first time I did that, I found two spelling mistakes I’d made towards the end of my post. It’s so much easier to do that when your mind is just casually glancing at words instead of trying hard to be creative and write. The second time I did it, I was able to find a few sentences I hated reading and edited. Immediately after I made the edits in both the cases, I changed the settings to set the visibility to Public and published my posts. I’ve even used this process to sit on a post for a few days, slowly edited it every day, till I was ready to hit publish. Of course, you need to be careful to set the time and date of publishing to the current time and date instead of the value it’ll actually be – the time when you first hit Publish.

You don’t have to use the plugin. Whenever I’m on the WordPress iOS apps, I just head to the Post Settings section and quickly set the visibility to Private.

As I said before, stop moleskinning your blog. It’s not a perfect, pristine place which must always reflect the best work you’ve ever done. It’s alive. It’s a creative space where your ideas should stare you in the face so you can always work on them, and when they’re presentable, you can show them to the world. If you don’t ever want to, that’s fine too.

p.s. I let this post marinate on my blog in private mode for one night. According to WordPress, I have edited it twelve times after the initial publish. ?

What do you think?


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  1. @nitinkhanna I love the spirit of this post. I don’t use private posts because I’m not the kind of person who fusses about making things perfect; I use my public blog posts as a way to think out loud, posting as soon as I have a coherent thought, and returning to build and edit in live public view. (I can totally understand why people would want to do that in a private view, though!) It may not be the approach for everyone, but I look at my blog as a place for processing thoughts and ideas, rather than publishing finished work; that has freed me up to use it as a scratchpad rather than a Moleskine. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this!

  2. It is so funny. I am 53 years old and have wanted a Moleskine notebook since I was in my twenties. Every time I set out determined to order one, I think ‘what will I write in it? Whatever it might be, It had better be special.” And then I always decide to pass. And in my Wordress account, I have several partial drafts of life adventures that I have never completed. So, for the time being, I continue cluttering my apartment with stacks of scrawled-on yellow A5 notepads.

    Thanks for your post.


  • Fewer words are fine. Social-length posts are fine. Link blogs are fine. You get to keep your own output, where you want it, and the form it takes is entirely up to you.

    You only need to give yourself permission.

    Write Less, by Matt Gemmell
    This makes so much sense to me!
    This is what digital gardens and second brains are all about – quick notes that coalesce into something greater, because you keep going back to the tool over and over, thinking through it instead of on it, or outside of it.
    Goes well with my post about how you shouldn’t Moleskin your blog.
    via Colin Walker


  • Don’t Moleskine your blog – Nitin Khanna… via @instapaper

  • This Article was mentioned on

  • Greg Thinks Things #6 – Greg Morris January 5, 2021

    Hello Friends,
    I am 6 issues deep into this whole email malarky, the exact number that I stopped publishing the last one at and I can’t wait to get this one out the way. Although I enjoy writing this one much more than my last, I always set my sights on publishing this 6th iteration of GTT (I did a couple before changing the name) to get it out the way and prove to myself this time it’s different.
    The truth is I have started so many things over the past couple of years only to pull back because I didn’t have time to do them well. So new projects always give me a bit of anxiety until they really get going. My podcasting days are over now, I have far more time to focus on the thing that I enjoy most — writing.
    My blog posts come and go, and only really come when I have something to write about, but there is something so easy about writing to you al that the words just flow out and I have the outline done only an hour or so after the notification from my Todoist reminder. I don’t feel like my email has to be written a certain way and don’t pretend to be professional about it.
    I am quite often reminded of a post by Nitin Khanna talking about his perfectionist habits towards blog posts. Don’t Moleskin your blog sums this up perfectly, too often I am trying to come across as the perfect writer on blog posts, but here in my own little bubble it feels like I am just typing out a letter to you — which of course I am.

    Todoist Ambassador
    Last week I become a Todoist Ambassador, helping them spread the word and help people discover the app in different ways. The Doist team approached me out of the blue following my recent posts and it’s a no brainier to join such an awesome team.
    This is unpaid and I receive nothing from it, unless you sign up using my affiliate link. I do get inside knowledge, access to updates and communication with the team but most importantly it doesn’t change anything about me. I wont be spamming you to get you to sign up, I wont be publishing anything I don’t want to, I will be working with their team to get my content into other places on the web including their blog.
    The Imitation Game
    I am at the stage of my life when I really don’t care who did what, and why things happen. I am perfectly ok with companies copying features that make life easier, but are we all ok with blatant design rips offs now?
    Admittedly this isn’t a new thing, and not exclusive to technology products either but such blatantly rip-offs have become so common it is hard to tell the difference. Walking around the streets I see imitation AirPods (the stems are usually longer and thicker) which is part and parcel of the status symbol they have been come attached with. They are sold in shops of a dubious nature for a fraction of the price and of course much of their features missing.
    Image from The Verge
    However, that is nothing when comparing big brands like Oppo and Xiaomi ripping off designs and selling them like everything is ok. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, but copying such horrible designs as the notch in the iPhone X(S) is downright stupid. Yet here we are, with the tech press perfectly ok with it, and nothing done by regulators.
    Above is the new Oppo Watch, a product that is undeniably a rip off of the Apple Watch. This in itself doesn’t really matter, after all there isn’t match you can do with a smartwatch, but the watch faces and overall software design is so blatantly copied that it can’t be taken seriously. This should be sold on markets stalls and corner stores, not taken seriously. Yet all the big outlets are reviewing it so this must be an acceptable practice now.
    My Place In Tech
    I have been thinking about this since Matt Birchler wrote about it a few days ago. Matt has managed to carve out a huge market for what he has to say and often attracts a large audience and invitations to many podcasts. In many ways he does what we lowly blogger dream of, and all whilst not really trying — and being amazingly talented.

    I hope that I am a sobering voice in the world of tech bloggers. I don’t try to write things that are scandalous or are just written to stir the pot of controversy, and I am not on any company’s list for getting pre-release hardware for reviews, so I don’t tend to go viral.

    Is it right to think, or worry, about such things instead of just writing? I think it is nice to know where your angle is and stick to your guiding motivation. Otherwise, you can end up being one of those people that moves themselves into camps easily and publish content just to point towards one of them. Things that get picked up and get you loads of views are great, but often only fall into the extremes of arguments. No one is paying attention to the write-ups of their Magic Keyboard in which they are measured, objective and make sound judgements — which is where the issues can start to arise if you’re not careful.
    Everyone wants views, clicks, watches, whatever the metric is that defines you, but we must stick to our principles and make sure we find our place in the market whatever we are doing. It’s easy to present them as facts, but presenting our ideas and making them rational and easy to understand is key to staying true to yourself and others. I hope I do a good enough job at this because it is one of my main focuses when hitting publish.

    I know Notion has lots of fans, but it is one of the worst designed and thought out apps I have ever used. It’s too powerful for its own good and features just don’t seem thought through fully.
    The ZV-1 looks like Sony are finaly listening to what the majority of their small camera users want. I used an A6400 for quite a while and just small little things made the experience more complicated than it needed to be.
    I thought this was my imagination that everyone seemed to be more aggressive, but looks like many people are suffering more than they think. Don’t let this be you – chill out.
    I love this view on writing and sharing your thoughts. I wish more companies allowed their employees to share posts freely or nurtured a culture of expressionism like some do.
    I have picked up and finished two books in the past couple of weeks that are well worth a read. I think I read these in the wrong order, but they both compliment each other perfectly and give you a great insight into two companies that started out very similar but went different ways entirely.
    No Filter: : The inside story of how Instagram transformed business, celebrity and our culture and How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story are two of those books I couldn’t put down and don’t take much reading. They also give a huge insight into the workings of Facebook and a tale that I am sure many of the companies acquired by them will have gone through.

    Until next time I want you all to get out and enjoy the better weather, but stay two meters away from each other and wash your damn hands

  • Dear Reader,
    I’m looking for a suggestion, or a coalescence of suggestions to drive me towards a solution.
    I’m looking for a read later solution that doubles as a notes repository. See, I want to not just read longform articles at peace, I want to also take notes and highlight things and (maybe?) search my notes and recall things over time.
    Here’s a list of everything I’ve tried to date –

    Instapaper – Of course this is first on the list. It ticks off almost all the boxes. It’s reasonably priced, cheaper ($30/year) than its main competitor, and has been around since forever. It’s also everywhere. Why am I even writing this post? Well…

    Pocket – This is the alternative. It’s nice. It’s too well integrated into my current browser of choice (Firefox). It handles video etc well, supposedly. (Ah, that’s why I’m pondering this – should I lean towards Pocket because it does things that Instapaper simply is not capable of?) Flip side – Pocket just looks wonky. It’s like they married Material Design and never looked beyond. I hate that their list view doesn’t show snippets of the text of the article (Instapaper does). Heck, I modify my RSS readers to show me that stuff, who is Pocket not to show it to me? When there’s a banner image available, Pocket prefers to show that, which just shows that their style is more images-visual then text-readable. It gives me pause. Also, expensive! Though it’s just $15/annum more than Instapaper.

    Wallabag – Yes, this is ‘mainstream’ because AlternativeTo lists it as a leading alternative to Instapaper. It’s also the one most talked about after the top two. Wallabag is nice, and it makes me pause and wonder whether I want vendor lock-in and data dependency over time. Options like wallabag are what make it difficult for people like me to choose closed source over open source. Damn you French people! The problems with wallabag are more like – their iOS apps don’t support note-taking, and neither do their iOS website versions. It’s really painful that I have almost everything I need, including data independence, and then they lack features on the move. Yikes. Free, self-hosted solutions are nice, if they work. Wallabag has a long way to go because it’s ready for this generation of web users.

    Polar Bookshelf – This is an interesting alternative. Polar lets you save articles into their app in a custom format, called phz, which is basically where they load the page in a custom browser, let the JS finish it’s magic, then lock it down and freeze the page as such, without any JS. This becomes a very impressive document that’s not PDF (ugh, I hate PDFs), but not a live doc either. I’ve had some hits and misses with Polar though. Sometimes, when it screws up a document’s format (because don’t devs love to write weird CSS?), there’s no way to fix that. Also, due to it’s use of a custom browser, it doesn’t support ad-blocking or element removal as yet. The devs have said that they’re working on a solution so we can use our own browsers and the attached technologies, but no idea when that will come along. Last nail in coffin? Polar has a web app and desktop apps, but no mobile apps. But it’s not all bad. Polar is supported by a vigorous sync solution that’s free (you can pay for Pro if you want some cloud storage (2GB-5GB) and hang out at their members-only lounge). The desktop apps are just great when it comes to actual use and reading. The problem? Their design is that you click on an article in their list and it opens a special view where you read and bookmark/take notes in a sidebar. This view doesn’t open in the mobile version of their sites, specially on the iPad, which is where it would be super useful. Instead of that, they do weird stuff like syncing flashcards to Anki. I guess the dev was a student at one point? Also, pricey if you go for premium ($5-$8 depending on how much cloud storage you need. Seriously, how much cloud storage do we need?) – This is, at the same time, not an alternative, and a great alternative. Hypothesis just works. It’s great for when I’m reading something on my desktop, need to quickly highlight, so I hit the bookmarklet and seconds later, the JS has loaded, logged me in, and I’m good to go to highlight and take notes. An amazing thing – hypothesis even works on the move – while they don’t have an app, if you go to their site and paste in a url (this is in mobile Safari), it’ll load up the article with their JS enabled, on their fancy domain, and their Annotation and Highlighting features work pretty well there. Problems – lack of app means I end up using the layout of the site, which is something I want to escape at times using pretty read-later fonts and text-extraction. Also, isn’t positioned as read-later+notes. It’s positioned as read-later+notes for scholars, and to promote healthy discussion on the web. This doesn’t mean that your notes are all public. You can choose for them to be private if you want. Also, they have API access for all, but no data export that I could find. Also, also, they don’t add a page to your account till you first annotate it. So it’s not read-later, as much as it’s “we’ll store your highlights and notes from around the web”. Lastly, is free, and a non-profit, and has big media sponsors… I… dunno what to think of that.

    Liner – I got a free sub to this when I first created a Samsung account. It’s… ok? It’s got apps across all platforms. It’s got a good set of features. Frankly, I didn’t use it much. Primarily because damn it’s pricey! $5/mo which reduces to $4/mo when paid yearly. Looking at and even Instapaper, that’s a lot! Heck, even Pocket is cheaper!
    Strange experiments of the fourth kind
    So, after I mucked around with all kinds of cross-platform services, I dipped my toe into some platform specific, or interesting solutions –

    FiveFilter’s Push to Kindle – Yes, this is a neat solution. I like reading on my Kindle app, and Kindle’s note taking abilities are epic! Every book I’ve read in there has it’s notes stored away safely (really?) in Amazon’s vault. I have exported said notes when I needed them. The problem with this process is that my Kindle experience gets cluttered. Almost all the problems with this process are at Amazon’s end – their library management is pretty s-h-i-t-e. I can’t sort stuff into folders, and for mobi files I’ve exported, if I mistakenly delete them from a device, all my notes are gone too (I think). Also, if I send a document to one device, it doesn’t go to other devices. There’s no way for me to tell the system to send this document to, like, my iPhone and my iPad. Also, even if I send it to my iOS devices, I can’t open the document on Kindle Cloud Reader, which would be a nice-to-have. On the FiveFilter’s side, the problem is that I don’t want to send single documents any more. They clutter my Kindle library up. I want to send a few at a time. So, I discovered –

    Epub Press – Epub Press is this awesome thing that lets you take a bunch of tabs, combine them into one big eBook and ship it away. Well, not quite. Their email function doesn’t work. So I can download the files to my dropbox and sync away. This suits me because I can then import the file to the Kindle app on all my devices. But the text-extraction isn’t very impressive. There was absolutely no formatting applied to the end-product, almost as if it were an eBook. (I know, I shouldn’t be shitting on a free resource like, but seriously, they need to learn eBook creation from Gutenberg). Epub Press is a fair solution because they allow you the choice of creating a mobi (for Kindle) or an ePub (for Apple Books), and because they let you compile as many articles as you want into a weekly/monthly/weekend reads. If it weren’t for the problems with Kindle, this could have been an ideal solution for me.
    Mobile Safari’s Create PDF/Save PDF in Books – I hate PDFs.
    Mobile Safari’s Send to Kindle – This is supposed to be from the Kindle app itself, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. Hit and miss. Sometimes, it’ll tell me that it’s sending the document to my Kindle app, and will then just… forget.
    Using a journal app to take notes – I used Day One as my primary thoughtsbox. I have a journal in there called Quotes that I sometimes add a good quote to. It’s a nice way to recall some thought years later. But Day One is staunchly not-cross-platform. They keep promising a web app, but haven’t delivered a fully functioning one yet. Their Chrome extension is nice, but I’ve yet to see a corresponding Firefox one yet. Not that I need it. I hacked my way to make the Chrome extension independent of Chrome, but it’s still a jugaad and there’s no good way for me to make extensive notes and highlights on it. I also don’t want to clutter it with read-later stuff. Just doesn’t feel like the right use of the technology.

    Publicly blogging about it – once in a while, I’ll want to talk about an article publicly and so I’ll make a blog post with highlights, my notes, etc. But it’s not a very easy process. I have to constantly go back and forth between my site and theirs, to copy content over (because WP supports a ‘quote’, but only one quote to begin a post with. After that you’re on your own to copy paste and format). This method doesn’t work well on mobile. I’d rather have a dedicated reading space which lets me highlight stuff, and then export it, sort of how the Kindle does it.
    Not-publicly blogging about it – The same as above, but I don’t publish it publicly, I just keep the notes in Private mode. I like private mode.
    There are solutions that I’ve tried over the years and not bothered pursuing or listing here. Apps like Unmark, which do a great job of letting you know what’s on your plate to read, but don’t let you read in a clean environment, or let you make notes, don’t count here. Similarly, apps like Evernote don’t either, because they’re not a read-later solution.
    I know there are hundreds of solutions I’ve not tried or talked about. Most of them are closely related to what I’ve listed above. For example, TheBrain, DevonThink, Refind, Google Keep, OneNote, etc are all nice, but don’t fit into the box I’m trying to fill here.
    So, dear reader (first of all, thanks for getting to this point), tell me what should I do? Should I bite the bullet and go with the top most solution, Instapaper, which is well priced, focused specifically on reading text (which is what I primarily want), but which is run by someone else? Or should I go with some form of open source solution that might cause me headaches but at least I’ll keep all of my thoughts with me over the years? Maybe I should go with a solution like, which is free, non-profit, and an interesting technology. Or maybe I should be looking at it from a different perspective, or looking at a solution I’ve never even heard or thought much of? What’s your opinion?