On refining published writing

, 2 min read

Writing is a tool for crystallizing one’s distilled thoughts through language. It allows the author to capture their way of thinking and writing at a specific moment in time.

However, any written text is inevitably outdated by the time it is read, since it reflects the author’s thoughts at a past moment in time. Our opinions and understanding of the world continuously evolve, based on new evidence and experiences.

Traditionally, published writing has been viewed as a static entity, but with digital technology continuous iteration is available at the click of a button. This poses the question: should writing stay untouched once published, or should it be continuously iterated on?

Keeping text unedited can be valuable both to the reader and the author. Readers can visit old texts and compare it with current works, gaining insight into the author’s evolution as a thinker and writer. For the author, keeping old work untouched can serve as a reminder of their progress.

On the other hand, many famous creators, from writers to scientists to artists, have been known to continuously edit and refine their work. It is not hard to imagine that they published frozen snapshots of their work reluctantly, and only due to the lack of technology and interfaces permitting otherwise.

Attempting to give a definite answer to the question is probably naive. As is often the case, it seems to depend on context. For example, in peer-reviewed publications in scientific work, it makes sense to have static content, since the reviewers “approved” a specific iteration of the text.

An interesting interface would be to allow viewers see multiple revisions of a work through version control. Something not too unlike git 1, but oriented towards the general public rather than software engineers. In this way, continuous iteration is enabled without loss of context and history.