Sunday, October 17, 2010

How to write a blog

I bet there's hardly ever been a blog that didn't include some post about how to write a blog. But a few people who read mine (and I'm eternally grateful that there are any such, since I know my choice of topics is meandering and can't possibly interest anyone all or even most of the time) have asked how I can keep up the pace, particularly given how busy I am generally. So here's a few thoughts about writing my blog.

First, how to make sure your blog is interesting: I have no idea. I don't really try to make it interesting for any particular audience. I just try to make it interesting to myself, and hope that of the people who read it, at least some of it will be interesting to at least some of the people at least some of the time. I'm always surprised by which posts happen to elicit more comments; I can't predict it at all. If you are trying to write a blog with hopes of appealing to a particular audience, or, gods help you, monetize a blog, I don't know the secret either.

(But at least I know I don't know it. I suspect that most of the people with popular blogs who think they know why theirs are popular are deluding themselves; they just happened to get that "critical mass" that means that the sheer number of other people reading a blog is enough reason for each other person to read it. When it comes to popularity of creativity, I think far more often than we like to admit, talent is necessary but sufficient; luck isn't just more important, it has a "chaos theory" kind of importance, where there's a tipping point where popularity forms a virtuous circle and snowballs.)

Second, on keeping up the pace: a few months ago I switched from writing one post a day, and publishing it on that day, to writing posts whenever I had ideas, and queueing them to be published at a particular time each day. Since then, my "buffer" of posts has gotten as high as 25 days and as low as 3 days, and tends to hover around a week. This has proven to be the most useful thing I could do to keep my blog moving. Staring at a blank screen with no idea what to write may sometimes inspire an idea, but it dries them up just as much.

The most important thing for getting ideas is to capture them as they come up. Many of them come up when I'm near my computer so I can open the blog window, create a post, title it, write some notes to myself in the body, and save it. Later, when I have time, I go back and write these up. Often, ideas come to me at other times, and as soon as possible I note them on my smartphone. Despite doing this assiduously, I lose almost as many good blog post ideas as I capture, because they happen and slip away before I can note them down. As with any kind of creativity, the difference between people who have lots of ideas and those who wonder about how the others get them is acting on opportunity. Everyone has lots of ideas: you just have to get used to recognizing them for what they are, then capturing them for expansion later.

After that, it's just a matter of being able to write. I don't imagine my writing is consistently good, particularly on blog posts where, to maintain the style of stream-of-consciousness, I rarely reread and edit (where all my other writing gets edited and rewritten vigorously). But, for an amateur, I am a pretty good writer, and I have my moments. Apart from a grasp of the mechanics, the most important thing for being a good writer is being a good reader. That means both being an avid reader with an omnivorous appetite, and splitting your reading time between times you read things and just let them wash over you, and times you read things and analyze them to figure out how they work, why they were put together the way they did. (Doing only one or the other of these two things isn't enough; it takes a balance of both.)

That's really all I have. If you like my blog, that's all the advice I can offer for how you could do the same.

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