On blogs

That Ashes post of earlier today? A classic example of everything a good blog post should not be.

I wrote it on the ‘Ashes is on, have to say something’ lines — not because I had anything particularly original to say about a day’s play I found very boring, and incredibly difficult to focus on. Apropos, this:

Equally, don’t blog just for the sake of it. If you are bored of blogging, your readers will get bored of reading you. You may force yourself to write, but your readers won’t force themselves to read. When the juices aren’t flowing, give it a rest.

That’s a clip from an extended Amit Varma piece the art and craft of blogging, excerpted from a new Penguin book on essential writing skills.

Writing a blog can be the most enjoyable kind of writing you do.

Totally true. Amit then says this:

But if you want to be a widely-read blogger, with regular readers who take time off every day to read your blog, then you need to work hard at it. The reason for this is the nature of the medium.

When readers buy a book, they are mentally prepared to spend a large amount of time with it. When they pick up a magazine or a newspaper, they are less patient, but there is still some commitment there. When readers visit a website, on the other hand, they are probably doing many other things at the same time. They could be chatting with people, sending and receiving emails, perhaps playing a game somewhere — and other websites might also be open, in various windows or tabs. Your blog is competing with all these distractions. If your writing does not grip your readers’ attention and keep them engrossed, they will move away to something else just by clicking their mouse.

To be a successful blogger, thus, there is just one rule you need to remember: Respect your reader’s time. Any advice I can give you on writing a widely-read blog flows from that one rule.

To what is a very well thought out piece, I’d only add one codicil: Don’t blog because you want to be a widely read blogger.

In my very early days as a blogger, I tended to constantly check the stat counter to see if anyone was reading, if so how many — and oh dammit, why so few when the cricket reports and columns I wrote on Rediff drew readers in the several thousands, what am I doing wrong, how do I get it right…

In short, I drove myself nuts — a phase that lasted a good three, four months before sanity, and a modicum of sense, dawned, and I got to where I’d write if and when I wanted to and it didn’t matter if it was read or no. Absent the pressure/distraction of the stat counter, I got to where I began enjoying the process of blogging for its own sake.

So am I widely read now? I don’t know — a search for ‘best Indian blogs’ just now threw up this link.

Thing is though, it doesn’t matter — blogging is fun.

It has helped me find a voice [when you write editorially, for a paper or website, your natural voice is often hedged in by the constraints of style sheets and the particular news outlet’s sensibilities].

It has allowed me to experiment [I won’t embarrass myself by listing the failed ones, suffice to say reader reaction on those occasions quickly helped me identify them as failures, and to jettison them — and you learn much from such failures].

And it has made me many friends in many places around the world, some of whom have gone from being blog readers to people I meet and interact with in the real world.

So – who cares what the numbers say?

I know some of the readers on here are bloggers themselves. Those who are not — start now. Amit’s guide should be inspiration enough.

In passing, a portmanteau question for the hive mind: what blogs do you read, and why?

Addendum: In comments, ‘Jabberwockky’ points to this interview of screenwriter Rex Pickett whose novel Sideways is due out in movie form — with his own script — later this year. Here’s a clip:

DC: Have you tried to write solely for the goal of creating a potentially commercially successful film?

Rex: Yes. And I fail repeatedly. Because it’s so disingenuous coming from me. I would love to write a script and make a million. Who wouldn’t? But I have this famous saying – which I made up – What you’re doing is what you’re becoming; and what you’ve done is what you’ve become.

I have a friend who made millions writing for a successful TV show, but he used to always say to me: “But I want to write something great like Dostoevsky.” Yeah, right, bud.

DC: I’m having a hard time responding to that last in words. It’s like being confronted with, oh, a Zen quote; if you really stop to hear it, it’s hard to respond except on an experiential level.

Rex: Yeah, you might end up ripping me off for years. It’s cool.

But it’s so true. And especially about writers in Hollywood. Because so many of them are doing one thing, but claiming they really want to be doing something else. But they’ll never get back. Because it’s not a leap of will. It’s a life, writing.

DC: I have to say, there’s a lot of pure entertainment that I enjoy, but I understand (at least I think I do) the distinction you’re drawing.

Rex: I think writing as a career comes after writing as a life. But then I’m old-fashioned in the sense that I believe first in the innate need to write – in whatever form – and then whatever happens happens. “Intrinsic need to want to write” maybe is better phraseology.



3 thoughts on “On blogs

  1. Sideways came out some years ago – and got some awards too! Excellent movie. Did it not make it to India then?

    Anyway – good post this, and Amit’s, esp when my own blogging has been at a lull all summer… thanks!

  2. Couldn’t agree more to your codicil. There is a nature, in doing something, to drift away from the main reason that made you come to do it. The incidental becomes the primary, and the primary is lost somewhere, if not become the incidental.

    While on that thought, here is the link to an interview I once read and couldn’t agree more with.


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