“Blogs are dead”

That, at least, is contemporary media wisdom. And maybe the analysts are right — after all, they spend all their lives excel-sheeting the hell out of news, microscopically examining “metrics” and tossing around informed presentations about “Return on Investment” and “audience retention costs” and all of that stuff — the calculus of news.

That said, into my third week after I returned to this blog, I think I’ll stay. For why? Because unlike on social media, here I can not only explore a thought that occurs without artificial constraints of space, I actually get to hear what the reader thinks, to engage with those thoughts and in doing that, to further clarify my own thinking as well.

Like, so.

Occurs to me, this is what I loved about blogging the first time round — this kind of engagement, debate, discussion, which peaked when I was doing either cricket, or this.

damned if I know why I moved away from this (Twitter is the drug of choice — instant gratification, so maybe that was why) but now I am here to stay.

Indibloggies: felicitations

The Indibloggies 2008 results are out, and several favorites [including some good friends] have won in their respective categories.

The big winner is Arnab, whose Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind takes the palm in both ‘best indiblog’ and ‘most humorous’ categories. Icing on the cake: the blog is now a Hall of Famer — which, like Amit Varma’s entry into the Hall this year, is great news for the rest of us since it means we don’t have to compete with Arnab here on 🙂

Ramesh Srivats, another good friend, wins the ‘microblog’ award. But naturally — he is my personal port of call for the news of the day, served up with a twist of irony. And oh yes, Gaurav Mishra — another friend, another daily read — wins in the ‘business’ category.

Great to see the breadth of the winning slate, actually — blogging in India is gradually moving from dilettante activity to serious discourse, and how good is that?!

The why of blogs

A wannabe writer recently mailed me asking for ‘tips’ on how to break into the big time. I mailed back that the only way to break into the writing game was to write — wherever he could, on whatever moved him. Start a blog to explore your own mind, find a voice and showcase what you can do, was the gist of my response.

It didn’t seem to find favor with my correspondent — ‘Who reads blogs?’ was central to his response. I guess he was looking for a response more on the lines of ‘Oh, you want to write? Brilliant, where were you all my life? Come join my organization — we need you yesterday.’

Consider this: way back in April 2009, during the run-up to the general election, Amit Varma did a post critical of Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and the Congress party.

Yesterday, he got a response from Tytler. The story of that response, and what followed, is here.

If I were to point to this in response to the ‘Who reads blogs?’ query, the reaction likely would be ‘Oh but Amit is a star [which he is], so he gets read.’

What is not appreciated is that it took the likes of Amit considerable time, and the heck of a lot of hard work, to get to this point — to find his voice, to find focus, to fine tune the internal filter that allows you to allocate mind space to the topics that really interest you…

[While on this, Amit’s earlier post on blogging tips is worth your while; this link takes you to Great Bong on a similar theme].


My Life Is Desi

Like the header says. Enjoy.

Ships and shoes and sealing wax

On a lazy Wednesday, random clips in the midst of work:

1. A favorite blog completed five years this week. For lovers of books and movies, it’s a must-visit [as is this]. And if you are in the mood for fun, here’s a series of Jai Arjun posts on the perils pleasures of matrimony, dating back to 2008 when he got hitched: Separate toilets, a travelogue into the subterranean world of water tanks, short circuits, and finding love money in cyberspace.

2. On another regular pit stop on the browsing trail, Great Bong has some tips for the bloggers among you on how to increase traffic. To which I’d add just this codicil: the best way of building traffic is to write, often as you can, on the things that interest you. And ignore the traffic stats while you are at it — blogging can be huge fun if you quit worrying about whether anyone’s reading, and focus instead on what you want to say. More on those lines in an earlier post.

3. Amit Varma’s ongoing, and often hilarious, series on where our tax money goes continues — and not surprisingly, Mayawati stars again.

4. Another of my favorite bloggers, Nilanjana, was last seen last weekend on Burkha Dutt’s talk fest, almost single-handedly making the case against book bans — while on which, an earlier post on the Jinnah book ban. Jaswant, incidentally, is now seen as a hero in Pakistan thanks to his Jinnah book while Stanley Wolpert, who also wrote a book on Jinnah, was banned. Arising from which, both bans stem not from that oft-cited bogey, ‘public sentiment’, as from the desire of Zia in one case, and Narendra Modi in another, of wanting to block any ideas that conflict with a particular image they wish to preserve, for their own reasons.

In her latest column, Nila commemorates an anniversary: it is now 20 years since India banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses [it’s a different matter that you can buy copies at any traffic signal in Mumbai]. Is it time, Nila asks, to challenge the ban and have it overturned? Clips:

To state this even more bluntly, there is little doubt that Rushdie had caused offence. The question is whether it’s a crime— punishable by censorship, book banning, fatwas or other means— to cause offence. Publisher and writer Urvashi Butalia puts it very well when she says that writers are bound by the consequences of their writing and must expect dissent (though not death threats)— but that, if an ordinary citizen were to challenge the ban on Satanic Verses today, she would support that action.

Salil Tripathi, author of Offence: The Hindu Case, says: “If the aim of the ban was to prevent bloodshed, it failed: I was witness to riots in Bombay in February 1989, when a Muslim mob wanted to attack the British Council Library because it was believed the library had the book— which it didn’t. In the riots that followed, several people died. In the years since, the state has failed miserably in protecting the rights of artists or writers— ask M F Husain, Deepa Mehta, Taslima Nasrin, and now Jaswant Singh. The consequence of that first original sin, when the State flinched and banned The Satanic Verses has been severely restricted, narrow discourse. This wasn’t what Tagore intended when he wanted his country to awake into that heaven of freedom.”….

But overturning the ban would be the first step to doing something we haven’t done so far, that is bigger than any one book or any one author— protecting our right as Indians to free speech. What happened 21 years ago pushed us in the direction of becoming more fearful, more regressive; and surely two decades is enough time for us to undo this old injustice.

Staying with books and bans for a beat longer, another anniversary: 20 years before Rushdie’s Verses, Philip Roth wrote a book that jolted my teen sensibilities. I didn’t get to read it the year it was published — a bootleg copy got to me only around 1973; many of us in MCC named our right hands ‘Portnoy’ around that time. Much later, I got to see the Richard Benjamin-Karen Black film version helmed by Ernest Lehmann and was terribly underwhelmed; here’s an NYT piece on why books by the likes of Saul Bellow, John Updike and Philip Roth make for indifferent movies. Back to Roth, and from my archives, a Spiegel Online interview and a two-part interview [1, 2] from Bookmarks. And here’s the man speaking to you direct:

One last link on the subject of books and bans: a favorite resource. [Too many links to take in all at once? Here’s one more apropos, from Harvard Business Review, on death by information overload :-)].

Amuse yourselves; more later, if I stumble on anything interesting in course of play work.

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.