Advice To Blog Writers

Several times over the last month, surely coincidentally, I have been asked how it is that I can write a daily column. The rejoinder is trivially obvious: that every day I write a daily column.

There is no deep understanding required. If you don’t do the work, the work won’t get done. And so the answer is to sound like my father: self-discipline! If you want to be a blogger who everyday writes a column, you must everyday write a column.

Write!So much for how: on to why and what.

First why. Like all writers, even sort-of-semi-professional bloggers, I write for two reasons: I love the sound of my own voice and I desire money. Just as with the staff of the New York Times, I am convinced the world would tend towards Utopia were it only to follow my advice. I am therefore determined to issue this advice as often as possible.

This conflicts with the one piece of advice from my father that I have never been able to follow: “Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” (Luckily, this is one that has evaded him, too.) I justify my loquacity on the grounds that this website is the only way I have of people with money noticing me and then, with luck, hiring me. And if they hire me, I can eat and perhaps make the rent.

Now what. In an particular episode Rumpole of the Bailey our barrister is on a cruise and made to attend a lecture given by a pompous mystery writer with the theme, “How I Think Up My Plots.” Here then are how I think up my posts and what I think of them.

1. Wake up at 5 am. Stare at screen in the dreadful realization that all the ideas I had yesterday for topics have gone missing, have evaporated completely from my consciousness. Look at email hoping for inspiration—which I often find, thanks to you, my loyal readers—drink coffee, stare out window in a blank daze, refill coffee, realize that I have real work to do and that deadlines loom, finally start hacking out something on the one or two areas in which I have some expertise.

2. The trick is to carry a notebook everywhere, jotting ideas into it as soon as they occur. Noble plan, but I have never mastered it. I sometimes tote the notebook, but I can only rarely be bothered to open the damn thing and write anything. Do you know how long that takes? In the rare instances I manage to scrawl a pearl or two, I can never later understand what I meant.

It’s not just that my handwriting is notorious, but I have never learned to summarize intelligently. For instance, just what in hell did I mean by the note, “Utility Bill”? There is next to it a drawing of a stick figure. Did I mean this to be Bill himself, in a kind of atrocious pun? Or did I have in mind this is how one looks after the monthly mugging by ConEd?

3. General advice: try not be bore and avoid clichés like the plague. Unless used ironically, and even then, when one is seen, rip it out. And not just rip it out, smack yourself on the wrist, and look at yourself in the mirror with a look of superior disdain. If you knew my high school teacher Sister Dorothy, you’d know just what I mean.

4. You never know which columns will be popular. I have tracked this and have discovered that the posts which receive the most traffic or discussion are those which are written on the order of twenty minutes. If I don’t care about them, you will. The funnier I think a joke is, the flatter it falls.

5. There are only two kinds of blogs, lists and columns. I have no advice for list writers. But if you write columns, stick to standard length, which is about 750 words. Columns much shorter than this turn into lists. If you must say more than space allows, break it up across days. People don’t have the patience to read longer works on a computer screen.

6. If you ever become truly stuck for topics, write about how you are stuck for topics.

17 Comments

  1. How is it you can be disciplined enough to post daily but not enough to take your notebook everywhere and write clear thoughts and ideas? I carry a very smart phone which has Microsoft OneNote installed. Everything goes into OneNote which automagically syncs with my desktop, laptop and the cloud.

  2. Completely understand about the notebook. And my fingers are too fat for OneNote.

    It’s the 750 word bit that stumps me. Mine run to either 75 words or 7500.

    But here’s another tip, open up a Facebook account and link your blogs to your “wall”, whatever that is. That should treble your “hits”.

  3. “2. The trick is to carry a notebook everywhere, jotting ideas into it as soon as they occur.”

    I think the Michael Keaton character in “Night Shift” beat you to that one (although, as I recall, he carried around a little tape recorder, which actually is probably a bit more efficient).

  4. Wake up at 5 am.

    Well, I am never going to be a blogger if that’s a requirement. I used to get up that early when I had a 40 mile commute to work, but I quit that job after 3 years because of the commute. I easily put 2000 miles a month on my car. I associate getting up early with an awful commute. I do however avoid clichés like a vampire avoids sunlight. My english teacher told me a million times to avoid clichés.

  5. Really? Your trick is hard work? Who would have thought it could be so simple.

    Hey, that gives me an idea (one that seems to have eluded the political class): maybe there are other problems that could be solved in a similar manner…

    Ron C (erstwhile blog writer…)

  6. @ Ron C: I can just hear the ACLU scream if Obama required everyone receiving benefits arise at 5 AM each morning and compose a blog post. Ain’t gonna happen unlessl pigs fly. Probably would reverse the population decline, though.

  7. Here’s some fodder for a new post:

    ‘Wildlife runs from warming at faster rate, study finds’
    http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/08/climate-change-causing-species-to-change-habitat-faster-than-expected.ars

    “The speed is an important issue,” said study main author Chris Thomas of the University of York. “It is faster than we thought.”

    And,

    ‘Climate change causing species to change habitat faster than expected’
    http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/08/climate-change-causing-species-to-change-habitat-faster-than-expected.ars

    “Still, the study provides another indication that we don’t have to look to any temperature gauges to see signs of a warming world.”

    See… We don’t gotta show you no stinking thermometers! 😉
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqomZQMZQCQ

    Journal Science link:
    http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/08/in-warming-world-critters-run-to.html

    “The new study has plenty of limitations, Thomas acknowledges. The scarcity of papers meant that most of those included targeted only Europe and North America, few were from the Southern Hemisphere, and no marine species were included. “We’re prisoners of the data,” he says. But by analyzing 54 papers that met their criteria, the researchers found that, on average, organisms move up hills at 12.2 meters per decade, twice the rate previously described in the literature. And they move away from the equator at 17.6 kilometers per decade, which is three times the rate previously described.”

    Paper is here:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6045/1024.full.pdf

  8. @49er
    Bii is iPad for can’t see what I’m typing.

    I frequent this sight just in case the good doctor is willing to tell me how to teach a computer the difference between an outlier and corrupt data. For free.
    So far – no slip ups.

    No apologies needed. I enjoy your comments

  9. That’s the ticket. If you are going to blog, keep your daily editorial schedule. Google now looks for fresh content to rate a web site. Key words are still important, but larding a site with keywords will not improve your web page ranking.

    I know you have to be familiar with Google’s search criteria. If not it is easy to just Google the rules of the search engine.

    Since you are using WordPress, go into the Dashboard -> Plugins and search for SEO plugins. Some are really helpful.

  10. @Bill S. That gif file cracked me up. Possibly your computer is more teachable than mine. After all my instructions, this one still lets me to close a browser page whilst an active comment box is still in use. Stupid machine! I thought these things were supposed to have such good memories.

  11. Mr. Briggs: your

    General advice: try not be bore and avoid clichés like the plague.

    I assume that this was intentional? Using a cliche in a line saying NOT to use a cliche?

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