How I decide what and when to blog

Photograph of Kate Carruthers

That well-respected and mostly-respectable renaissance woman Kate Carruthers has asked me (and four others) this: “And how do YOU decide how/what/when to blog?” Good question, Kate.

Actually, why do I blog at all?

I have four answers, and they overlap.

1. Because I can. I enjoy writing. Sometimes other people seem to enjoy it too, even to the point of paying me money. I gives me pleasure, and I can do it while sipping wine at my local pub. Unlike masturbation.

When I’m writing for pleasure I tend to produce observational essays like Saturday Night at The Duke and Burnt out sofa, burnt out life, or satire like The Inaugural Paul Neil Milne Johnstone Award goes to….

I usually write this material because some vivid observation kicked it off and, after a not-too-long gap, I found a spare hour or two to record the words.

2. Because it helps me understand. When thoughts have been tumbling around in my tumbling mind like so many damp underpants and unmatched socks, essays like Winter Solstice Meditation and Disconnected from Nature help me find the centre. When I’m trying to figure out how to deal with a professional situation, essays emerge like Scaring the shit out of clients and Is it really so wrong to mix business and politics (and religion)?.

Photograph of Cho Seung-hui

Sometimes, though, I just want to join the rest of the human mass and record my personal reactions to major events — like Australia Day in Are you proud of your culture?, mass murder in The Ghost of Cho Seung-hui, or like The compulsory “Sorry Day” post or The Compulsory 9/11 Post.

When I write this material, it’s usually either early in the morning when it’s quiet, or at dusk when the world is winding down for the day. I’ll tentatively put a few words on screen, maybe even a few sentences — then wander around the house, make a cup of tea, play with the cats, walk to the corner shop because I’ve run out of milk, stare at the sky, write another few words, poke at them for a minute or two and repeat and repeat and repeat until it starts taking some sort of shape. Every now and then there’ll be a flash of insight and I’ll blast out half a dozen coherent paragraphs in one burst — then wander around the house, make a cup of tea etc.

I’ll tumble around that loop dozens of times, maybe even putting writing on hold a day or two, until suddenly PING! The essay drops out in a warm crisp burst of lemon freshness.

3. Because it helps me remember. Like Kate, I’ll record interesting quotes, links and observations for later use. I put them into the blog in case they’re of value to anyone else.

4. Because it’s my duty. Somehow, despite my best self-indulgent contributions to long-term brain damage, I’ve ended up with a capable mind which can analyse the world and communicate. Since I’m not one of the breeders whose role is to pass on their genetics, I figure it’s my role to pass on memetics. I do actually think it’s important that my eccentric worldview is recorded for posterity — if only so future humans can point and say, “Stilgherrian was just so wrong, and we must never make that mistake again!

Photograph of Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco (pictured) explained this better than I ever could in the preface to the US edition of Travels in Hyperreality:

There is another reason why I write these things. I believe it is my political duty… In the United States politics is a profession, whereas in Europe is it a right and a duty. Perhaps we make too much of it, and use it badly; but each of us feels the moral obligation to be involved in some way. My way of being involved in politics consists of telling others how I see daily life, political events, the language of the mass media, sometimes the way I look at a movie…

Perhaps I have written these things, and go on writing similar things, for other reasons. I am anxious, insecure, and always afraid of being wrong. What is worse, I am always afraid that the person who says I am wrong is better than I am. I need to check quickly the ideas that come into my head… That is why I like to write for the newspapers, to reread myself the next day, and to read the reactions of others. A difficult game, because it does not always consist of being reassured when you meet with agreement and having doubts when you are faced with dissent… Sometimes you have to speak because you feel the moral obligation to say something…

As Eco uses newspapers, I use a blog. I continue to write pieces on censorship and journalism, as well as more philosophical pieces like Post 801: Kill the Hallucinating Goldfish and Stay alert, ye nameless, toiling animals and “Let’s just write that down…”.

As I said, these four reasons overlap.

An essay like Anzac Day Rememberings is observational, political and personal all in one. I don’t think about the categories when I write. I simply write when I have the passion. Or when Crikey has commissioned something — though that’s usually within my passion-zone anyway.

I should also mention that I draft and re-draft many times. I read everything aloud so I can refine the rhythms. I polish each sentence until I’m happy. And before hitting “Publish”, I usually take a shower or a walk or otherwise take a break so my eyes and ears are fresh before doing one final run-through.

Twitter bird cartoon by Hugh MacLeod

But Twitter is changing everything.

And so is Ustream and Delicious. And so (soon) will Qik. [Update 22 March 2014: Qik is no more. Its video messaging functions have been absorbed into Skype, and it will cease to exist on 30 April 2014.]

I’ve almost completely stopped my one-paragraph Notes, as those pithy observations seem to fit more naturally into my Twitter stream. As do links, which I also dump into Delicious to be returned here as Daily Links blog posts (posted only every few days, so sue me).

I’ve also experimented with a new type of Twitter-based observational writing in Gonzo Twitter 1: Saturday Evening in Newtown. It seemed to work. I intend to do more.

Meanwhile some of my political commentary is now in my video program Stilgherrian Live, and as soon as I get a new phone I’ll post to my Qik stream more often.

How do I use all these different media outlets? How do balance these and other demands upon my limited time? NFI. But writing this post is helping — category 2 FTW!

So how do you decide how / what / when to blog?

I tap you on the shoulder, Nathanael Boehm, Nick Hodge, Simon Rumble, Trinn (’Pong) Suwannapha and Zern Liew. There, all in the second half of the alphabet by given name.

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2 comments

  1. Jennifer’s avatar

    I like blogging for all those reasons to!

  2. Zern’s avatar

    Thanks for the tap – yes I am on to it. I do already have an in-progress piece reflecting on my blogging over the past few years. I hope to finish that before the year ends!

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