How and Why I write for the blog

I’ve been thinking a lot about my blogging, and I’ve had a couple of people ask me about how I decide what to blog about (or more correctly, “why did you write about that but haven’t talked about this other thing?”)

And the first thing I have to convince myself before I’ll consider writing about it is that I have something interesting to say, and that I am adding the conversation, not just joining it. If I’m just saying what others are already saying, I’m wasting both my time in writing it and your time in reading it. So I try not to.

I’ve also learned that I don’t write well trying to be first, or in the heat of the moment. I’ll let others speed out of the gate, and opt for a slower, thought out response. It’s interesting since I’ve started doing that and paying attention how often my initial reaction changes, sometimes radically, when I sit back and think it through.

I try to not tell people what to think. I try to explain something so that people can think about it and make an informed decision. I’m not as interested about convincing you to my view as I am at encouraging you to think it through, and if you disagree, that’s still awesome. Thanks for thinking about it.

I try to maintain a specific voice and tone: calm, thoughtful, casual, informative. Forces me to avoid being all shouty and noisy, makes me slow down and think through something instead of react with emotion. And I think it mutes out some of the more reactive feedback other writers get. I try to never lecture or scold, I try to inform and converse.

That said, I will have an opinion and I am interested in having you consider it. I just don’t want to get all shoulty or pedantic about it. If I don’t have that opinion, I won’t even bother writing something, but so much that’s written out there boils down to “here’s why you’re an idiot and change your mind already you imbecile”, and since I have being talked down to by others, I try not to do it to all of you.

There are topics rarely if ever discuss. Politics is a big one, because I’ve found politics is rarely a conversation. Instead it’s two people yelling and zero people listening. I’d rather do something else, like throw myself in front of a bus than do that.

If I wanted to maximize pageviews, feedback and visibility, I’d write mostly about Apple or Hockey. Apple I write about relatively rarely and only when I can’t convince myself not to, and Hockey I’ve retired from because, honestly, I just want to enjoy the sport as a fan and not have to think and analyze it the way I would as a pundit. And honestly, both areas have a lot of really good writers and I don’t think either area needs one more voice trying to sound intelligent about the same issues everyone else is covering.

That said, every so often I feel I have an opinion about Apple that I don’t think I’ve seen covered by someone else the way I would, and that’s when I dig in. On the other hand, you’d be amused at how many blog posts I start about Apple topics I throw out as boring or redundant (or both). You’re welcome.

Sometimes an idea goes into the “maybe someday” file so I can let it marinate until I get around to writing it, or until I understand how to turn some idea or concept into an interesting piece. And once a month or so, I go through that folder of ideas and throw out the ones that on reflection I won’t (or shouldn’t) write about, and see if something needs to be promoted into the folder with the ones I’m actively working on. the oldest one that’s in my “maybe someday” file right now is over five years old, and I still intend to write it. Some day.

Other times, an idea pops up that I realize might make an interesting blog piece (like, oh, “hey, writing about my blogging process might be interesting to some”), and it flows out through the keyboard and onto the page almost on its own.

Then again, sometimes there’s an article or story idea I really love, but turning it into something worth reading is an incredibly slow and painful process. Which kind of defines most of my fiction writing, too, which is one reason I stopped.

Logistics

I write in Ulysses https://www.ulyssesapp.com now. I tried Scrivener, it worked fine, but the Markdown support wasn’t really there. Ulysses fits my writing process fine, so I have no reason to change away from it again — and yes, I know about the latest updates on Scrivener. Looks nice, but not enough to have me disrupt how I’m doing things.

Ulysses does the one thing I demand of all of my tools these days: it work cross platform without me having to fudge things together, with both solid IOS and Mac apps and cloud storage that syncs magically in the background, and to date, flawlessly. I don’t have to worry if a draft is on the wrong device, it just shows up where I look for it. All of my tools moving forward need to do that, or I won’t consider them.

I use basic Markdown, then publish to wordpress as a draft, clean up links and add images in the WordPress and then a quick round-trip through Bbedit to convert specialty characters (curly quotes, etc) to html entities before scheduling for publishing.

I typically write one and a half drafts — get it written, then do some cleanup. Sometimes a piece deserves more. My most recent Apple piece went through 3 plus drafts, because I kept looking at it and thinking “it’s way too long, and the most important bits are buried at the end”. It took me a day and a half of thinking through the structure to fix that, and it’s still longer than I wanted, but everything in it needed to be there. The stuff I pulled out would probably make its own blog post — or two — but won’t, because it really didn’t say anything original.

I lied about the one and a half drafts. I usually do a draft in my head before starting typing, so I have an idea what I’m going to say and how I want to frame it. About half the time, what ends up in the computer is significantly different than what I thought I was going to write based on the mental draft.

I rarely outline, but when it gets complicated enough, I will. Although often I’ll write the headlines first to get the structure right, and then fill in each section in a way that makes the sections flow through each other. Which I guess means I’m outlining, right?

I will often drop an idea or a fragment of an idea in Ulysses to build out later. Often I’ll have a key paragraph or a short section that I write that’s the core of the piece. Surprisingly, about 10% of the time that initial starting point is completely gone by the time I publish.

It’s all about encouraging conversation and thought

Ultimately, though, I want to communicate something I think is of interest to you, I want to do so an an entertaining and educational way, and I want to make it conversational and casual. This is us sitting and chatting in a coffee shop over a couple of lattes, not me at the lectern with a microphone and a taser.

I’ll leave the “I’ll make you hate read this for the pageviews” to others. Even if I sometimes get called an apologist for trying to bring forward both sides of something. And in fact, sometimes I probably am…

Which is okay, actually.