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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Slogging through the Early Blogging Weeks

Whenever I paced nervously around our kitchen as a youngster, my watching mother would say, “You don’t know what to do with yourself.” I didn’t understand what she meant back then. I do now because I’ve been pacing nervously around the social network for a month or two not quite knowing what to do with myself. Fortunately, John Updike stepped in to help.

After bouts of intense work over the past year building a learning portal – a.k.a. a social network -- for a Saudi company, I finally had some downtime. I decided to become my own learning portal, loading up and distilling gobs of information about social-everything, and then blogging energetically and insightfully. Subsequently, I read incessantly, bookmarked randomly, blindly built a blog, peddled my best comments on discussion groups, and went to be bed most nights stressed and exhausted.

Whatever enthusiasm I had for potential blog topics was repeatedly dulled by discovering that other bloggers had beaten me to them. I realized that originality might be a myth. Successful blogs use mostly blue-colored fonts; their posts are primarily clicks to other blogs.

Blogging, I sensed, was like re-gifting: whatever one receives, just repackage and give it to others. Write for attention, write with searchable key words, blog for bloggers. So, this social media business was more akin to telemarketing than conversation?

Competing in this craze made me a bit panicky. I simply couldn’t keep up with what I saw others doing.
  • Speed-feeding stories on Twitter, like an ATM dispensing cash, from content aggregators such as AllTop.
  • Scattering comments across the blogosphere to generate links that would drive up traffic and SEO scores (search engine optimization). One blogger pays $25 for typing 250 quick comments on various blogs -- “Nice post. I was reading a similar article here” -- to lure visitors to his site and spike his stats.
  • Bouncing from site to site, rapidly adjusting to diverse formats: video on You-Tube, banter on Facebook, archiving on Delicious.

I started to show early signs of information anxiety and social fatigue. Maybe I just wasn’t hungry enough to jump into the feeding frenzy. I felt like I was, again, anxiously waiting to board a plane at the Shanghai Airport, flesh-pressed at the gate with more passengers than unreserved seats, running to the plane when the doors opened, and finding no place to sit.

Solace finally came oddly in a short interview with novelist John Updike on a wonderfully ordinary blog called Daily Routines. Updike shared his work habits:

Since I've gone to some trouble not to teach, and not to have any other employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch. So I work three or four hours in the morning, and it's not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases.

You begin by answering a letter or two. There's a lot of junk in your life. There's a letter. And most people have junk in their lives but I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along. There's a danger if you don't move it along steadily that you're going to forget what it's about, so you must keep in touch with it I figure. So once embarked, yes, I do try to stick to a schedule.

I've been maintaining this schedule off and on -- well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in '57. It's a long time to be doing one thing. I don't know how to retire. I don't know how to get off the horse, though. I still like to do it. I still love books coming out. I love the smell of glue and the shiny look of the jacket and the type, and to see your own scribbles turned into more or less impeccable type.

It's still a great thrill for me, so I will probably persevere a little longer, but I do think maybe the time has come for me to be a little less compulsive, and maybe the book-a-year technique which has been basically the way I've operated.

Here is what I learned (or relearned) from Mr. Updike about what to do with myself in this networked world of frenetic hustle and hyper-promotion.

3x5 Thinking

3 reminders to myself (you can listen if you want)

  1. I have no option but to blog. I am genetically and compulsively a writer, a persuader, and connector. “I have no reason not to go to my desk.”
  2. I do not have to cover “blank paper with beautiful phrases” but I must deliver a product that I love only a little less than my readers.
  3. I need to ease up but not give up. Like Updike, I will “persevere a little longer, but … be a little less compulsive.”

5 commitments to myself (and for you, if you want)

  1. Stick to a schedule; produce something every day, publishable or for my soul only.
  2. Write first for readers, second for search engines. Don’t sacrifice good word-smithing for key-wording.
  3. Avoid being a substance abuser: write factually, credibly, and confidently from my head and heart.
  4. Borrow comments from others, but steal the best ideas from my own mind.
  5. Do what I do best over and over -- and then do it day in and day out.


Greg Silsby said...

Very helpful insights and perspectives. Thanks for investing the time and effort into all of us who benefit from your thoughts.

Yuri Victor said...

I was linked here by @datingpapers.

I've added you to my blogroll.

Tina B. Tessina, PhD "Dr.Romance" said...

Great post. If you answer questions like I do, then your posts are automatically original...

We're talking all things romance at the Dr.Romance blog.

Wine Guy Ky said...

Hello. I've just started blogging and have not yet run into this perspective. Your blog was both romantic and educational. Thank you

KyNam Doan

Cam said...

Hey Rich, Please write more posts like this. Your personal touch gives us something to relate with our own thoughts.



Sig said...

I could relate to what you were writing; especially about the overabundance of blogs and their self centered drivle. Pacing and wondering why I never hear from anyone didn't bother me as much but I do think about it. Then my wife reminded me about listening to people first and realizing what they want to talk about and respond to that. So I have to be reminded because the "old man" in me is very self centered, but yet comes across so congenial. Thank you for the words and thoughts. Like Dr. Romance said, "answering questions make your posts original." Thinking wise you're in good shape. Now get out and listen to more people. Stop writing and listen more.