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