Wednesday, June 11

A Blog About Blogging

After a friend was asked to do a bit of writing, they thought that a conversation with me about my blog may help with their task (through a lack of any other option I'm guessing). My friend is one of those smarty types that knows how to both ask the right questions and hear the right answers. As such the conversation was as helpful for me as I hope it was for them; so much so that I felt it worth recording. We covered the following points:

  • A good topic to write about is one that has already been "road-tested" on friends, over a dinner conversation or something similar. Whatever we all find stimulating, engaging, thought provoking or even conflicting will likely make a good topic to write about.
  • It's not really important to have a complete ending or final conclusion. Personally, I don't write to provide answers and think it's sometimes more important to ask a useful and meaningful question as accurately as possible. A strategy I have for this is to use a copious amount of "in my opinions", "perhaps", "probablys" and "maybes".
  • Transparency and integrity is something not to be compromised on. For me honesty and accuracy are more important than tact or sensitivity (although it's totally possible to be all these things, of course).
  • There is no place for emotion or subjectivity when you're making a general or abstract point. Leave that for when you write about yourself, your memories or your own experiences.
  • When it is appropriate to convey an emotion or a reaction, then don't impose it on your reader. Let them conjure up their own, on their own terms.
  • Do not manipulate or abuse the one-way direction of communication. Don't think that just because readers can't feed back immediately that they don't have any.
  • The age old trick of writing for someone you don't know - a passer-by on the Tube for example - will help you communicate with the widest possible audience. Don't assume that your readers know you, have read what you may have written before or are mind readers. Be explicit, and don't force the reader to read between the lines since your writing is useless if they fail in doing so.
  • Similarly do not write for those who know you. Do not refer to specific people or events, do not name names. If you want to tell a friend something, then send them an e-mail.
  • Only write of the things that you're willing to tell everyone in the whole world about - that is your potential audience after all.
  • If you have a point to make, try to remove it from the particular example which prompted it. See if it applies abstractly.
  • The "road-test" with friends also provides structure to the post itself - it's important to accurately cover how a possible opinion is developed or a conclusion reached. This includes any wild examples or humour that came up - don't attempt to force these in retrospectively.
  • Try to preempt any questions the reader may have, either by answering them or if not possible, acknowledging them.
  • It's okay to write for a vacant audience - even if no one read these pages I'd probably carry on either to remember the past or just to get something out of my system - in fact some readers have even commented on how they like that attitude in what's written.
Of course these mainly just apply to myself and my writing. In fact, when they read some of my old stuff, my friend did comment on how my style had "matured" as time had gone on - so if anything these points are in flux anyway. Nevertheless there might be some generally useful points in there and I found it useful to have them distilled and extracted.