April 22, 2005

So you want to start a (clears throat) blog

It’s been the buzz all year, this strange word that sounds, as someone I know said recently, like something stuck in one’s mucus membranes.

Never mind them technophobes. The facts are that “blog” was the most looked-up word in an online dictionary last year, that bloggers were Time’s People of the Year, that world media has started taking notice, that corporate bodies began thinking of them as marketing tools, and that everyone and their second cousins want to give you their blog URLs.

So what is a blog anyway? It’s a hybrid word, short for “web log,” and at its most basic, it is a website with dated entries, usually in reverse chronological order.

From there on, they’re what you want them to be: guides to interesting web pages; diaries; confessionals; showcases; conversations; soap boxes, pulpits; dashing white chargers to gallop to crusades on; whatever rocks your boat.

Conveniently ignoring, for the purpose of this column, the now rapidly-expanding tribe of blogs that focus on visual content, I’ll risk another sweeping generalisation.

A blog is essentially about words. And your readership – indeed, whether you get read at all, aside from you, yourself, and your alter ego – depends on a combination of your subject matter and how good you are at stringing words together.

So, given that, should writers – serious writers, professional writers – blog?
I’d give you a guarded “yes.” For several reasons.

If you take your blog seriously, it’s daily writing calisthenics. There’s only one way to become a better writer, and that’s by writing. And feeling the obligation to blog means that you park your butt in front of a computer and write. And since someone might be reading you, you better write good, you know?

Blogs are also a good way to try out new ideas, workshop your writing, and to get feedback. Feedback is not guaranteed, of course, but there are ways to get yourself noticed and commented on. That, however, is a subject that could take up an entire column’s worth of space. Besides, it’s pretty easy to go looking for how-to lessons. The Lord Google knows that the web is crawling with blogging gurus.

Being creatures of the web, blogs, by definition, are not limited to geographic boundaries. The world is very much your oyster. Not just with readership. Advances in blogging applications make it easy to collaborate across the miles, or to band together with like-minded writers from around the world, to put together a whole greater than the sum of its parts. (Personally, I have found this a very effective method, and I’ve midwifed collaborations that have met with moderate to phenomenal success. Though not strictly an example of a writers’ collaboration, the tsunamihelp set of blogs only became a world-wide clearing house for information on the disaster because they were a group of dedicated people acting in concert.)

Then, of course, there’s the recognition bit, very important for the up-and-coming writer trying to make a mark. Here, as with feedback, just being good is no guarantee that you will get any. But again, there are ways to break through, though you’d better be consistently good to keep your audience.

Oh yes, blogs can actually make you some money. Not a fortune, I hasten to add, but an ad programme can bring in a few bucks. Provided your content is compelling enough to bring in the readers.

Other business models have been floated. Like using your blog as an advertisement for your other writing. Or actually selling your other writing online, through downloadable documents, for example.

And of course, there’s the Holy Grail. The book contract. Publishers are always on the lookout for the next phenom, and many popular bloggers have parlayed their online success into fat publishing contracts.

There is, however, another side to all these arguments.

Blogs can take up an awful lot of your time and energy. It can certainly get in the way if you need to do a lot of Real Writing. The writing that pays the bills. That editors and publishers will write cheques for.

William Gibson, one of the few Big Name authors who runs a blog (at least one of the few who does it under his own name) has an opinion you might want to consider. Just before his blog went into a long hiatus, he posted this entry.

“...the thing I’ve most enjoyed about [blogging] is how it never fails to underline the fact that if I’m doing this I’m definitely not writing a novel – that is, if I’m still blogging, I’m definitely still on vacation. I’ve always known, somehow, that it would get in the way of writing fiction, and that I wouldn’t want to be trying to do both at once. The image that comes most readily to mind is that of a kettle failing to boil because the lid’s been left off.”

So, should you blog? I’d say give it a try. After a while, you’ll figure out if you’re getting – or on the way to getting – pleasure, fame or money out of it.
If not, hawk deeply, and eject it from your system.



The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com/, and has founded, runs or contributes to several collaborations, which you can find links to from his blog. He founded the collaborative South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog, which created blogging history and gave him 15 seconds of fame in January ’05.

Published in an edited version in Man's World, April Edition, in a section called Writer's Lives.



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Authors who blog.

Internationally, there’s Gibson, who blogs sporadically now, at http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/blog/archive.asp, and Neil Gaiman at http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/journal.asp.

In India, Manjula Padmanabhan, author and illustrator (Kleptomania, Mouse Invaders, Mouse Attack, Hot Death,Cold Soup, Getting There, Harvest, Hidden Fires) blogs at http://marginalien.blogspot.com. Samit Basu (The Simoqin Prophecies) writes http://samitbasu.blogspot.com and http://pututhecat.blogspot.com.

Many of the new breed of Indian journalists are blogging too, about books, politics, opinion, or just for fun. A quick sampler: http://akhondofswat.blogspot.com/, http://dcubed.blogspot.com/, http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/, http://kitabkhana.blogspot.com/, http://knownturf.blogspot.com/.


Errata:
I screwed up in the People of the Year thing, as Amit pointed out to me. Darn. My only excuse is that for the last few days of December and most of January, I read very little that wasn't Tsunami-related.
And in the print edition of this piece, I managed to get Samit Basu's URL wrong (I put in ducksrule.blogspot.com). I did attempt to make amends by tying to set up a blog with that URL that would have a redirect link to his blog, but sadly, it was taken.

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1 comment:

Dom said...

interesting article, thanks
p.s. and blog in general, You should keep it up!