The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Long and Short of It

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I have a tendency to write long, deeply-linked, and researched posts from time to time. You also know that my quantity of my posts (though I hope not the quality) has gone down in the past couple of years.

In light of this, it occurred to me today that I probably only have it in me to do one of those types of posts — which I admit are my favorite to do — per week.

Case in point, I’ve been working on a post about the murder of George Tiller as it relates to the concept of the conscience clause and its use in recent years. I’ve been working on it for about a week, and it looks like I won’t post it today. Maybe tomorrow, if I’m lucky.

That got me wondering. Is there a good time, from the readers’ perspective, to publish a longer post? Is Monday a better time because it’s more likely to be read? Is Friday almost guaranteed to mean it disappears into oblivion? I guess this is really a question about your reading patterns, in an attempt to adjust my writing rhythm.

So, If you care to help me figure it out, take the poll.

Oh, and if you want the back-story, it’s after the jump.

Here it is, approaching 2:00 p.m., and I haven’t posted anything. I may manage another automated digest post (does anyone read those?) but it’s looking less and less likely that I’ll publish anything significant today, except for a couple of asides. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I’ve got a few things in the works, but nothing I’m ready to post.

The reason? Well, I’ve been doing (or trying to do) everything I’m supposed to do when I’m supposed to do it. I don’t know how that works for normal people, but for me it means there’s no time for the stuff that’s not on the list of what I’m supposed to do.

Writing, as rewarding as I find it, is rarely on that list. In a sense, it’s something I have to do. But not something I’m supposed to do.

I’ve written about this before. Writing is something I have to do in order stay sane.

I’ve found that I need to write, in the same way that a painter needs to paint or a dancer needs to dance. It keeps me sane, and if I go too long without writing, I get grumpy, irritable, morose, etc., and not much fun to live with.

But it’s not on the list of things I’m supposed to do.

Funny thing about writing. I’m a writer who’s not really a writer. I’m not a writer at work, after all. Writing isn’t a part of my job description. It’s something “extra,” something I can do if there’s enough time after everything else has been taken care of. Most of my job consists of copying, pasting, and prettifying other people’s writing, and then promoting it to tens of thousands of people.

I’m not a writer at home. Writing, after all, is a pretty solitary practice. It requires time to read, time to write, and time to think. Thus, it takes me away from my family if I attempt to do it while the rest of the family is around. With an infant and a five-year-old in the house, I joke that somebody in my house always needs something, and half the time they need it from me. But it’s true.

So, it comes last…

When I do get around to it, I run into my tendency to write longer blog posts than most people.

And it’s the ‘splaining that’s the bugaboo. It’s also at the heart of the kind of blogging I try to do and enjoy doing; which tends to mean longer posts, with lots of links, that attempt to pull various items and issues into a particular context.

I could probably generate 10 or more posts a day if most of them consisted of one word, maybe one sentence, a link, and a blockquote. But that’s hardly what I’d call "original content." ("Excellence" and "importance" are subjective, I think, and depend entirely on the audience you’re writing for.) Besides, that’s not writing. That’s aggregating, and there are already plenty of aggregators out there.

It’s also just the way my mind works, in a kind of perpetual "associative mode." I can’t think of just one thing at a time. That is, I can’t think of one thing without also thinking of how it relates to something else. How it plays out in my blogging is that I read something, and immediatly think about how it relates to something I read before and/or posted earlier. Once that happens, leaving out those other threads feels like an incomplete picture to me. So I end up with longer posts that link all over the place, or series of posts.

I could probably write posts that aren’t more than four or five paragraphs long, but much of the time I’d end up with the nagging feeling that I’m not telling the story right because I’m only telling part of it.  (I’ve tried to ameliorate this by posting more series.) Besides, I’m not sure I’d be offering anything that people couldn’t find on any number of other blogs.

At this point, I’ve accepted that I’m not going to reach the upper tiers of mainstream blogging, because the stuff that I write about and the way that I write about it isn’t likely to ever appeal to a broad audience.

At this point, I’ve accepted that I’m probably not going to parlay blogging into an actual writing career. In terms of style and form, I’m probably better suited to magazine writing that writing for the web. But blogging had a much lower entry barrier than any of the magazines I’d like to write for. Plus, I’m at a point in my life where I can’t really live off what an entry level journalism job might pay. (If there are any such jobs anymore. People who’ve been in the business are calling it a dying industry these days.)

At this point, I haven’t quite accepted that writing isn’t going to help me get back what I missed years ago.

And, as an adult, acceptance that I “missed stuff,” in terms of being able to to move forward in a career or education when I was younger, had fewer responsibilities, could set goals and the pursue them unfettered; acceptance that I might never “catch up” to where I might have been by now if I didn’t have ADD or had gotten diagnosed and treated earlier.

By the time I was diagnosed, I had a husband already, and a family shortly afterward. Now, I guess I’m a full-fledged grow-up, with a family, bills, a mortgage, etc. And now, when I stumble upon my passion, the reality is that there are a lot of things that end up having to take priority.

Now, I find myself worrying that — and this isn’t intended to sound as self-pitying as it will — maybe I missed my opportunity to “be somebody” or “make something of myself.” There’s a feeling that something is passing me by right now, and I can’t catch it; that I missed the boat because I got to the dock a couple of decades to late. Right now, I feel like I’m doing far less than I’m capable of. But I can’t find a way to do it without stealing time from work, family, or sleep. It becomes a question of which I’m going to neglect.

Basically, during the time in my life when I could have taken advantage of being able to focus on what I’m good at and what I love to do, I might have been further down the road to doing it today. But that “connection” wasn’t available to me when I could have made use of it. Now, at a time in my life where I don’t have much time for anything that falls outside of work and family — and what I love to do, writing, has no real relation to either of those areas with the biggest claim on my time and energy — that connection is wide open, but I don’t have much time to do anything with it. Now I find myself wondering if I ever will. (My attempts to find a job actually writing about the things I enjoy writing bout have been disappointing, when I’ve applied for the few that come available now and then.)

Maybe I’ve almost accepted it, but I’m not sure right now if it’s acceptance or resignation. (I’m sure there’s a difference between the two.)

If I write, it’s because it makes me happy. It makes me feel like I have something to contribute. It makes me feel connected to people. If I write long, deeply linked pieces, it’s because that’s the way my mind works. So it has value to me.

Plus, it has value to others, I’ve found. When I need my spirits lifted, I go back and read some stuff like this.

As I said in my previous post , this kind of blogging (as well as the topics I tend to blog about) isn’t likely to attract massive amounts of readers, because it’s not something they can get in and out of in three minutes or less. I completely accept that. It’s what I meant when I said this.

Most of all, I finally realized a few things: the topics I blog about and the kind of blogging I do will never attract a huge audience, and if attracting a huge audience would most likely mean changing what I blog about and how I blog. I’ve decided against the latter.

But, there are people who appreciate it.

Some of the best bloggers don’t link to a single story, but to several stories. They stand back, study the  news stream, find patterns in the news, and draw out those patterns with well-written, compelling posts. This was the basis for a rant last month by Metrodad over what he perceived as alcohol getting the short end of the cultural stick.

When commenting on a news article, seek out external links that will enhance your commentary. Terrance, the best black liberal vegetarian gay Buddhist parenting blogger on the Internet, has made an art form out of this. Check out this example, where he weaves a blog, a book, and a Washington Post article into a unique story about how GLBT families are becoming an assumed, accepted part of the culture. Or take his great critique of David Kuo’s Tempting Faith – an original piece which he augments throughout by linking to examples of what he’s talking about. This drawing together of various forms of information can be very powerful; it’s a luxury that many journalists can’t afford to exercise in their daily writing, but is a part of daily business for bloggers.

And stuff like this.

And I will be eternally grateful for Tony’s post, which lead me to this article from Jakob Nielsen, “Write Articles, Not Blog Posting.”

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

…It might take you only an hour to write a blog posting on some current controversy, but a thousand other people can do that as well (in fact, they’ll sometimes do it better, as shown above). And customers don’t want to pay for such a tiny increment of knowledge. Sure, sometimes a single paragraph holds the idea that can increase a site’s conversion rate so much that a reader should have paid a million dollars to read it. But they don’t know that in advance, so they won’t pay.

In contrast, in-depth content that takes much longer to create is beyond the abilities of the lesser experts. A thousand monkeys writing for 1,000 hours doesn’t add up to Shakespeare. They’ll actually create a thousand low-to-medium-quality postings that aren’t integrated and that don’t give readers a comprehensive understanding of the topic — even if those readers suffer through all 1,000 blogs.

So, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. But the reason I put up the poll is because I wanted to find out what readers might have to say. (I hope it gets some responses.)

In the meatime, I’m going back to work on the post about George Tiller’s murder.

Comments are closed.