Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What I learned from blogging (almost) every day.

I thought I'd write a longer post to talk about what I've learned from writing (semi-) regularly on my other blog: Four Every Day. It's been an interesting experiment, and there are are a few interesting lessons that have come up.

1. Blogs are not comics

This may seem obvious, but a blog diary, no matter the constraints you put on it, will never be the written equivalent of a webcomic diary. I started Four Every Day as a response to the awesome comic American Elf by James Kochalka. I loved the simplicity of it, the everyday-ness of it (in the sense of it being both daily and ordinary). The form of a slightly surreal diary thing, constrained into simplicity and a relative minimum of verbiage, really appealed to me. But, you know what, I really can't draw. Just not my strong suit. This has always bothered me, but I decided to really just constrain myself in other ways, and see what came out. Unfortunately, even though the four sentences thing is pretty interesting, as an exercise, it's just not as cool as comics. Comics have specificity. Writing can have it, but comics have it almost by definition. It's inherent. If you draw something from your life, it will have to be concrete. It will have space and weight and location and, unless you are drawing, say, concentric jagged lines or something to represent anger or whatever, it will be a drawing of something, and it will be somewhere (even if it is only in a blank space on the page). Comics are real pictures even if they aren't of real things. And that makes them cool.

So, the point is: I need to get out of my head.

This leads to my second point:

2. Specificity!!

I noticed that the best posts (oh, you think I don't read them obsessively. Yes I do!) are posts that take place someplace: the subway, my house, a particular street. The posts I've enjoyed the most have a specificity of place and action - somebody speaks, somebody does something. It's so easy to get all abstract and up in my head, and this form really brings out the disconnect between reality and my brain.

Good comics are almost of necessity specific. Good writing should be, too. I am discovering that I still need a lot of work there.

Point: try to write as if everything weren't happening in a vacuum. Names, places, weather, light, heat, sounds, smells - make it happen in four sentence.

3. (Almost) Nobody Cares That You Have a Blog

Blogs and webcomics differ in this aspect as well: There are very few people who will actively read your blog when you write about your mundane little life. This may be because I'm still learning the craft of writing, or it maybe that I don't "promote" as much, but truth to tell, I'm not sure that it matters. I read numerous webcomics - one's that I've found through other blogs, other webcomics that have links on webcomics that I like. Some of these guys sell advertisements, some sell t-shirts. Almost nobody does it full time, but most of these guys talk about going to the conventions or doing a signing, selling merchandise, and I think that's great. Most of them are supremely talented.

You can't really do the same on a personal diary blog. You have to be willing to talk about issues in which your readers are interested, and almost no one cares about you. Or me, for that matter. I'm sure there are people who aren't my friends who's blogs I read, but I couldn't name any off of the top of my head, and the reverse is true - I'm pretty sure that only a few random friends read my blogs. That's OK.

Some people might make money from blogging, but as far as I can tell, I'm not one of them. As much as it pains me to admit, I have an enormous ego, and there was a part of me (ruthlessly supressed but still present) that wanted folk to be beating a path to my door. Maybe I expected hundreds of views, and a summons from the Great Blog Gods to take my place at the table of bounty and book deals. "Come," they would say, "good and faithful blogger. We have prepared a place for you, and no one will ever question your l33t blogging skillz again." Yeah, I'm a tool. I mean, not that I really expected it, but I sorta did, a little.

4. Everyday isn't easy

If you're the kind to do the math, you'll notice that I have done fewer blog posts than there have been days. To put it kindly, I have not written 4 every day. To be exact, I am 55 off of my goal. So I missed, since December 10th, 2007, almost 2 months. That is just piss-poor. Yes, I must learn to be more kind to myself, I must not allow my perfectionism to diminish my goals, etc. But come on! Come on! Two months? Come on! I didn't think it was that many so I went and counted. I maybe off slightly in my count, but as I read it, I missed:

2 days in December
2 days in January
14 days in February
19 days in March
13 days in April
7 days in May (so far)

(the disrepancy occurs because there were a couple of days I posted more than once per day). Still, I think I'll put off saying if the experiment is a success until I've posted everyday for, say, 90 days. That seems reasonable.