Monday, February 11, 2008

How Blogging Clicked...For Me

Sometime last year, I read a survey conducted by some magazine, on the most overrated things/people/products in the universe, and not entirely to my surprise, I found blogging to be one of the winners to this dubious hall of fame - while only a few years back, it was hailed as the voice of the common man. For a while, I have been reading quite a few bloggers say they are quitting. Some attributed it to pointlessness, no ideas to write about, lack of comments, not knowing who their audience was, insipid life, etc, etc. And yesterday, Silverine sent me a post from a very good blogger, where on reading backwards I discovered him to be having some of these problems. I replied to her, wondering how many more such bloggers are lost in this race for instant gratification.

Many people tell me I am a good blogger. I am happy with the compliment. But I have known deep inside that it was just a case of being at the right place at the right time. It was a case of accidentally doing some things right, and then accidentally using the right tools to pierce through the numerous blocks and barriers that soon came my way. And so, after a long time, I again thought of devoting a post, to this hobby, which fortuitously came to me at a time, when my self-esteem stood low at having to become an average programming zombie in corporate madhouses, and having only myself to blame despite knowing that several better but improbable careers like politics, government service, etc would have suited me better. If you are a new blogger, or one on the verge of quitting, despite having a love for writing, hopefully reading this post will give you some new ideas to start over.

1. Incubation - For the first few months of my blogging, I kept it to myself. When I go back and read, I find my first pieces of writing to be gems in dull and long rambling prose. In those months, I did not know of such a thing as blogosphere. A blog was merely a diary open to public eyes which funnily contrasted with my long-held opinion of a diary being a very private object of one's affections. When I gained confidence, I slowly let word out to my classmates, who suddenly had begun to clamour on why my long emails to our yahoogroups had dried up, and which for a long time(6 years) had been my sole forum to write. Comments didn't matter to me, I was just happy to do writing in the public domain, and gleeful that my name popped up more in google search and showed up alongside my dad's. I would have innocently kept to this idea of blogging, for quite a while, and probably even given it up, once ridden of the novelty until Neil and Silverine left the first outside comments here. Through Neil, I discovered the Kerala Blogroll.

2. Enable Your Site Feed - I think Blogspot by default sets it to a "No"! You never know from where readers will land up. And do refrain from using gaudy templates, with colours that give readers a headache.

3. Join the Kerala Blogroll - Though it isn't in me to be parochial, it is hard to track all the indian bloggers. Kerala Blogroll offered me a good collection of malayali bloggers, but now I rarely find much good stuff there from new hands. If you are writing well, you might catch the interest of many visitors there. I am thankful to Dr.Manoj who has for so many years kept his Melam feed aggregator running, considering the time he has to devote to his research and teaching, and brought us bloggers, so many readers.

4. Build a Community - Through Silverine's blogroll and the Kerala Blogroll, I found a set of young, recently begun bloggers like me, and we made a formidable online community. All of us posted once a week, left comments for each other and reading their blogs widened my vision on how a blog could overflow, not merely encompass. This collaborative success had solidified my thinking that an online initiative can be successful only if it is interactive. Some of those folks like Anish, Geo, Thanu and Praveen seem to have given up, some like Jithu and Flash have become irregular, but the 6 months I was active in that fold was a period of immense creative energy, the only time I really felt beholden to my set of readers. Back then, I would really felt rotten if I hadn't written a post, a week. What new bloggers need to do, is build communities, especially with other starters like them. Visit people whose blogs you like and leave comments. Some of them will keep coming back. For me personally, I content myself with a set of few blogs I read. I don't go out scouting for new blogs to read now, sometimes I am such a jerk that I don't even respond to the gesture of fellow bloggers who leave comments here - I wish I could go back to the days I devoted a solid hour daily to reading blogs. Silverine, on her part sends us some good reads once in a while and she says that is her new year resolution to uncover more new bloggers. I wish I had her tremendous energy, but this is what bloggers need to do, watch out for each other.

5. New Challenges - The only way to continue blogging is to put your mind to work looking for happenings around you or to look for new writing challenges. I chose the second route because the first didn't appeal to me - my social life in the US just hasn't satisfied me and incidents around me just don't inspire...its another story that years later I will look at these days differently and gather a different perspective. I too have said here two years back that I am quitting. It was yet another knee-jerk reaction from me. I stopped saying that after quite a few writing ideas appeared to me out of thin air. When I first went hunting into blog-world, I realized there was no limit or a defined set of topics, to what a blog should keep to. Your talent is your only limit, and finding out what those talents are, has been a reason I am still here. The best challenge, I have thrown at myself emerged from my discovery of this blogger at Kerala Blogroll, and on reading this post. I had suddenly discovered somebody who shared my aspirations and frustrations. A new frontier was suddenly mine to conquer through blogging - fiction - and having done that, I wanted a new challenge. And it was right before my eyes for many years, but I never took it up, for fear of failure - writing humour in a conversational tone. For years Silverine had done it, and I would sit open-mouthed when not laughing, reading her funny posts at Poomanam, wondering how she did it so regularly, week after week and month after month. Of course, I had written posts on funny incidents and anecdotes, but none of that really landed the knockout punch I was looking for, until I tried the conversational format out, last Feb. Now I have a new challenge set for me, writing that needs analysis, research and a lot of people skills - it goes beyond blogging, but I believe I have done some of the groundwork here. Ashok, another blogger, has become a friend, philosopher and guide on this mission, I know not what will happen, and where it will take me.

6. Love Writing - I have seen people begin blogs for many reasons - but I will list one reason I am still here. I love to write. A well-written post lands me high for a few days, before seemingly succumbing to the laws of gravity and dropping me down with a resounding thud, back to hard ground. The fall hurts and sometimes I stick to the idea of staying on level ground and enjoying freedom from creative foment. But, I keep coming back and looking for new highs to conquer with the knowledge that the fall which will follow has only helped me get better at my craft besides quickly busting any pretensions of having cooked up a timeless creation. Most people begin blogs itching to write something but most give up for other reasons. So don't ever forget that reason which brought you to this endeavor in the first place - keep that flame alive when it begins to flicker.

I don't know if this post took up a preachy, moralistic or self-congratulatory tone - but that was never the intention. Your motivation for blogging may be different or you may or may not be the target audience. But if the few tips here from hindsight helps budding bloggers, to break through the millions of blogs that have served more to obscure and stifle, rather than project the good blogging seeds - I will be thankful at having partly repaid a debt to this hobby that gave me the courage to honestly face my aspirations and fears...and so this post. Happy Blogging!

16 comments:

silverine said...

OMG!!! I am writing on the exact same theme. I nearly died of shock reading this post of yours because I am saying almost the same things too :-O
Amazing post. Will reply via my post :)

Karthik said...

Hi Jiby,
I believe that bloggers need to follow certain rules to have a succesful blog in terms of readership and quality.

1. Be regular

Not being regular can not only ward away existing readers, if any, but also prevent prospective readers from coming to your weblog especially in the starting stages.

2. When you write, be yourself

I think rather than adopt their own style, many bloggers try to imitate others and end up failing miserably in their objectives. Be comfortable in your own way. Stick to what you feel is your comfort zone.

3. Please read your post after you prepare it and think in the perspective of a reader reading it for the first time and improve the post (edit/re-edit) appropriately.

;-).... I know this is one advice you gave me on reading one of my posts..haha..I am sure trying to follow it. Edit your draft in some application like Windows Word. Throw those grammatical errors out of the window, organize the para's (Yes, Yes..I am listening ..hehe) and most importantly, think like someone reading it for the first time..Mark my words.... It will help ...

I know that I am new to blogging unlike veterans like you and Silverine..But if someone asked me now as to what makes a good blog, I would say the above...

Anyway Wow..You really seem to be back rocking at your blog..:-)

jo said...

this is 100% encouragement, motivation and guidance for newbies like me!!!!!!
thank you so much...
awesome post.

silverine said...

You are right...curiously I too have seen so many people who start blogging and expect to be catapulted to fame. And then when it does not happen, give up blogging. People are yet to get used to the concept of blogging as a personal diary and or as a creative vent. But then I have seen many people who still blog on whether the have readers or not. And such people make very interesting reading too, because they write so free. I think attracting readers to your blog defeats the purpose of personal blogging. It is like taking the proverbial horse to the water. And if you want to be read then you should be a professional writer and not blogger. Anyways at the end of day a blogger who does get readers does so by many default reasons like striking a chord with the reader or good humor and not by design. Wish new bloggers would understand that.

ursjina said...

u nailed it right there..amazing analysis..:)..great articulation..a must read for all bloggers i guess...n great to c u bk

Jiby said...

silverine, it is not a coincidence. your email with the new blogs and our replies put us thinking on the same track. i am waiting eagerly for your post.

karthik, i agree with you cent percent on what makes good blogging. i am still figuring out what makes good writing...i don't think i am yet qualified to write a post on that. however, this post is meant to help new bloggers do some things right. when i started there were 100 or so bloggers from trivandrum...today that number could very well be in 5 figures. its harder for readers to find bloggers they would love to read unless bloggers do certain things to project themselves.

jo, am glad that this helped...this post was certainly meant for enthusiastic youngsters like you.

silverine, i agree that blogging for just readership defeats its purpose. haven't we seen many go that route. i can say without any shame that the little promotion i did for mine when i started and the first regular readers here helped me take blogging beyond diary writing. it is just that most new bloggers are not aware of some basic methods to raise their blog to a place where readers can find them and of how to stay put in this hobby. i was hoping to shine a light to them.

jina, haven't we been too long in this trade to know all this...many people don't give themselves that chance. i don't know if i am back yet...we should say that after 2 months and 8 posts... :)

Ashok said...

Good cause to take up, Jiby: a helping hand to struggling bloggers. This post seems to be a milestone here -- Jiby's moving from gurgling blogposts to crafted prose. Good show!

Silverine, I disagree with almost every sentence in your second comment and would love to be corrected. Let me just pick one, which I think is the crux. If I'm not looking for readers, and I'm writing for myself, be it "personal diary" or "creative vent", why should I put it up on the Web? I think people publish (on the Web or anywhere), because they wish to be read, not just because they like to write.

Trouble looms when the blogger wishes to attract Many people. Many bloggers fail because efforts are insufficient or inefficient. To attract many readers, you have to write well, and publicise well -- there are several ways to go about each of those, including some of which Jiby wrote and Karthik added. I recommend Darren Rowse's problogger.net as a starting point for any new blogger who wishes to follow one's passion for writing AND attract readers.

For new or sad bloggers, I have only one uncommon advice: ignore the number of comments you receive. Instead, let the indicator of your blog's performance be site+feed statistics.

b v n said...

Jiby,

Its a while since I commented, blogger is a rare commodity for me these days. This is some serious writing, actually a nice level headed compilation of a lot of anxities. I know long sentences are a turn off, but I'm reading Sainath round the clock :)

Nothing new to add here, just a few points,
1. Enjoy writing - thats the crux man like you said. You said you came back to blogging because you had something left to say. Exactly! blogging is not dead and not dying anytime soon because each one of us have something left to say. People who have left will comeback when they have somethig to say, atleast they know where to come home to :)

2.Social Life: like you said,this is what defeats me in India. In the US, after getting sloshed on Friday, I had full two days for me. Back home,not that I am not happy about it, but its too full. Its a choice we make, living or blogging, hanging out or reading.

3. Silver's second comment: I like that. It should be like that. Blogging is not social networking, it might be, in the initial stages but after that it should be your vent. You have to come home to yourselves in your blog. And you get readership for that, like she said, people find you. I vouch for that! so dont panic, for godsake :)

Then again blogging is like the Market, the Bulls make money, the Bears make money and the Pigs gets slaughtered. Either you write for yourself or write for the janta, people who are torn between both finally quit. Now you know why I have two blogs :)
Its a long comment, been a while so, and its partly because of your post too

b v n said...

Ok something more, not that long. About comments. Comments are a very important part of Blogam as such. But isn't there, somewhere within us where we ask these two questions,

1. What kind of comments do I want?
included in this is whom do I want to comment, is it a discussion i'm triggering, is it criticism i need or is it just kudos because i'm good.

2. Whom do I want to read my blog?
As much as I need readers. I'm not sure, in time I'm being more narrow minded.

Happy Valentines Day! btw

Don't be a cynic :)

Jiby said...

Ashok, so you noticed. Zinsser did the trick. :) Thanks to you! I agree everyone writes in public to be read...we use blogs to be able to write without a human intermediary in between like an editor or the hassles of taking our writing to print...and some blog without bothering who their readers are. I think silverine wasn't referring to bloggers not wanting readers but how some methods of attracting readers defeats the purpose of blogging. Read this post...i think you would understand what she is trying to get at.
http://my-think-pad.blogspot.com/2007/07/duh.html
You really think sites like problogger are of any help to amateur bloggers...i think they are doing overkill giving so much guidance.

BVN, comments does not matter much for us. If it did I wouldn't be digging so hard into my life to find answers and your Good Night and Good Luck wouldn't have become the unique blog it is. What i love about commenting is the completeness a post is able to achieve when readers have their perpectives to add to the subject...like what you all just did here. i hear you man, when you talk about how society takes so much of our time in india...i think its a nice challenge to balance both...seeing your articles in tvmtalkies i think you are doing a good job balancing.

silverine said...

BVN: You said it!! Thats what I meant to convey.

Ashok: I am not going to correct you...because I dont want to :) Thats my blogging philosophy too :p

However I must say that what most new bloggers dont understand is that bloggers are a community of writers and readers. Dont put yourself on a pedestal as a writer. Enter the community as another blogger. Terms like 'attracting readers' defeats the community spirit besides it is pompous, unless you are a Dave Barry or a pro blogger. Later you may get non blogging readers, but right now, if you can get that "i am a writer" and the 'rest are readers' mindset out, you may strike a chord somewhere and get the readership you want :)

As for me I will continue to write for myself, because to put up something on the web you have written without editing and censure is a heady feeling. That my dear is why people put their diary on the web :)

Peace!

silverine said...

There are millions of writers/bloggers out there. Unless you have something special to offer, you dont stand chance to attract readers ( for people wanting readership). People like Sidin and Greatbong are where they are because a lot of people like what they write and not due to any gimmicks. Even I found them when a friend send me their link. People will distribute links, blogroll you if they like you...so like BVN said dont panic, people will find you. It's a smaller world now :)

Jiby: I understand that this post is tips for new bloggers. My above comment was adding to the dialogs created here, which is getting very interesting.

BVN: Read you comments again. Great follow up to Jibys post!

Ashok said...

Jiby, Problogger is a rich idea pool. It's up to bloggers to judge, choose and act on the tips. I recommend Problogger only to those bloggers who need external encouragement (readers, comments, etc.) to sustain their blog. I think it's better for such bloggers to learn from professionals than to paint themselves into an "amateur" corner and give up blogging.

Silverine, thanks.

emmanuel said...

It's good that a blog gives a medium or a space for an ordinary person to express oneself in his/her own choice of writing style. It may make others think or lie unnoticed, but it's all in the game. But some are obsessed with recognition which may happen overnight or it'll take ages. I feel that the ones who are quitting will have a lot of reasons to cite which may or may not be genuine. So if one's intention is to write some thing, which is only for personal gratification and nothing else, I hope nobody will quit even though there may be delays between posts due to time constraints or inaccessibility to net or for such genuine reasons. Anyway, it's really sad when we lose nice (in every sense!!) ones.

very good post. nice insights. valid pointers for new bloggers. :)

emmanuel said...

When I started to write, I was sad that nobody used to comment. Even now for some posts, I get no comments or only from Anju. But since I was not much concerned abt the fame and now even about comments, I still enjoy writing.. :)

Deepti said...

Thats a wonderful post jiby!! and its a great help to new bloggers!! Now I think i'll join Kerala bloggers too !!! :) I agree with Silverine's comment about continuing bloggin without readers tooo :)