Thursday, March 29, 2007

Standards and Practices

Over the years, I've been told a fair number of times that this blog is a good one. That's a rare compliment that helps set me apart from the other sites on the web, I have to admit, and I'm very thankful for anyone who's told me such a thing.

Despite everything, however, I have yet to understand exactly what they're talking about.

I don't set out to make this blog a good blog, mind you. I merely heard a suggestion that I should post my thoughts online in some regular format, and I eventually found it to be a nice method of practice and experimentation. In short, the only reason why I'm here is because I like having a place where I can write. It beats buying notebooks because your hand doesn't ache after a few hundred words, and it beats starting up a bunch of files in some text editor because you can see how your reading audience thinks and reacts. I write in this blog simply because I like writing in this blog.

The problem, I figure, is that such reasoning usually doesn't gel with any notions of "quality". I suppose that if I had specifically set out to make this blog a good one, then I'd be rapturously happy at any compliments that came my way. As it stands, however, I don't feel that I put a lot of noble effort into such a purpose... and therefore I don't feel much in the way of pride for this conglomeration of scribbles. It's a lot like hammering together a chair from some random pieces of wood: The resulting piece of bastard furniture may just win the praise of a dozen art critics, but that doesn't really matter when all you wanted in the first place was something to sit on.

That's not to say that I don't try to keep this place in top shape, of course. If you're going to write somewhere, then you might as well make certain that it's clean and organized. If you're going to take on a few themes, then you'd best be sure that you know how to handle them well. And if you're going to do it with an audience in mind, then you had better put together some rules that can dictate your pace.

I have quite a few of those rules, mind you. I don't push them on other people (because they have a right to put together their own blogs, of course), but I'm willing to recommend them to anyone curious enough to try. I don't know if these things make a good blog or not, but they just happen to be the standards I follow. If they end up working for anyone else, then that's just gravy, I suppose.

1. Edit, edit, edit.
I suspect that this has more to do with my writing experience than anything else; I just hate getting back manuscripts from my editor and seeing red marks all over the pages.

I've noticed that good grammar is practically an essential component in a blog, if only because we don't want to engage in miscommunication of any sort. People are likely to read our thoughts only if there's a modicum of sense in them; If we make our writings impossible to decipher, then no one's likely to bother trying to figure them out.

I take this one step further, and make sure that I make as much sense as possible before actually publishing an article. I am literally my own worst editor: I punch the Backspace key so often that it occasionally stops functioning, and I excise entire paragraphs if they even so much as offend my desire for alignment. I can never keep an accurate count of my posts because I have so many unfinished bits and pieces lying about.

But for all the inconvenience, the countless hours of editing usually tend to pay off. I can read through most of my old posts without the possibility of groaning at some misplaced word, or jumping back to edit a single incident of misspelling. At a point where you have over four hundred articles available for reading by anyone and everyone, I'm at least glad for the peace of mind.

2. Know who you are.
There are a lot of blogs out there, all of which reference a lot of different interests. There are political blogs devoted to posting well-thought-out opinions of current events. There are food blogs dedicated to identifying the best tastes (or combinations thereof) in the universe. There are media blogs set to praise (or bash) the latest offerings on stage or screen.

This, mind you, does not imply that we should look for some sort of uncharted niche and then force ourselves into it. It's quite the contrary, actually: We should be free to write about whatever we darn well want, and do it however we darn well want. You can be a pasty-faced introvert who writes about riding his tricked-out hog down the city highways, if you want. Go ahead; Nothing's stopping you from doing that.

Except, of course, that most of us pasty-faced introverts don't write about that sort of thing. Maybe we write about smoking, wenching, and getting tattoos. Maybe we write about bladed weapons. Maybe we even write about quiet games of chess, if we can stretch things to that point. It depends on who you are, really: Whatever you write should depend on who you are.

I've been around long enough to realize that I'm not a political-minded person. While I like good food (I mean, who doesn't?), I'm not familiar enough to write about it. And even though I do favor certain forms of media over others, I'm simply not involved in much of the industry to make a good show of it.

I am a short-fiction writer, though... so I write short fiction. I play games and do exercises in probability, so I write about those as well. And I'm a proponent of the weird things in life, so you'll find more than a few of those accounts here, too.

I know that we can write whatever we want. But I also know that we should also be true to ourselves, whoever we happen to be.

3. Clean up.
I like being able to find things with a minimum of fuss, so once again, this might be more personal than anything else. But, overall, I find it difficult to see anything wrong with cleanliness.

I have a lot of stuff I can place on this site: I can put up a shoutbox, for instance. Or I could put up a counter of some sort. Or maybe a blogroll -- a lot of people have that. Or maybe a multimedia graphic of some sort...

The way I see it, I can plug in all of the above and have a cluttered-looking site with a bunch of flashy elements... or I can just ignore them all, and have a site that I can explore during my quiet moments. You know which option I eventually got around to choosing.

This is not to say that you can't put this stuff on your own site, of course; If you want to work it in somehow, then go for it. What I figure, however, is that a blog isn't made a blog by the number of add-ons or customizations it has; a blog is ultimately judged by the sum of its entries. And if you come up short on these entries, then all the jewel-studded animated GIFs in the world probably wouldn't be able to save you.

4. Listen to the audience.
There is one major difference between writing a diary and maintaining a blog, and that's the fact that you've got an audience to worry about over here. This isn't some private correspondence, after all.

With that said, as with here and everywhere else, the audience is king. We might be the ones writing the posts and setting up the site, but they're the ones telling us whether or not we're doing okay by them. This doesn't mean that John Q. Public is right all the time, of course, but if the audience talks, then we'd better lend them an ear at least. Whatever they say should be at least worth listening to.

I feel that our involvement shouldn't just be limited to seeing how our readers move and react, though. The setup of the general blogosphere is such that, if somebody's willing to read your works, then chances are that that person's got an online journal that you can read, too. Every writer has to put down his pen (or keyboard) every once in a while and become a reader; I believe that it's always useful to get a sense of who other people are, what they do, and what they write.

In a nutshell: We can't keep working with ourselves all the time. We've got to realize that there's a world out there.

5. Get into the habit.
One of the things about maintaining a blog is that you can't just write one entry and then walk away. If we're going to make an investment in this sort of thing, then we should at least make it a sizeable one. Otherwise, well... why bother?

The trouble is that it's easy to lose track of time despite any resolutions to the contrary. I've seen people start personal journals on a high and enthusiastic note, only to quickly forget their online presence and end up posting about once every three months or so. It's a lot like getting drunk on that first bottle of tequila and then encountering a hangover so great that you completely forget about the liquor cabinet.

Any site that gets updated infrequently, I feel, is about as bad as no site at all. They both get around the same number of visitors, in any case.

Nowadays I update this blog with a specific goal in mind: I try to put in at least ten articles per month (including the monthly disclaimers we all know and love). Sharp-eyed readers will probably have noticed that the "Recent Posts" section on the right-hand sidebar always shows the ten most recent entries on this blog; This is because that little section happens to be the measure for my efforts. If it's filled up properly, then I know I'm doing good. If it's not, then... well... I've got to catch up somehow.

Ten posts a month, if you think about it, is equivalent to about one post every three days. That's also equivalent to over a hundred posts per year... and that's a number to be proud of, no matter how you slice it. I may not necessarily be going for a "good blog" here, but I constantly aim for those one-hundred-plus posts. I hold a lot of self-fulfillment at stake merely by imposing that big, round number on my personal sensibilities.


Yes, those are some incredibly detailed personal "rules" up there. I can assure you that I try to follow each and every one of them, though. I like to think that the logic is quite sound for each one.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, however, I don't do all this so that people can tell me that I have a good blog. I think that this is a nice blog myself (otherwise I wouldn't be writing in it), but I don't expect people to see this in similar rose-colored glasses.

What I really do, however, is that I simply make sure that this is the kind of place that I like posting in. This isn't much different from cultivating your own garden, I think. You can have the geraniums here and the sunflowers there and the crab grass in a little ring somewhere... but it's ultimately your own garden. If you make it for yourself, then you make it for yourself -- but there's still bound to be some form of aesthetics in there, regardless.

We each make our own rules for everything that we do, much less something as incredibly unimportant as running our own blogsite. What we have yet to understand is that these have to be good rules in one way or another -- and that they'll ultimately determine how satisfied we are in the long term.


Ida said...

Nice entry! I've always wanted to clean up my blog and update regulary, but oh well, I don't have a good excuse so I'll just be honest and say I'm too lazy. Although reading your entry is quite inspiring, so maybe I will set my laziness aside and try to fix my own blog. Thanks! :D

Dominique said...

Ahem! Speaking of #5, what happened to the first-of-the-month copyright assertion for April 2007? The month just ain't complete without it.

Sean said...

Ida: It's also important to come up with rules of your own as well; Bear in mind that they might even be a lot different from these. :)

Dominique: Yes, it's late; I've been busy lately. I wanted to put up a comic of some sort, but I guess that I'll have to shelve that for a later time...

MulderandScully said...

hi! relatively new blogger here, been surfing for some good blogs and found this one. Thanks for the tips! I've just recently created a blog of my own. Fun entries!

Sean said...

Mulderandscully: Good luck with your blog, then. Hopefully one day you'll be able to give some personal tips of your own. :)

All: Having gone over this entry recently, I've noted and corrected two minor grammatical errors prior to republishing the article. I owe this little piece of irony to the fact that I was using an old keyboard at the time, and that some of the letters tended to get stuck. :)