August 31st, 2017

Blog choices

I find that as a blogger I often bite off more than I can chew. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say more than I intended to chew. My estimates of how much time and effort a post will take are usually way off, and yet over and over again I’m fooled. I get an idea for a post and I think oh, this won’t take long at all, and then several hours later I raise my head from my computer, blink, look around me, and don’t understand where the time went.

That happened today. I just put up my first post for the day, and it’s a loooong one. Not only that, but it’s on a topic it would be difficult to justify calling “current,” the history of our involvement in Vietnam.

How on earth did I choose that topic? Something caught my eye in the comments section, as it often does, and I thought I had something I wanted to say about it. I believed it would only take me about a half hour to say it—after all, hadn’t I written extensively on Vietnam before, and couldn’t I draw on those writings? But as often happens, when I researched the topic, I was drawn deeper and deeper into it and into the details, and before I knew it many hours had passed.

Much of what I write isn’t just for my readers, although they (you!) are foremost in my mind. I do it for myself, too, and sometimes I think that learning the history is the really fun part. Or if not exactly fun—sometimes the facts are disturbing and disheartening and downright depressing—then the interesting part. Writing is just assembling the pieces of the puzzle and putting my own idiosyncratic stamp on it.

The kind of blogging I like to do isn’t very popular and it’s even less popular these days than it was when I began. Blogs by a single blogger, such as this one, are much less numerous than they used to be. The blog genre has been outpaced by Twitter and Facebook and a bunch of even newer social media platforms, and though I’ve tried to get into them they just don’t suit me or interest me and that’s that. I like the long form and I like the conversation, and there’s less and less patience for those things.

This article is from 2015, and the trend described has only accelerated since then:

[Ezra Klein writes] “Blogging encourages interjections into conversations, and it thrives off of familiarity. Social media encourages content that can travel all on its own.”…

…Ezra is right about the conversational nature of blogging. There was lots of that in the early days, and very little now. Partly this is for the reason he identified: traffic is now driven far more by Facebook links than by links from fellow bloggers. Partly it’s also because multi-person blogs, which began taking over the blogosphere in the mid-aughts, make conversation harder. Most people simply don’t follow all the content in multi-person blogs, and don’t always pay attention to who wrote which post, so conversation becomes choppier and harder to follow. And partly it’s because conversation has moved on: first to comment sections, then to Twitter and other social media.

Second, speaking personally, I long ago decided that blog posts needed to be standalone pieces, so I’m not sure we can really blame that on new forms of social media. It was probably as early as 2005 or 2006 that I concluded two things. Not only do blog posts need to be standalone, but they can’t even ramble very much. You need to make one clear point and avoid lots of distractions and “on the other hands.” This is because blog readers are casual readers, and if you start making lots of little side points, that’s what they’re going to respond to. Your main point often simply falls by the wayside. So keep it short and focused.

Anyone who reads this blog probably can see exactly how I fail to follow the recommended model. I do try (and have nearly always tried) to write posts that can stand alone. But not rambling? Sticking to one clear point? No, and no, and although I believe I could follow those rules, that’s not the way I want to write and if I had to do it I’d just as soon quit as straitjacket myself that way.

So here I am. One of the dinosaurs who write by myself, and write long and sometimes rambling pieces. I’d like more readers, but I have a decent number and not all of them are “casual” by any means. We have quite a bit of conversation here, too, and it’s not just that I converse and you listen.

Yes, I also write for a group blog at Legal Insurrection, maybe once a week or so. Most of what I write there is an edited version of something I’ve already posted here, and the posts I put up there tend to have a law-related slant or concern topics that I think would be of particular interest to the readers there. I write there in a style that’s a bit more removed and formal and less personal than my style here, and I think that’s appropriate.

This post was intended to be a rumination on the process of selecting and writing a blog post and how much more time it often takes than I think it will—and then, of course, I started rambling (as is my wont) into a related topic. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to choose my own topics and write about them as I please, and to be able to get some sort of audience for it, even if the audience is far from huge. When there’s a big story, of course, I usually try to cover it, but best of all (for me, anyway) are these lengthy, labor-intensive dives into some piece of history that I think is relevant to our times.

27 Responses to “Blog choices”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    Well, at least we know what was seething in your crainium today. Good work.

  2. vanderleun Says:

    “The blog genre has been outpaced by Twitter and Facebook and a bunch of even newer social media platforms, ”

    Outpaced and underperformed.

  3. vanderleun Says:

    “This post was intended to be a rumination on the process of selecting and writing a blog post and how much more time it often takes than I think it will—and then, of course, I started rambling…”

    ‘Edited for length’ artfldodger alert! (or however he spelled his handle.)

  4. expat Says:

    What I love about your blog is that it makes me feel like a real person is talking to me. We have had very different lives, but I love knowing that someone with very different experiences (and to some extent interests) can come to the same opinions as me. Your thinking about things lets me know that I’m not enclosing myself in a bubble.

    One other great thing is that you don’t seem to attract trolls. I can’t tell you how many comments sections I have stopped looking at.

  5. steve walsh Says:

    You know, perhaps I’m just showing my age when I say I like this form and format. Your posts, however long or short, are well thought out and written, and the comments generally are too.

    I’ve abandoned Twitter, it is a cesspit of interactions that aim to incite rather than discuss. Tweets are the bumper stickers of social media, full of snark, condescension, and mean-spirited notions.

    I’ve also abandoned Facebook as it’s full of misinformed and inflammatory expression – too much emoting for my taste. Or maybe that’s just my friends?

    Don’t change for any reason other than that you want to do something different.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    expat:

    Thanks!

    As for trolls—I attract them, all right. I just am ruthless about policing the comments and eliminating trolls on sight. Sometimes I let them go on for a while, if they’re borderline trollish, or if I think they make some interesting points. But mostly, trolls are gone before you even see them.

    I have my methods.

  7. parker Says:

    Well neo, I enjoy your posts. I read your posts because they are well researched, restrained, and insightful. That is a rare thing. I also enjoy the variety you offer up, Ask for more donations.

  8. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I’ve never thought of you as a rambler, neo. Instead I find your writing to be thoughtful and most of all, comprehensive.

    It’s such a rarity for you to post a notably incomplete ‘missive’ that I can’t recall your ever having done so. But surely it must have happened at least once ;-).

    I’d bet it’s your desire to submit coherent and comprehensive posts that is responsible for the inordinate amount of time they often take to put together.

    I find the same thing happens to me with my longer comments. Though being a hunt and peck typist has to be a factor as well. Do you, as I do, find yourself rewriting sentences and even whole sections as you go along?

    Good work usually takes a substantial investment in time. Rushed work is sloppy work. As the saying goes, “if you have the time to do it over, you had the time to do it right”.

    How terribly quaint of us…

  9. DNW Says:

    Yeah, basically you have an opinion journal. Some pieces topical, some less so, most of interest to those whose politics are libertarian,, conservative, or personally conservative/politically somewhat libertarian.

    You kind of have a magazine, of sorts.

    I cannot say exactly what niche you fill, but although the blog is not written as if the pieces were meant for the New Yorker, or the Atlantic – and frankly those self-consciously polished literary and narrative techniques they employ have grown stale anyway – but your writing is never tedious or harping.

    My guess is that most people have no reason to blog unless they are hobbyists or writing for a professional audience.

    As a therapist and lawyer, and someone whose ideological sensibilities have migrated from unreflective left to a somewhat qualified right, you have a background and critical sense which gives you something interesting to say on most of the issues of the day: Citizen to citizen … and I mean that in particular and as distinguished from whining proletarian to whining proletarian or victim to victim or social element to social element.

    No, you do just fine.

    When you start pieces off like this,
    ” Armando, older and wiser than his age, stood expectantly on the cobbled walkway still damp with the morning dew, and listened to the distant hillside echo of artillery. a sound too familiar during the brief nine years of his …”, I’ll go elsewhere.

  10. DNW Says:

    Another thing your blog has that until recently was relatively rare, was an ideological sophistication and philosophical competency that extends from the writer through to most of the commenters.

    Though conservatives have wised up a lot in the last 5 years or so, much conservative outrage still takes the form of carping and the repetition of patriotic mantras, rather than critical analysis.

    Conservatives, though much better than they were just a short while ago, had the habit of quoting the Constitution in order to “prove” their rights, in the same way simple Evangelicals (not the bright ones) might have quoted the Bible to try and prove the existence, or at least some moral obligation to admit the existence, of God.

    This blog, its mistress (???), and its readership is not like that, and never has been.

  11. Cornflour Says:

    Here’s another comment’s worth of thanks for this blog’s different path, and I too would like to raise a small objection to the thought that Neo rambles. Instead, I think she has the patience and curiosity to follow a branching path. She may be like the rambler described by Dr. Johnson, but that’s surely no serious vice.

  12. AesopFan Says:

    “So here I am. One of the dinosaurs who write by myself, and write long and sometimes rambling pieces. I’d like more readers, but I have a decent number and not all of them are “casual” by any means. We have quite a bit of conversation here, too, and it’s not just that I converse and you listen.”

    Works for me.

    And what DNW & Cornflour said, ditto.

    (See, I can too do a short comment.) 😉

  13. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    I think of this place as a digital salon with an intelligent and sophisticated hostess. Don’t ever change.

  14. Harry the Exremist Says:

    I click this blog daily neo. I come here to get your take on the issues because I trust your take on them. I’m not up for hearing opinions from people who are reliably one-side or the other. There used to be more people out there whose views you could consider sane and balanced. Not so anymore, which is why stopping here daily has become a kind of pilgrimage.

  15. AesopFan Says:

    Harry the Exremist Says:
    September 1st, 2017 at 12:44 am
    I click this blog daily neo. I come here to get your take on the issues because I trust your take on them. I’m not up for hearing opinions from people who are reliably one-side or the other.
    * * *
    Neo is reliably on the side of sanity.

  16. AesopFan Says:

    Another voice of sanity, although still in the Democratic fold, is Camille Paglia. This is an ancient (June 2017) interview, but her views on most of the subjects discussed would get little complaint on this blog.

    One wonders how she has thus far escaped an epiphany similar to Neo’s, and what are the values & priorities that keep her in the socialist camp despite all the evidence of their authoritarian tyrannies.

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/camille-paglia-on-trump-democrats-transgenderism-and-islamist-terror/article/2008464

  17. Philu Says:

    I’ve been a daily reader since the beginning after following a recommendation from “Q&O” and greatly enjoyed the old “Sanity Squad.” I was drawn by both what you write and how you write it. Don’t change a thing.

    My own writing style is to be as concise as possible since, as an engineer, I did much technical writing. When posting, I do stick with a single point, but I enjoy your occasional rambling because it makes your posts more interesting.

  18. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Like Cap’n Rusty said…

  19. Mac Says:

    This is one of a very few–like, three–old-school blogs that I read daily, or almost. Moreover, it’s almost like a news site for me. I frequently look here for a cool, calm, collected sorting-out of the hubbub-du-jour. And the posts that aren’t about current events give it a nice variety.

    As another old-school blogger, I’ve noted the same change in the climate, and keep at it for very similar reasons, though my traffic is undoubtedly at least one order of magnitude less, maybe more.

    I mean more less…I mean…you know what I mean.

  20. Rufus Firefly Says:

    You do an excellent job!

    Also, your commenters never fail to impress me. You’ll write about something novel to your site, and then ten of them will casually mention that they too have circumnavigated the globe in a rowboat, or lived among the aborigines of New Guinea for a decade.

    One thing that I think would sincerely help you get a bit more traffic: I suggested previously that having an easy way to see new comments, maybe the ten most recent, would allow conversations to continue more easily on older threads. You have a lot of interesting threads that stimulate thought, but none of us readers can easily tell if any new comments have been added. You wrote that you would talk to the individual who helps you with design. This should be fairly easy. Most blogs like yours have such a feature in the margins. All the off the shelf blogging tools I know of offer it as a plug and play option.

    Regardless, thanks for all your time and sharing your ruminations!

  21. Rufus Firefly Says:

    I have a long-winded, but interesting story on how I fell into blogging and accidentally and briefly inherited a huge following. Through the process I came to some of the same conclusions as you, neo.

    I’m not the type to comment on blogs. Even though one of my degrees is in Computer Science and I have a fairly intimate knowledge of computers, programming and the internet; I didn’t do bulletin boards in the early days, nor do I use Facebook or twitter today. This is one of only 4 places on the internet I have ever commented.

    However, there was one site that really tickled my fancy and had a very active community in the comment section., and I eventually joined their ranks. This was around 2002. One day the main author on the site e-mailed me in a panic. He had been released from his duties by the proprietors and needed his own site, fast. He asked for my help. This was odd to me, because he had hardly ever engaged me in the comments, nor was I the most active commenter. But, I liked his writing and what I knew of him, so I helped. This necessitated me writing some posts, which I was uninterested in. I asked him, an accomplished writer, for advice and he replied, “Just write about what you are interested in. That interest will carryover to the readers.”

    That new site became very popular as he was able to pull most of his old readrers to it. Then, after about a year, he e-mailed again and told me something big was about to happen for him and he would be abandoning the current site. It was mine for the taking, if interested.

    I had little interest, but I knew how hard it was to build a following like the site had, and I imagined some others might be interested. So, I contaced a personal friend who is a journalist and I e-mailed one of the frequent commenters whose writing particularly impressed me, and I asked them if they’d like all those eyeballs. They said yes, so I designed a new site for the three of us. It turns out the big news that the old proprietor had to keep secret was a guy named, Andrew Breitbart wanted him to edit a new website he was creating; a series of different themed sites sharing the title, “Big.”

    So that happened, the three of us spun our new site and Breitbart’s sites exploded, helping our page clicks also. That’s how I accidentally found myself with a website with page views that many sites would pay a king’s ransom for. This was probably around Autumn of 2010. We had people like Jonah Goldberg and Steven Den Beste linking to our posts. I wrote about one of my favorite journalists, Mike Royko, and a day later one of his kids wrote a thank you on our site! It was surreal. Here I was, a guy with little to no interest in writing on the internet (and a wife and kids and a day job) with a huge following just as hundreds and thousands of others were trying to buy eyeballs and page views through this relatively new medium.

    And that’s when I learned the downside to blogging for fame and fortune. The beast must be fed. People are fickle and have short attention spans, especially on the internet. If we didn’t get a lot of posts up often, we would lose our readership. I became somewhat obsessed with tracking our progress on Google Sites. I would tweak posts based on the data (for a reason I never understood, posts on Gay Marriage where always an enormous hit). I eventually took the approach neo mentions and brought in additional contributors.

    After maybe two years I realized I had found answers to most of the questions I had. The gentleman who had gotten me into this whole mess had advised me, “Just write about what you are interested in.” I realized I had been interested in a lot of things regarding current events and politics (similar to neo’s “political change” phase), and I had gotten that out of my system. I also realized I didn’t like having to worry about feeding the beast. So, I told my co-bloggers I was hanging up my keyboard and the site was theirs to do with what they wished.

    I think a lot of blog’gers from the early days have done similar things, or moved on to different iterations of what blog’ging spawned. One of my hobbies is music and I learned early on that attempting to make decent money playing in a band is a completely different process than playing in a band for fun. In the first instance, most of what attracts me to music takes a backseat to the work of getting gigs and an audience. So, I’ve found a band of like-minded musicians who are simply intersted in music, for music’s sake. We play shows, but they are shows we want to do, for audiences we want to play for. And we make almost no money.

    The internet and blogging has matured to that stage. There are sites that are all about eyeballs and revenue, and then there are sites like this one. I suppose it was bound to happen.

  22. neo-neocon Says:

    Rufus Firefly:

    What an interesting story!

    I probably should get some go-bloggers, too, so I can feed the beast more easily. It does take a bit of OCD to run a blog like this. But I don’t think I’ve said everything I want to say. I’ve got those 400+ drafts for new posts…

  23. Rufus Firefly Says:

    One of the great and relatively unique qualities of your blog is how prolific you are in posts and content within posts. There are a few other deep thinkers on the web who take a similar approach to your level of thoroughness and research, but they tend to post one post a week, or less.

    You do fine without co-bloggers, but bringing some in would help with eyeballs, and would also add to the diversity of commenters. That can be good and bad.

    This site seems such a direct reflection of you and the myriad paths your thoughts and interests take, you may prefer to retain sole control. I suppose it’s kind of like my band analogy. Not many people hear the band I’m currently in play, but I like what we play.

    But, it is nice to be heard.

    You are definitely admired and have a well regarded reputation that extends quite far. And you seem to have found some other outlets where you can publish your writing to a different, and often wider, audience.

    The good news is you’ve got a great compendium of work here and you’ve got contacts beyond here, so you can likely continue to pursue this in whatever manner you choose. We, your loyal fanbase, will follow you wherever and however you publish.

  24. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Haven’t seen anyone capable of beating my one liners from 2009-2013.

  25. neo-neocon Says:

    Rufus Firefly:

    Thanks!

    I do try to be true to myself and my own personal style and interests when I write, but that also means my traffic isn’t all that huge. Of course, if I compromised more it doesn’t mean my traffic would increase, either.

    Oh, and by the way, the person who used to help me with the technical stuff on my blog doesn’t have the time or inclination to do it anymore. I haven’t forgotten about the blog redesign, it’s just taking much longer than I expected.

  26. Irv Says:

    One thing I like about your blog is that you seem to be on a genuine search for truth and you’re willing to seriously analyze the different views that many of your readers have.

    Another thing I like is the variety of your interests. Many of your interests are things I have spent little time with in my life but I find your way of writing about them interesting always.

    As to length, I’m reminded of the woman who wrote a 10 page letter to her son in college and ended with the comment – I’m sorry this letter was so long but I didn’t have time to make it shorter.

    I find that talking and writing about things for others to read makes me examine my comments in a more organized fashion and often causes me to refine and occasionally change my views.

    The old adage is true: If you really want to learn a subject, just try to teach it to someone else.

    The only way I got through calculus was when I was stuck on a problem I would try to explain it to my wife. Trying to explain things to others forces you to organize your thinking in a way that you would not normally spend time on.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

  27. Ymar Sakar Says:

    I probably should get some go-bloggers, too, so I can feed the beast more easily. It does take a bit of OCD to run a blog like this. But I don’t think I’ve said everything I want to say. I’ve got those 400+ drafts for new posts…

    You can start with getting moderators for the comment section, that will still allow you to control the content creation and editing.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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