Executive Pagan

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How do I blog thee?

Posted by Erik on July 21, 2009

Reading through the frequently myopic comments on Chas Clifton‘s guest post over at The Wild Hunt set me to thinking about how I write here, and what I write about. Much was made of the brevity of Chas’ post, the general impression being that at least a couple of the commenters felt they weren’t getting value for money (which is fairly amusing, considering that they didn’t pay anything to read it). A brief discussion then ensued on the relative merits of the short-n-sweet vs the more epistolary style (with which Cat Chapin-Bishop identified herself). Personally, I get a lot from both of them.

I guess I fall into the middle somewhere, most of the time. Unless I’m just passing on a link or a commonplace book entry, I generally like to try to illuminate one aspect of a subject at a time, whatever I happen to have been thinking of recently; the few exceptions have all been broken down into series of shorter posts rather than one massive paper. *

This pattern also reflects the way I think – I tend to consider a subject for a time until I feel I have a handle on some aspect of it (or something else comes along to pre-empt it), then let it simmer in the back of my mind while I move on to other things; later a new insight will emerge, and I will have another piece to add to the puzzle.

As to what I write about – whatever comes to mind, really. Sometimes it’s serious and (I hope!) thought-provoking; sometimes I’m just feeling goofy, or pressed for time but wanting to give you something to keep you coming back. What I don’t seem able to provoke, at least not as regularly as I’d like, is commentary. As I said a little while back, THANK YOU to all you folks who do comment, particularly the regulars… but to quote one of the commenters on Chas’ guest post, I would “do a Snoopydance” if I could build the kind of sustained conversations that go on at TWH or QuakerPagan… :) One of the main reasons I blog is to test out my thinking in an open forum, to sharpen it against the whetstone of other people’s thoughts.

So, in an effort to figure out what I might do to boost the conversation, I’m doing two things. First, I’m going through the comment history to see what posts generated the most conversation, and if there are any common threads (a laborious process, as the free hosted version of wordpress.com doesn’t offer the analytical tools that they apparently sell to people who buy the self-hosted version).

Second, as Ruthann Friedman said, I’m Askin’. What would you like to read about here? What gets your spiritual and intellectual juices flowing? And (just as importantly) what pushes your “If he writes about that one. more. time…” button? Inquiring minds want to know!

* As Chas pointed out in his response to the thread, it’s just harder to read long blocks of text on the screen than on paper, particularly in the columnar format most blog software imposes. There have been times when I have been confronted with blog posts so long that I have had to print them out (double-sided in draft mode, but still a terrible waste of paper and ink) in order to be able to comprehend the whole thing. Maybe that’s just my age (43 – computers didn’t enter my life until high school), but I don’t think so.

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21 Responses to “How do I blog thee?”

  1. Nettle said

    I was shocked (in a pearl-clutchingly old-fashioned way, I guess) by the rudeness of the complainers over there. I don’t know where that kind of entitlement comes from. I thought Chas’ guest post was just fine.

    I like short blog posts. I’m hardly a master of the form, but I think short posts work much better for the format. Like you, whenever I have long amounts of things to say I try to break it up into multiple posts because I know nobody, not even those who love me best, will sit and read a 5,000 word blog post. It will be skimmed at best. Somebody has to have already earned my respect and have a fabulous topic for me to read a really long post – that’s just not how I (or most people, I think) use blogs. And, as you say, reading on a screen is hard.

  2. Cat C-B said

    It’s interesting that you should say that you write about things after “tend to consider a subject for a time until [you] feel [you] have a handle on some aspect of it.” Your posts do tend to be shorter than mine, certainly… perhaps because I am most often moved to blog on topics I am only beginning to struggle into clarity about. The step-by-step of the struggle becomes the meandering path through the post, provided I can find a “hook”–a central image or anecdote that forms the nucleus for me.

    I enjoy writing this way. I also pity my poor readers, and wish I could afford to hire an editor to make me at least a little less purple before I’m done. This is why I call myself a “hack” among writers… not because I disrespect my own work, but because I recognize that I do not put in the time and energy it would take to properly distill my writing before I publish it on the blog.

    Whenever I have taken blog posts out of context and attempted to present them as paper writing, I find I really need to edit for length. Almost everything I write should be 30% shorter or more.

    Chas, unlike me, is a professional writer. He has incredible discipline, and is able not only to present complex ideas at length, but to present such ideas in brief, a much harder task. I would not like to become Chas, because I’m very fond of my own subjects. But I would that I had a bit more of his strength within me!

    Even I have adapted to the electronic format to some degree, however. I have noticed that my paragraphing at the blog is very, very short. This is my personal answer to the tension between wanting to write at length and knowing that the screen makes reading such posts difficult.

    As I have worked to edit pieces for a possible Quaker Pagan Reflections anthology, I’ve noticed that I combine my short paragraphs into longer ones, and my short pieces into longer chapters, too. Even long-winded bloggers like me can come across as terse on the printed page.

    I find the whole subject fascinating (obviously). But, rather than go on at length, let me just say that there’s a danger in counting comments as a measure of a blog’s focus. Many people like to comment in anger, and the easiest way to get a _lot_ of comments is to be provocative.

    Much more fun are the intelligent comments. I would rather see one well-formed comment than twenty or more “That was great!” responses. Thoughtful argument (light, not heat!) and reflective association are what I’m always looking for. And for that, I suspect there’s no formula except to write what you really care about, and hope others will turn out to care about it, too.

  3. executivepagan said

    I’m shocked – shocked! – to find gambli… er, that Chas writes short posts. :D

  4. executivepagan said

    I enjoy writing this way. I also pity my poor readers

    LOL. But we get to see your thought process actually in operation, which is cool too.

    let me just say that there’s a danger in counting comments as a measure of a blog’s focus. Many people like to comment in anger, and the easiest way to get a _lot_ of comments is to be provocative.

    Much more fun are the intelligent comments.

    Oh, absolutely. That’s why I was careful to talk about building sustained conversations, rather than just “counting coup”… I consider myself extremely fortunate in being small enough to not attract the kind of trolling nonsense that afflicts the most popular blogs.

  5. Feral Boy said

    I agree …

    Feral Boy

    :) — All kidding aside though, I value you taking the time to publish some of your most personal musings in such a public forum. I think that although your “numbers” are low, the people who reply are for the most part as insightful as you are, & add immeasurably to the conversation.

    On getting more “hits”, I don’t know if you can add any search terms to the “META” tag for the page — that’s what most web search engines build their indexes from. Probably not possible for you since WordPress is the host & you don’t code it by hand, but there may be some option to add search terms to your page somehow.

    I’ll send some of your previous posts to some like-minded friends of mine — like-minded in that they are anything but mainstream! — and encourage that they share their thoughts with you if they are so moved.

    — Feral Boy

  6. Cat C-B said

    And on the getting more hits side of things… Since I began a Facebook fan page for my blog (self-promoting though it feels) and the practice of updating fans with news of each new post, I’ve noticed an uptick in traffic to the site.

    I also post word of my (IMHO) best posts to my Facebook friends, as you know. *smile* That seems to help, too.

    For whatever it is worth.

  7. executivepagan said

    I’m really not too concerned about the hit count, per se – except to the degree that the more people come by, the greater the likelihood that some of them will contribute to the “feast of reason and the flow of soul”… I just love talking about this stuff, and it’s even better when people talk back! ;)

    I did have a very nice conversation with a lady at my UU church on Sunday, who said she’s been reading here and some of the other Druid blogs on the blogroll, and wanted to pick my brain some more about my relationships with the Gods, which was quite gratifying.

  8. executivepagan said

    I’ll send some of your previous posts to some like-minded friends of mine — like-minded in that they are anything but mainstream! — and encourage that they share their thoughts with you if they are so moved.

    Thank you, my friend. Knowing some of your friends, I imagine there will be interesting comments!

  9. R.D. Hammond said

    This is wonky and specific, but the post that got me reading regularly was about etching Hermes’ name on the outermost bytes of your hard drive, so it could be a spinning prayer. Stuff like that really hits on one of my sweet spots—namely, reconciling ancient tradition with modern sensibility.

    Aikido/shinto is also good, but that’s a personal preference and not helpful to the group at large. :)

  10. executivepagan said

    That’s good info – thanks! The ancient/modern thing is why I call myself a Revivalist rather than a Reconstructionist. I’m a product of 20th/21st century America and for the most part I’m OK with that… :) I figure that if the Gods live (and if They don’t, then what’s the point?), then They live here and now. They may still appreciate the old ways as well, but surely They understand where I’m coming from.

    Oh, and as it happens I have another Shinto post in the works, so stay tuned!

  11. Pitch313 said

    Writing may be a challenge, even for the most verbally creative of us. Blogging, a relatively new sub-category of writing, may be challenging for new as well as old reasons.

    Veteran blog readers, I think, often develop expectations about bloggers that they follow. Blog posts that don’t meet some of those expectations may come in for criticism.

    Bloggers often develop personas, styles, and topical specializations related to the nature and the outlook of their blogs. They may even, as I do, run different blogs for different purposes.

    And guest blogging may be a challenge all of its own. A new blogger visits the blog readers who follow a different blogger with a voice all her or his own. Can jostle some of us.

    FWIW, my experiences have mostly been of a “third Goddess presence” nearby when life in the world got stressful. Or or that peculiar confusing overcharged emptiness that follows a head trauma/concussion…

    HAPPY BLOGGING TRAILS TO ALL!!!

  12. Promethean said

    Much more fun are the intelligent comments. I would rather see one well-formed comment than twenty or more “That was great!” responses. Thoughtful argument (light, not heat!) and reflective association are what I’m always looking for. And for that, I suspect there’s no formula except to write what you really care about, and hope others will turn out to care about it, too.

    Thank you Cat. And for the record, I find your writing style gratifying to follow.

    What I find most aggravating is the cliquish nature of the commenters on larger blogs. How dare we insult the blogger with our own questions or criticisms?! Yes, I got heated there. My bad. I have high expectations. When I do I do that. Whether or not that’s what is actually there… can be another story.

    I’m happy to have helped stimulate discussion, though embarrassed at my role.

    In an answer to the question,
    I dunno who this blog’s audience is. On The Wild Hunt, I’m more comfortable being vocal (or being an ass, depending on how you see it) as it is a blog meant for the public audience. It is written about our interests for us, down a specialized topic (Paganism), and branching out from there.

    Your blog seems to be more personal, touching on a wide variety of topics that encompass your wide interests in spirituality. I’m already reading in your archives on Shinto and some other faiths. The UU doesn’t interest me at all, but I’m sure you’ll find others happy to talk about the CUUPS program they run to both attract and shelter pagans and paganism. Those same folks may have no interest in Shinto.

  13. executivepagan said

    Pitch,
    All true… but if you read the comments thread over there, I simply see no call for the appalling rudeness of some of the commenters, particularly the first two. Unmet expectations are one thing, but slapping someone in the face is something else altogether.

    Guest blogging *is* a challenge – trying to find a topic that one can write about intelligently that fits in at least marginally with the focus of the host blog is not always the easiest thing to do… although a host can make that easier by picking guest writers who they know are somewhat in sync with what they normally write about, as I have tried to do when inviting my own guests. (And, truly, Jason did a good job there overall.)

  14. executivepagan said

    Promethean,
    Thanks for reading! At least you offered a more detailed explanation of what you saw as lacking, beyond “This sucks. And the East German judge gives it a 2.”

    I dunno who this blog’s audience is.
    That’s part of what I’m trying to determine! Overall, I guess it’s people who find this sort of thing interesting… but beyond the people who comment, I have no idea who is actually reading.

    I was inspired to start blogging by reading Cat, mostly, as well as Rachel at Velveteen Rabbi and Jeff at Druid Journal… that may give you an idea of where I’m coming from. I’m very much a proponent of interfaith education and understanding, but I tend to be more interested in the less-mainstream faiths (with the exception of Judaism) and making cross-connections at that level. As you can already see if you’re reading the Hellenismos/Shinto series. Never mind. :)

    I know there’s no way that every post is going to interest every reader – if it did they would probably be me – but often I try to shoot for a “sweet spot” of informing people about something I think is cool or meaningful that they might not be aware of, while relating it back to actual spiritual experience. Sometimes I hit, and I’m sure sometimes I miss.

  15. neina said

    I read your blog regularly, gain much food for thought and quite a few good recommendations. So I’d love to contribute back to you what I’ve enjoyed especially, or what is especially interesting:

    Your personal combining of viewpoints is interesting, fascinating, educational, and most of all inspiring to read about! Also, when you recommend links, be it to other blogs or organisations, or to artists, or miscellaneous, it’s always worth a look, and tends to fill my bookmark spaces. Meaty, longer ponderings, or shorter, philosophical sound bites (of which you provide both) are soul food. Excuse me for not being more specific.

    I would love to comment more, but I tend to think comments are more useful if one has something more to say than just “Interesting! Thank you! I agree!”, which is where I usually end up, and sadly, then, not commenting. Your posts are so well-written and balanced. Perhaps add a question or two, ore poke at something controversial, without being totally diplomatic?

    Thanks again, and keep it up!

    Floreat!

  16. executivepagan said

    Neina,
    Tack så mycket!

  17. neina said

    Var så god! :D

  18. Ali said

    To be perfectly honest, I was shocked at the Shut Up And Be Nice reaction that the very first commenter got. I thought she had a point (and wasn’t even all that rude in expressing it)–as someone who reads Chas’s blog regularly, it seemed sloppy and poorly thought-out even for him, and it was that much more than its length that bothered me. Some of the sentences had such awkward grammar I had to read them twice just to understand what he was saying, and even afterwards I was left with the impression that he had shot off some half-formed question about a passing interest, rather than really challenging people to think deeply about a subject. I would much rather encourage honest (and civil) criticism in the community, than an attitude of mutual back-patting.

    When it comes to length, the blog as a medium still baffles me sometimes. I recently got a kind of backhanded insult in an email recently about my posts being “cold” and shallow. But all I can do is write what I really feel driven to write. Folks like Chas and others who have alternative publishing outlets have the luxury of only posting short bits most appropriate to the blog form. But some of us write long things which would never see the light of day at all if we didn’t offer them freely on our blog to whoever was willing to read. I figure a small but willing audience is better than no audience whatsoever….

  19. executivepagan said

    I guess we read the thread differently – the first response or two really did strike me as fairly rude. I mean, “2/10 for effort”? Admittedly, some of the rebuttals were a bit overboard as well, but still IMO the whole conversation was unnecessary and may have distracted people from thinking about the question that was posed at the end…

  20. Kay said

    Erik,

    What would I like to read about here?

    I enjoy all your posts, but I think I’m drawn to those that tend toward the philosophical. I really liked your “Spirit of a Place” post from a while back.

    Anywhoo … Write about what you like to write about and of a length that feels comfortable to you. I’ll be here, lurking and reading and commenting.

  21. executivepagan said

    Thanks! I appreciate the support.

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