The balance of the blog

I love to write. If I didn’t I wouldn’t maintain this blog or the write the multipage emails that I ocassionally send to friends. In terms of this blog, I would really like to post regularly (2-3 times a week). I get somewhat irritated when the RSS feeds I subscribe to go for a week or more at a time without an update. I also hate  it when I see posts which are quite clearly ‘filler’: little content or style, posted just for the sake of posting. I try hard not to post filler material myself, but it’s sometimes hard reconciling that with the desire to post regularly.

Good writing (and any other form of creative endeavor) needs time. A draft has to be created and then beaten into shape and polished. Sometimes the first draft needs to be scrapped or sends off tangents that need to be dealt with before the original can be completed. Of course, some of this can be mitigated by planning ahead but that’s still a time-consuming part of the process and doesn’t always result in time savings later. Sometimes ideas strike at the least convenient moment. Or if you’re using your writing as a thought exploratory vehicle like I do, then you’ll sometimes realize that you’ve been barking up the wrong tree all along and need to do a complete about face.

The process of writing a blog post

My more recent posts have eached weighed in at about 1000 words, give or take a hundred. I think that’s a good size for a post. That’s about 10 minutes of reading time and roughly an hour or so of writing time. Admittedly, I’m not a very fast typist (though my problem is more accuracy than speed), but a lot of the time is spend more in thinking about how to structure what I want to say next than in actually hitting the keys. That hour is for the first draft and though things don’t change very much from the draft to the final published version, there is still some amount of editing that goes on, as well as insertion of links and images if needed. All this takes in about half an hour of extra time. So I can put out a post in about 1.5 hours. Now that doesn’t sound like a very long time and it isn’t. Even with the other things I do, I could probably still write a post a day on average.

But I obviously don’t do that. So what’s going on? It would be easy to just put it down to the old quality-vs-quantity argument, but that glosses over a lot of pretty important details. For starters, almost everything I write is based on stuff that I’ve seen or experienced first hand. That means that if I don’t see or experience anything interesting, I can’t really write about anything interesting. The good news is that thanks to the internet, finding a constant stream of interesting things isn’t very hard at all. However, after all the consumption of interesting stuff is done, I still need to actually process everything that I’ve read and extract some coherent thoughts from them. It’s this processing that is the most interesting part of this process. Part of this happens while I’m doing other things, thoughts take root and germinate. But a lot of it happens while actually writing.

Let’s take this post as an example. The seed for this post comes from the fact earlier this week I had posted 3 articles in a row but I was a bit stuck about what to post in the later half of the week. Since I wanted to post something before the weekend, I decided to just write about my dilemma and see if it gave rise to any interesting ideas. I had started out thinking that I’d just write about the merits of quantity versus quality, but it’s becoming a deeper investigation of my writing process. I just erased a paragraph that was supposed to describe my writing process because though I thought I was describing the right process, I realized that I actually work very differently. I’m doing most of my thinking as I go along and putting it down on the screen as fast as I can, to be proofread and cleaned up later. I’m also doing some high level editing as I go along (like the mentioned deletion) in order to make sure that the post maintains some coherence while tying together the multiples ideas that I’m having.

Interestingly, one consequence of the think-as-I-write method is that post titles often become incorrect at some point between the starting and ending of a post. I started this post with the title Blog Musings: Quality or Quanity, but I think something along the lines of The Blogging Process might be more correct (though that sounds somewhat unwieldy).

Striking a balance

Coming back to the original question, how can I publish good length, content-rich posts about 2-3 times a week? The first part of the answer is time management. The process I’ve described depends on having enough time to read, think and write. Making time for all that isn’t easy, especially when school is in session and there are more immediate concerns. At that the same time, it’s important to keep my brain well stocked with processable material. It’s possible to just sit down with idea of writing a post and in a few hours do all the reading, processing, writing and editing required to create a final product. But it doesn’t always work so smoothly and even when it does, I don’t always enjoy it. It’s like fighting against a deadline and makes me feel like I’m working a 9-5 job. That’s definitely not something I want my writing to feel like. I’d much rather let the things I’ve read about soak in a for a while and do some background processing before I put finger to keyboard. Over the summer, I’ve figured out that the best way to do that is to read in the morning, just before I start work and then do my writing in the evenings.

The final piece is editing. It’s important to maintain a good quality of writing, especially since exploratory writing can often stray from the original topic. In some cases I’ve had to break up posts so that I don’t have multiple important threads running in parallel. That’s good because not only does it keep each post focussed, it also gives you more of them. A win-win solution to the original question.

In conclusion, the three key points that I’ve found important in keeping balance are:

  1. Making time for reading, thinking and writing
  2. Leaving time in between reading and writing so that unexpected ideas have a chance to come up
  3. Editing with an eye towards coherence and consistency.

I should point out that this isn’t an exhaustive list and might not work for everyone. It’s only a start towards keeping myself in check while holding myself up to proper standards. The actual writing itself is something that is quite separate from gathering all the relevant information and following a schedule. That’s something that can only be improved by a lot of practice. Writing this post has provided me some interesting insights into my own process and I hope you discover some interesting things about your own process as well. Please share your own ideas and methods in the comments.

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Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

One thought on “The balance of the blog”

  1. Hi Shrutarshi,

    unfortunately I don’t have anything to add to your post, but I just wanted to tell you that I’ve discovered your blog a couple of days ago and very enjoyed reading your last 10 posts. I’m eagerly looking forward to future experiences you share with us.

    Greetings and keep up the good writing.

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