How to write a blog

I think about things. About what’s happening in the world, my life, things I read, etc. Being exposed to much thought-provoking content, it literally provokes thought. And I feel I have by now gradually developed a framework of sound basic ideas and perspectives about life and the world, to put such thoughts into proper context.* 

This is the impetus for my blog writing. I have a lot to say. Self-expression is a common enough impulse, but the idea of possibly influencing, enlightening, or just entertaining other people is an important propellant for my writing. But actually I do it mainly for myself. I love language as well as ideas, so putting the two together, finding just the right words to express ideas, has become part of my very being.

The way it works is that the seed for a piece, its theme, will lodge in my head and start sprouting limbs — concepts and tropes connected to it. My mind commences to play with the pieces, seeing how to fit them together into some cogent whole. When it’s something in the news, further things I’m hearing or reading about it add to the stew.

After these ingredients slosh around my brain for a while, the thing jells sufficiently that it’s time to put pen to paper. I like to sit back in a comfy chair and write longhand. A discrete concept can take several sentences to express. Doing so can be challenging. Words are, of course, a tremendous tool for thinking. Yet I’m in awe that a mind can instantiate a complex concept before it actually has words to express it.

First is just getting the ideas on paper. Normally any one essay actually strings together a number of individual concepts. Often for me they just flow in a logical sequence. But sometimes that takes work, figuring out what goes where.

So now I have a draft. Which I go over several times, crossing stuff out, adding stuff, changing stuff. Moving paragraphs around. The directive “insert” occurs a lot. Often I didn’t initially cover every nuance. The process of writing itself, and then re-reading, can bring to mind points I hadn’t previously thought of. 

Strunk and White tell the writer, “omit needless words.” An awkward locution for a writing guide, I’ve always thought. But I take it much to heart. Conveying a message in six words rather than eight makes it more direct and powerful. The reader gets it quicker. So I ruthlessly search out ways to condense my prose. Like right there: I originally wrote “shorten what I write.” One word longer.

The opening should grab a reader’s attention. The ending should be a smack on the table.

I try to examine sentence structure to ensure clarity. And to avoid repeating any word. Anything that might cause a reader to stop and notice, however fleetingly, something about the language will impede communication. I also try to replace fancy words with simpler ones. And bland expressions with punchier ones. A thesaurus is a great tool.

There are certain words I’m partial to. “Indeed,” “actually,” “in fact.” Very useful words that can do a lot of work. But I try to go easy on these, not to overdo it. Another is “somehow.” Actually a very useful word too (oops, there’s an “actually”).

However, in writing, all rules are made to be broken. But you have to know when and why.

I take my squirrely handwritten draft to my computer and type it up. Of course, while doing so, I keep tweaking it, aiming for better, shorter, stronger verbiage. Once typed, I go over it again. Maybe even print it out, to review it back in my comfy chair.

Then I let it sit, at least overnight, often longer (I always have a backlog of pieces to post). During that interval it will continue to percolate in my brain. More thoughts will come to me, which I’ll go back and incorporate. (This one was first written many months ago; since then, I’ve returned to it several times and fiddled with it.)

All this may sound like work. But I enjoy it enormously. I feel it keeps my brain alive. Doing it gives me the kind of experience psychologist Abraham Maslow called “flow.”

Also fun is adding pictures, to liven it up. Mainly I use “Google images.” Amazing what you get with the right search terms; and how often the first of many pictures is the best one. When I wrote about reading aloud, with my wife, The Brothers KaramazovI entered “man reading to woman” and the first image coming up was an old Russian man reading to a babushka. Perfect. 

Finally comes the moment to actually post the thing. Then I get the infuriating comments. Or, worse, none at all.

* While single, I saw a gal’s personal ad saying she was “interested in ideas.” Wow, I jumped to reply! But our date was disappointing. I asked what she’d meant by “ideas.”

“Oh,” she said, “new ways to cook spaghetti, things like that.”

4 Responses to “How to write a blog”

  1. Lee Says:

    I rearrange the order of sections, fill in details, edit word choice, and look things up online so often that doing it on paper is a challenge for me. With a computer those are easier, but I have yet to perfect the combination of a computer laptop and a comfy chair. Somehow it is always a little bit awkward.

  2. Thia Says:

    A fine piece indeed … love it.

  3. Don Bronkema Says:

    Twixt cooking & copulating the choice is clear. Best to pursue peace, justice, green equity & beauty. Truth is pain. Things betray. Close ears to sirens of carnality & klaxons of power. Engage all in humility, comity & accommodation, CRISPR them, unite them in a planetary syntel blockchain [viz. 158,410 pp previous, 1948-2021]. When respondent slashed a 5-pp MS to 3 lines in Rhetoric 101, prof said “Mene, mene, tekel upharsin”. A sober, still pending judgment. Meanwhile, cheers to the thread!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Frank — Thank you for that recipe for good writing.

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