Archive for July 21st, 2005

The Thinker

Why I Blog

Writing was my one passion during my restless youth. There was only one problem: I was not very good at it. I was not a bad writer. English teachers often flattered me. It is probably accurate to say that I was better at writing than most my age. The truth was that I had more enthusiasm than talent. If I had any extra time during my hectic youth (for I was also working part time), I was at the keys of my Smith Corona constantly writing and rewriting the same science fiction novel.

For more than twenty years, I gave writing short shrift. Now many years later, I am blogging. I stopped writing because real life left me few alternatives. I had a career to ascend and a family to support. Still, I would find my creativity bubbling over in unexpected places. No one else but me wrote florid IEEE Concept of Operations documents. I could make the most dreadful engineering documents interesting. Invariably every performance review would come back with some words praising me for my writing.

I do not know the wellspring of my creativity. However, since I started blogging in late 2002 I have been unable to stop. My inner writer has been trying to escape for decades and it finally succeeded. Blogging gave me a publishing medium that I could not imagine in the 70s.

On an average day I get about three hundred of you to stop by and sniff my blog. I do not know if you enjoy the time here, are annoyed, or just glance at it and move on. According to my site statistics program Awstats, about 80% of you are the surf and move on type, hanging around for thirty seconds or less. This does not surprise me. The web is ideal for those with short attention spans. More surprisingly, Awstats tells me that about 12% of you this month have spent thirty minutes or more at a time at my site. Nearly 5% have spent more than an hour at a time reading my blog.

This surprises me and makes me smile. While I write for my enjoyment (and whatever stimulation it gives my visitors), I write also for those few of you who will read an entry from start to finish. Why? Certainly, vanity and ego are part of my calculus. No one wants to feel unvalued.

For the most part, I write because I must. Now that my writing side has reemerged, it will not go back into the cage. Many evenings, even when I would rather be doing something else, I am dutifully at the keyboard creating a blog entry. Some days the writing flows naturally. On other days, the writing is like wrestling with an alligator. Thinking up topics is not always easy. Sometimes I am reduced to writing about topics that are really quite trivial. I wonder if anyone but me really wants to read about my travails with my mother. Apparently, some people actually do, and I am both surprised and flattered when these types of entries bring comments.

Blogging has made the cost of publishing and distribution trivial. The one thing it has not done for me is make writing profitable. That will likely elude me. Since I write primarily for my own enjoyment and my full time job keeps me flush, this does not bother me. To make money at blogging I would have to pick a genre and plumb it endlessly. Blogads suggests as much and says that you need at least a thousand unique visitors a day in order to attract advertisers. Even if I did have advertisers, any money I collected would be pocket change. Those who make a living from blogging are rare. The only one I know who does it successfully is Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the man who created DailyKos.com. (Moreover, he does not have a blog. He has a megablog.) However, like most successful blogs, his is successful because he focuses on a single topic: progressive politics. If he wrote entries like mine, he would be just another faceless blogger. His blog would not generate enough lift to fly.

No, Occam’s Razor does not want to be not your ordinary blog. I am multifaceted and complex so my blog is a potpourri of topics and ideas. I flit from subject to subject. Nevertheless, I try hard to provide insights or perspectives that you cannot find anywhere else.

I put a lot of work into every blog entry. Generally, an entry is two pages and sometimes three pages in length. Research may take additional time. A short blog entry will take two hours. A long blog entry will take three hours or more. For my blog entries are never dashed out. They are crafted.

Like an sculptor carving a statue from a large block of wood, I start out not quite sure how my entry will end. During my first pass, I try to write quickly. The second pass is the hardest. This is where the artisanship comes in. Now I need to turn what is often a stream of consciousness into something that feels a bit poetic. This means meticulously parsing words, rearranging sentences, and often rewriting paragraphs of text. During the third edit, I carefully look at my text again. Is a word too general? Can another word be more descriptive? Is the tone consistent? Am I restating myself? I find that I restate myself a lot. I often have to fight the urge leave in uninteresting details. Just because they interest me does not mean they will necessarily interest you. I also find myself frequently writing with a passive voice. I try to rephrase my words when this happens, but writing in the passive voice seems to be my style. I also try to keep my sentences short so they are more readily digested.

Since I construct my essays, I use the right tools. The right tool at the moment is Microsoft Word. Of course, I leave on both the spell checker and the grammar checker. Word often suggests words and phrases. I will consider every suggestion that its grammar checker makes. If I have a peeve with bloggers, it is how few of them can be bothered to spell check their writing. Have they so little consideration for their readers?

The fourth pass through is the most tedious. By this time, I am growing bored with my own entry. I just want to be done. Nevertheless, as I change and rework words I keep finding minor mistakes. They must be patched before publishing. It is impossible to write a perfect blog entry of any depth in a couple hours. However, my standards require a high degree of workmanship. I will not put out what I consider crap. I will not put out a B or a C entry. My hope is that if a blog critic were sniffing through my entries then any entry would get a B+ or better. I shoot for the A. Of course, I do not really know for sure how well my entries are received unless someone leave a comment. All I know is I have to be proud of them.

After four passes, I copy and paste the text from Word into a text editor. It fixes most of the text that should not show up in HTML, like smart quotes. I then copy the plain text into my MovableType blog entry screen. URLs and italicized text are all added manually. (I bold links in Word to remind myself to link to them.) Finally, I publish the entry. Even after all this editing, I will read the entry online too. Seeing it in a different context invariably helps me find that one missing typo I could not otherwise see.

I suspect that my blogging is not an end unto itself but a means toward some nebulous writing future. Perhaps someday I will write that great American novel. Until then I have blogging. Rather than have my ideas crash around inside my head, at least they now have a way to escape. In articulating my thoughts, they gain clarity and order. For me blogging is also a form of therapy.

I hope you enjoy your time here. In addition, I hope it is apparent that Occam’s Razor is a work of devotion and passion. Perhaps it is as immortal as I am ever going to be. While I am unlikely to succeed as an author, it is also likely that with computers my words will outlive me. They will be archived and indexed, read, parsed and maybe even enjoyed (albeit less frequently) by future generations. With so much noise out there in the blogging world, perhaps Occam’s Razor will be perceived as a small but flawed diamond in the rough amongst in a sea of sand. I hope so.

 

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