Wednesday, 9 November 2011

On Writing

DSCN0213Yesterday I hit upon this tweet that asked some interesting questions: “Can I ask all the writers out there: Why do you write? Are you driven to do it? Are you paid to do it? Can you take it or leave it? Why?”
I’m no professional. I haven’t earned anything for any of my non technical writing, but I do have quite a throughput when it comes to writing for leisure. So I thought I’d use the opportunity to discuss my creative process, maybe even providing some answers to the twitted question.

It did not occur to me till late but I always enjoyed writing. Even in school, where we were often forced to write essays, I recall enjoying the process. I don’t think I was ever incredibly good at it, but I enjoyed infusing the otherwise boring topics forced on us by our teachers with some stuff that truly excited me. For example, even in the final school exams (what you would call VCE in Victoria and what was called Bagrut back then in Israel) I plugged revolutionary ideas from Larry Niven’s Gil Hamilton stories.
Years later, post university graduation and after starting proper full time work, I would often write rather lengthy emails about all sorts of things and send them to my friends. Blogs didn’t exist back then so it was so it was all rather chaotic and maintained as a private Outlook folder, but those were the very first movie reviews I ever wrote. Just like today’s writing, they have been written for the pleasure of writing and for the benefit of consolidating my thoughts.
Eventually I joined the blog bandwagon and the records speak for themselves: I never looked back. Most of my posts receive two digit readership numbers, a minority (say, 10%) go into the hundreds, while a bare few get into the thousands. I hardly ever promote my work; obscurity, it seems, does not prevent me from marching on with my writing.
Given that hardly anyone reads my stuff, and given I don’t see a cent out of it, where does the motivation to write come from? I don’t have a proper answer for you; as I said here recently, it feels like a calling. What is clear is that I love writing: as far as personal leisure activities are concerned, writing comes over everything else, reading and playing video games included. My wife will tell you it comes over social stuff, too, although I would not totally agree there.
So why is it that I find writing so attractive? Again, I don’t have a definitive answer. It’s probably something to do with narcism, because receiving feedback and hits is always very exciting. Having an author critically address my damning review? I was so excited I couldn’t go to sleep. Simply having a friend relate to me when I’m in distress (see here for the most classic example) was the best comfort I could get. For this person, most of whose friends and cultural heritage are overseas, the contact that’s facilitated through my blogs – as flimsy and one sided as that contact is – is of great importance.
Note that when I talk about contact to my cultural heritage I don’t mean Israeli culture in particular. I am mostly referring to science fiction culture, atheist/humanist culture, the open source culture, science, technology and much much more. When I write, I’m assuming the role of a mini Asimov/Dawkins/Doctorow/YouNameIt. My writing connects me to all of those, making me feel like I am a contributing part. In other words, writing turns me from an onlooker to an activist.

There is a good reason why I maintain two separate blogs, this one for personal musings and another for reviews. In the former I can write whatever I feel like writing in whatever form I choose, whereas in the latter I have to write around the specific item I review. That is a significant difference there, which is why I enjoy the challenge of reviewing. Regardless, the writing process is pretty similar.
Most of my posts are the result of the same process. I have some question that bothers me and burns off in the side of my head. These questions can range from “why is it that this particular thing bugs me” or “what was it about this film that made me enjoy it so much”. Then, at some elusive moment when I’m doing something completely different – having a shower, waking up, falling asleep, daydreaming on the train, or pondering about a book I am reading – lightening strikes. In a few brief seconds I get this anchorman in my head dictating ideas to me. Some times he goes as far as dictating the whole post to me again and again. I tell you, that anchorman is crazy!
Usually hours pass between the time the anchorman talks and the post gets typed. That’s life for you: I can’t afford to write whenever I feel like. Some times I do, as with this post, and it shows in the rather under-cooked nature of the final result. But rare steaks are often tastier.
Usually the actual writing has to be postponed by hours if not days. Often I have so many ideas I just have to record their highlights somewhere on the cloud (love the cloud!) so I can return to them later; I would estimate less than half of those actually get returned to later. Most ideas end up returned to later that day or during the next day or two.
By the time I get to write Mr Anchorman’s ideas down I usually find that the tune that sounded so great in my head is much less so in writing. Some times I get posts that were meant portray a certain idea ending up saying something quite different, like this one that was originally supposed to be a tribute to my best friends. Other times the post comes out disjointed and lacking coherency, like this one where you might as well ask “what the hell was he trying to say in there”. Rarely do I have the time to sort things out; as most of my posting is done late at night I often prefer to simply go ahead with the show. In other words, editing is something best done before midnight.
On a positive note I will add that through the years I have been trying to add method to the art of blogging. Writing reviews does help there because it forces me to come up with worthy structures and to try and present a united front across reviews. In my opinion, my approach works: when I really make an effort, as with this review, I get my blogs' best hit post ever. Should have done better with the photo, though!

Lately I have been toying with the idea of having my writings professionally published. If anything, I think I should quit my laziness and put some big time effort into devising a proper strategy to get me out there. Not in order to make money, but rather in order to provide a foundation to my writing passion.
Make no mistake about it: writing is a passion. I devote so much thought to my writing, as poor as it is, and that energy has to come off other areas. Yes, writing comes at a cost: my devotion definitely cost me a promotion or two at work. It costs me sleep, it costs me Call of Duty rankings, and it has costs in the quality of my relationships with other people. For now, at least, I have no regrets on the matter, though, because I consider writing/blogging to be a major part of the person that I am.
If writing is what I am passionate about the most, the logical path would be to receive external recognition for that. Such recognition would signal that all the lost money and lost promotions have been rightly sacrificed.

Image by kneetobefree, Creative Commons license


Uri said...

Do you know how hit counts are measured?

When I enter your blog, does that count as a hit for the most recent post?

I never click on a specific post (unless I comment) but just read as I scroll down. Does that count as a hit?

What's your most read post? The Deadline review? A Kindle/Tablet/Cell phone report?

Moshe Reuveni said...

To answer your questions:
I don't know how hits are counted; Google presents a number for the time period you specify. Looking at the numbers, it seems as if opening the blog counts as a hit on the top post. I am wondering whether scrolling down to expose subsequent posts counts as hit on them or not, but it's hard to verify.
What is clear, though, is that my own hits do not count. I have to be logged in to Google for it to ignore me, though.
The most read post, by a very large margin, is my review of the Kogan tablet. Deadline is up there, too. In general, the more personal posts (like this one) hardly get anything; the more technical ones, like the ones discussing Kindles or wifi hotspots, get the more hits. You can see why: people who don't know me couldn't care less of what I think, but they are interested in getting books for their Kindle.
There are all sorts of weird insights, too. Don't ask me why, but my reviews are quite popular in Denmark; and as movie reviews go, the more girly ones tend to be the better hit ones. I suspect it comes down to someone famous linking to a post, which triggers some sort of an ongoing flow.

Moshe Reuveni said...

As for the point I've made with regards to being linked by someone famous:
You can see it in action on Twitter all the time. Each time Leslie Cannold retweets me I tend to get new followers, usually women. Today Graham Linehan (IT Crowd, 140,000 followers) retweeted me and boom - English followers.