I don’t know who said that novelists read the novels of others only to figure out how they are written. I believe it’s true. We aren’t satisfied with the secrets exposed on the surface of the page: we turn the book around to find the seams.
In a way that’s impossible to explain, we break the book down to its essential parts and then put it back together after we understand the mysteries of its clockwork.
I’m told that if you want to be a good photographer, you should look at a lot of photos. If you want to be a good painter, you should look at a lot of paintings. I believe that the same holds with better blogging, and seeing how other bloggers present their messages, tell their tales, and report their news.
How long are the posts that they write? How frequently do they link to other pages? Do they tell stories about themselves and their lives, or upon others’ lives, or do they focus upon ideas and concepts? How do they address their readers in what they write? If you’ve spent any time blogging, or considered starting a blog, you may have started reading at least one blog post and spent more time thinking about how the blog post was constructed than the subject of the post itself. Is that the path to better blogging?
I know that I can’t help myself but explore the words one blogger chooses to share his or her thoughts, attempt to determine why certain images are included in a post, understand whom they may believe their audiences are, and so on. While it’s a habit that came to me out of a mix of curiosity and schooling, it’s something that I find myself engaged in more often than not.
It’s not a question of competition. I agree with the following answer from Ernest Hemingway when he was asked about his writing (not that I’d compare my writing with his).
Do you think of yourself in competition with other writers?
Never. I used to try to write better than certain dead writers of whose value I was certain. For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.
Just as we can learn from other bloggers to improve how we blog, by thinking critically about what they do when they blog, we can gain ideas and approaches from other authors, including many who were around long before blogging was something that someone could do.
Here are a few examples.
1. How much of the Iceberg do you show?
Ernest Hemingway often followed what he referred to as the Iceberg theory of writing. When an iceberg floats on the waters, you only see a small part of it, with the majority of it submerged. Your imagination and your experience fill in the contours below the surface. If you present what you write well, you may just get your audience thinking about the events that led to the story being told, the lives and development of the characters, and the parts of the story left untold.
When you blog, you have to assume that your audience possesses some knowledge of what you’re writing about, some experience of the ideas and concepts and situations that you present. What do you decide to keep, what to refer to, and what to omit? Are there times when you can link to another resource that can help people who want to see more below the surface? Are there times when those links might prove more of a distraction than assistance?
How much of the iceberg do other bloggers show when they write?
2. When you write about trees, are you writing about the forest?
If you’ve read any poems from Robert Frost, you can see that he often writes about simple topics, such as deciding which path to take when he comes upon a fork in the road, or how two neighbors might get together once a year to rebuild the stone wall between their properties, as seen from the start of the following poem:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
Under that simplicity lays more complex questions about finding the right path to follow in your life, or seeing how peoples and countries might isolate themselves from others or reach out.
Is your post about a flaw found in WordPress, and how someone in the WordPress community helped you find a solution about that simple bug, or about how people given the chance to help others might reach out to do so? Is my post about how Google might define quality in a website about ranking web pages, or about how we might define quality in our lives?
3. Is your work Gothic?
John Ruskin was a 19th Century writer about architecture and art who often wrote about the society of his times through his works. When he wrote about the strengths of Gothic architecture, he was also writing about the strengths of society:
How so debased a law ever came to be established, we shall see when we come to describe the Renaissance schools; here we have only to note, as a second most essential element of-the Gothic spirit, that it broke through that law wherever it found it in existence; it not only dared, but delighted in, the infringement of every servile principle; and invented a series of forms of which the merit was, not merely that they were new, but that they were capable of perpetual novelty.
The pointed arch was not merely a bold variation from the round, but it admitted of design, but to the ornamental feeling and rich fancy of the Byzantii1e the Gothic builder added a love of fact which is never found in the South. Both Greek and Roman used conventional foliage in their ornament, passing into something that was not foliage at all, knotting itself into strange cup-like buds or clusters, and growing out of lifeless rods instead of stems; the Gothic sculptor received these types, at first, as things that ought to be, just as we have a second time received them; but he could not rest in them.
He saw there was no veracity in them, no knowledge, no vitality. Do what he would, he could not help liking the true leaves better; and cautiously, a little at a time, he put more of nature into his work, until at last, it was all true, retaining, nevertheless, every valuable character of the original well-disciplined and designed arrangement.
The Nature of Gothic, John Ruskin
When you write something about a new song or movie or piece of software, are you saying something about its creator and audience, and the framework within which it was created? Are you writing about the creative process itself, and the ideas and concepts expressed, and the values those hold? Is this the path to better blogging?
There are a lot of places to draw inspiration from when you set out to communicate with others through a blog, from movie posters to cereal boxes to subway maps, from movies to commercials to news broadcasts, from popular blogs to library bookshelves. Harvesting inspiration from how others communicate around you and experimenting with different ways to present ideas is both part of the fun, and part of the challenge is blogging.
Perhaps the secret to better blogging is to try new things and experiment and interact with your readers.