You should start a blog

For as long as I can remember, I have been recommending to people that they start blog; to write as frequently as possible, no oftener, no rarer. And to have the patience to let blogging become your hobby more than your habit because that is when the many dimensions of the craft become clearer, and that is when it starts to have a profound and lasting impact on your life. Blogging, once nurtured as a hobby, has the potential to have an impact as deep as reading itself and all this is simply because blogging is not entirely different from journaling or essay– or diary–writing and the like: a common art that have been around since mankind itself in different manifestations.

There are two ways to look at this: the first takes a mechanical outlook where you realise blogging can help you to publish books eventually and so on, to grow a community, to gain subscribers and, at the end of the day, ears to listen to what you have to say. These are what some call niche blogs. The second perspective looks at it from an entirely selfish angle, but one that I, myself, would recommend: blogging makes the writer (or blogger if you will) a better person.

It helps you grow and opens you up to several ways of looking at something and as a result makes you a better person. From its humble start as little more than a way to make daily logs on the web (hence web log, hence blog), to its eventual growth into a journal, an essay book, even a personal diary, and at the height of it all, a form of journalism, the root of blogging has remained intact in spirit, but has otherwise been largely forgotten. From Ariana Huffington’s rise to fame with The Huffington Post, now an online news aggregator and publisher (once a blog) to Raif Badami’s unfortunate imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, blogging has traveled far and wide. This has also skewed its image: marketing experts use blogs as nothing more than a marketing tool, and corporations even used it as a means to appear more human and get close to their consumer base.

When you step back and take a good look, blogging is still about one party writing and several others reading and then, either carrying on discussions offline, on the blog itself, or on social media sites. This is what has led to many scales being established to measure the worth of a blogger, but when one delves back into what started blogging — the art of writing, the desire to share something worthwhile, the intention to spark a healthy debate and to collectively provide people innumerable reads — one realises that blogging is a journey of the blogger and it really ends there. That others tag along in the journey, even other bloggers, is icing on the cake.

Mind that we only talk about personal blogs here; the sort of blogs run by one or a handful of people without an editorial board or a formal structure and organisational hierarchy calling the shots. We talk about a blog that is and feels personal. Niche blogs, then, are something that can be used as a marketing tool, although they is not all they are. (All blogs, personal or not, are ultimately a form of branding and need to be marketed to some degree, either actively or passively.) However, if you sought any advice whatsoever on how to become a more popular blogger, this is one piece of advice you are certain to be handed in a silver platter. If I did not no better, I would think some people actually looked at this like the one secret you should know to become a successful blogger, which brings us to the question, who is a successful blogger? How would one define success in terms of the blogosphere?

Like a lot of other things in blogging, this too attracts multiple opinions: a blogger with a thousand monthly page views is more successful than someone with a hundred. A blogger with fifty–thousand e–mail subscribers is more successful than one with a paltry fifty subscribers. Or someone with a hundred guest articles is better than one with ten. The measure can go on and will go on depending on which of the many available scales you choose to measure with, but, in my own experience blogging for nearly ten years now, I think the answer lies closer to home: do you feel like publishing on your blog everyday, and have enough to share that you find yourself wanting to write and update your blog and your readers however few or far between? If so, then you are already a successful blogger. The error creeps in when people look at running a blog like running a company: the two are not the same. In a blog, you only ever have to answer to yourself. Let us rule out corporate blogs entirely for the moment. That leaves us with trying to sound as real and as human as the next person for any reader to take you seriously; this does not exclude journalistic, opinionated or stay exclusive to personal articles, but it does render corporate representation out of the question.

This is classic, timeless advice and take it without a single grain of salt because it works: be you. If people want to read about monolithic corporations and their products, they would go to blogs like L’Oréal’s (“This weekend we brought you all the tools, you and your salon need; not only to boost business, but to…” — an actual line from L’Oréal’s blog). People want to read other people. And if you want to get close to people hire actual ‘content creators’, real people with a really free rein regarding what to write and with no restrictions regarding product placement. Like Ghost and Belle Beth Cooper.

But in the midst of all this, it is important not to lose track. Because if blogging is to become your hobby and a thing of pleasure, it will have to stop being something you fit into your day and instead be something that is a natural part of your day. That means you cannot afford to spend an awful lot of time writing your blog. That is not to say you will spend hardly any time thinking about it, because you will: thinking is a big part of blogging, but the trick is that once you have thought and noted down some key stuff (I recommend Evernote), the actual act of writing your blog posts should, preferably take less than an hour. In an edition of his podcast, Michael Hyatt talks about how he writes a blog post in under 70min. You should definitely make time to watch that episode, but for now these are the steps he outlines:

  1. Start the night before
  2. Use your downtime to think
  3. Cut down distracting programmes
  4. Listen to music
  5. Set a timer
  6. Have a template or structure
  7. Do not edit till you finish writing
  8. Edit, format and tighten (add images)
  9. Proofread in preview

I would add an important edit to step one, which is that it ought to start not the night before but rather whenever an idea strikes you and you start noting it down, adding to it etc. and then you begin by writing it. And then use your downtime to think about it. Steps three to five are fairly straightforward, and for those interested in my music playlist, I listen to a lot of Mozart, Beethoven and Debussy on Apple Music. I do have a problem with step six, however: having a template is not always a good thing unless you plan to market your services with your blog the way Mr Hyatt does. But most personal bloggers — Jenny Lawson (probably cuss words) who I do not follow but have heard of on occasion, Leo Babuta, whose excellent blog I subscribe to and, for that matter, myself — do not actively market any product other than our writing and our writing is varied in structure as demanded by the subject.

I have to pause to highlight the seventh step: it is extremely tempting to go over and over the written word and this, more than anything else, can quickly make your blog seem like a chore. Let your first intention be to get words on paper and if that takes all your time, forger it: return to the post another time, even another day and proofread and edit it before publishing, but pausing to beautify before even writing things down will only prove to be a poor decision.

That said, my next qualm is with the editing section where Mr Hyatt talks about small paragraphs and making your entire blog post scannable so people can consume it in bite sizes. I am somewhat traditional and recommend sticking to whatever length you need to effectively convey your message through your words and I simply do not believe in sacrificing words to please the increasingly short attention span of the 21st century reader.

So now what happens? You have started your blog, written things. Do you sit back and watch the magic happen? Unfortunately, things are not so simple in the blogosphere. You are one among a million and that is not a good thing. Like everything else, blogging takes perseverance and believing in yourself is the only way to get through dry spells where it will appear like nobody on the internet — or off it for that matter — cares about your blog. It is in these times when it helps to look back at why you blog; look at that selfish reason that says your blog is about you and so long as it makes you happy, keep at it. As Belle Beth Cooper points out, it can take years for a blog to take off. My own blog used to get a handful of readers in its earlier days and gets over a hundred–thousand per month now because that is how a blog grows, with time and with constant content. That is not to say you must force yourself to write, because that rarely ends well: you get terrible publications that will seem obviously forced, and your blog will die eventually. Embrace the slow blogging movement (which is probably dead now, but was thriving once upon a time) — write when you have something to say and not by schedule. However there is a counter–argument here: do not wait for inspiration, just stick to a schedule. I suggest you try both and go with whatever you find comfortable.

All said and done, never lose sight on what blogging gives back to the writer. Joshua Becker wrote a considerably long list of such things which include such things as becoming a better writer and a better thinker, living a wholesome life, developing healthy habits, meeting new people, inspiring others and so on. But at the end of the day, blogging is nothing less than an experience so (it is free, which means you have no excuse not to) start a blog, write some, keep at it for a year or two and then decide where you should head from there on. I, for one, am nearing ten years and have no plans of stopping.

On writing quirks

We all have quirks. Some subtle, some obvious, others comical. In writing too, like in everyone’s fingerprint, I think there is a considerable degree of uniqueness. One might be able to mimic another’s writing, but never to perfection. Call these writing quirks, but we all have them — one might even be prompted to call them worn floorboards on which we trip, but I take a jauntier approach: they’re my signatures. And I am aware overuse may trip some, but I have, myself, become so accustomed that I do not believe I will let them go anytime soon.

I almost use the tironian et, or what some call the grandfather of the ampersand — but not quite. To anyone familiar with me, it comes as no surprise that I write the ampersand (&) symbol unlike others. What I do write is a more basic, possibly even crude, form of the ampersand consisting of an e and a t stuck suffocatingly close to each other. This is not strictily the tironian et, but is related to it. In related news, it was not this old symbol, even though it rather looked like a seven, that led to the modern ampersand being placed above the digit seven in a standard QWERTY keyboard. The English language and usage forum on Stack Exchange solved this swiftly last year.

I also use the diaeresis extensively. Propping a hyphen halfway through a word looks stupid to me, so it is always coöperate and not cooperate (Cooper ate?) or co-operate. Similarly, there will not be a re-election, but rather a reëlection. A person can be naïve, not naive, even if not under the influence of a knave. I do not think anybody uses the diaeresis nowadays. The diaeresis is a German hangover, but the Germans use it for a different reason entirely, not to differentiate successive instances of the same vowel popping up in one word.


Review — VSCO 4.4.1 for iOS and Android


Around three years ago, a new photography app hit the App Store. Called VSCo Cam, the app came from Visual Supply Company, makers of film emulation presets for Lightroom, ACR, Aperture etc. It was never meant to compete against Instagram, but that is how a lot of people saw it. (Some probably still call it the anti–Instagram.)

Today, with the recently released 4.4.1 version and renamed simply VSCO, the app stands as arguably the best filter for iPhone, but is really a full–powered editing suite and manual camera. Most use it in conjunction with all their mobile photography needs, not merely as an Instagram competitor. And with nearly a hundred million uses, #vscocam is Instagram’s most popular hashtag today. Competitor Snapseed has four million,  Afterlight has three.


Photographic sharpness: an obsession

I somehow came across an article by Connor McClure where he talked about how far too many people blindly use VSCO filters to process their photographs and call it a day. What he said about VSCO is true (and is something I strongly believe in myself) — they are a convenience, and not much more than trends; and trends pass on. McClure says it best: “They are trendsetters, and I don’t believe in latching too tightly on to trends.”

In addition to filters in general (not to target VSCO, whose filters I use rarely, but do use nonetheless) there is another misdirection I feel we ought to address in today’s photography scene: mindless obsession over sharpness.


Mountain roads: photo book in print, available on Amazon

Earlier this month I wrote about my new photo book, a simple 7″x7″ paperback featuring a collection of 25 carefully handpicked black and white photographs, revolving around the theme of mountains.

I do not quite remember where I read this, but someone advocated printing out your photographs — at least select ones — even in the digital era, because printed photographs have their own charm and heightened value (even if the latter is only in our minds).