Category: Writing

Tips and advice on writing.

Blookist — not just another blogging platform

Visit Blookist and the most inspiring part of their website is in an obscure place — the address bar. “You don’t need an excuse to be creative”, it reads. Still in beta, Blookist is a new kind of publishing platform. That was how its co-founder and CEO, Adrian Zuzic, described it to me when he got in touch recently, asking if I would be interested in reviewing their startup.

Blookist is the content-appreciative publishing platform we had all been waiting for.

At first, I was confessedly disinterested: was this just another Obtvse, another Svbtle, or another Ghost? At a time when blogging platforms seem to be cropping up at every nook and cranny, why did I have to pay any attention to Blookist? Was this another ambitious platform started with enthusiasm that would lose direction halfway through?

As I looked around, however, it was hard for me not to realise this was not a blogging platform; it was something more, something unique, and, most importantly, something promising. I signed up for free immediately and over the next couple of days began to explore this further. It had caught my attention. Read more →

How I threw SEO out the window

Like a bane, search engine optimisation, (SEO) has long driven bloggers looking for visitors towards a meta-tag-heavy, Flesch points-restrictive style of writing. That needs to change.

When I started blogging seven years ago, I had to adopt the same practice and, while there is no doubt it worked, I always felt it hindered my style of writing. There is some sense in such optimisation, but the actual method of weighing writing is far too inhuman.

Read more →

Do not use big words, but the right ones

An impressive vocabulary is like a charming cup of tea. An exhibitionist vocabulary, on the other hand, is about as discombobulating as it is feckless. And it often works against itself, failing to make a point.

Big words

I have often noticed a trend in starting writers and — worse still — in those who have a newfound admiration for reading fat books they really could not care less about if it were not for that one peer they hope to impress.

People got out of their way to use big words: words not often used in daily life, with usually an extremely-specific meaning, and which preferably have complex pronunciations and/or spellings.

I attribute this to a sense of pride for, firstly, having come across that word; and, secondly, for assuming a lot of others do not know it. To many, however, it is usually a case of using a perfectly common word which they think is special simply because they had never heard of it before.

Read more →

Ideas of March

As much as I want it to be, the title you see above is not my own. It comes from Chris Shiflett, a wholly interesting person, whose blog I have been following ever since he spoke of Svbtle and Obtvse last year, which I found because of an article Daniel Howells wrote which I have no idea how I found, but I remember thinking it was worth my while.

Ideas of March

In any case, things like these are what define blogs: in essence, peepholes into people’s minds. This made me want to re-visit an article Chris Shiflett had written almost exactly three years ago, where he spoke of a “blog revival” that was needed as a result of many conversations (for good or bad) moving from blogs to Twitter.

Dustin Curtis wrote about something similar happening on his own blog as a result of Twitter. While I tweet too, I have thankfully not been drawn away entirely from my blog (for some of the reasons I will mention below). The ‘idea’, for lack of a better word, is to write a post called the “Ideas of March”, list why you like blogs, pledge to blog more and use the hashtag #IdeasofMarch elsewhere on the web.

Why do I like blogs?

There are many reasons why I like blogs. First of all, I would not be blogging if I did not like to do it. But here are some deeper thoughts:

  1. A blog is your house on the internet. You may be on Twitter, Google+, Facebook or wherever else, but none of those websites are truly ‘yours’. You have your space, much like you do in a pub or a library, but you still have a home do you not?
  2. A blog can be deep with utter disregard for public opinion. You do not need to sway with the public because on your blog you speak your ideas like they are yours. And they are, so why not? On social media, you invite shallow criticism that is really a dime a dozen, but on your blog, you can rest assured whoever comments or contacts you cares deeply for or against your ideas. They may not agree, but if they have nothing useful to say, it is highly unlikely they would spew meaningless words — something not uncommon on social networks.
  3. Blogs let you have meaningful discussions. I have often found that while I can comment on a fellow blogger’s article, some comments I have to make start looking dangerously longer than the original article itself. Then I chose to write an article in reply instead: on the one hand, it shows the other writer I care enough about their words to take the time to write my views in depth; on the other it helps create a rapport and link between blogs and people the way no social network can.
  4. Blogs hold you responsible; and that is a good thing. Your profile elsewhere on the web may not be sterling. But on your blog? As bloggers, we are rarely careless enough to paste something we are not very fond of for the rest of the world to see. Oftentimes, what we write are our finer thoughts spoken in finer words than usual. So a blog chronicles our better moments, expressions, times and thoughts. Should anybody stumble upon our blog, they would most certainly get a better impression of us than, for instance, an image our social networking profiles may paint of us.

I am not going to round of this list with a fifth point, because I think these four quite clearly state why I value anyone’s (your) blog over their (your) Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc.

Pledging to blog more?

Although one of the requirements of ‘Ideas of March’ is taking a pledge to blog more, I will not be doing that. If you have time, you can leisurely read my previous article on why, starting 2014, I have decided to join the slow blogging movement.

For those who would rather have me condense that blogging manifesto of mine, the points are simple: I have blogged far too long (seven years, including my sub-domain on WordPress) sometimes trying harder than necessary to blog on a strict schedule. While it paid off in terms of my website visitors, pretty low bounce rates and a fairly high subscriber count on both email and RSS, I decided to call such furious blogging quits.

Instead I opted to write more slowly and carefully thought-out articles, regardless of length, fewer times a month, but still often enough to be considered ‘regular’ by any definition of the word. In brief, slow blogging is to blog only when you really want to and have an idea, opinion, or thought you really want to share, as opposed to blogging just to stick to a schedule — which I fear is what pledging to blog more will make me do.

I think, like slow blogging, the ‘Ideas of March’ movement is something every blogger should do. If nothing, it helps you pause and reconsider why you have a blog at all; at its peak, it’ll help you love your blog more. The way I see it, if Voltaire or Galileo or Leonardo DaVinci or even Nietzsche were here today, they would have embraced blogging wildly. And half the internet would have disagreed with them by principle.


Steering clear of the pitfalls of guest blogging

The concept of writing for others and having others write for you are time-tested ones. Around the end of last month, Google’s Matt Cutts spoke about guest blogging and how it might hurt more than it might help if not looked over carefully. My thoughts on this issue are pretty similar, but here are Mr Cutt’s:

A lot of new bloggers end up finding ways to measure themselves and their writing: subscribers, hits, comments, and, perhaps most misleadingly, the number of guest blogging pitches they receive.

Guest blogging has two faces: the submitter’s and the publisher’s. And, while both intend to reach a larger audience (i.e. the other’s audience), they also hope to get noticed by search engines and other such institutions who might end up being a gateway to writing for bigger publishers that actually pay.

But, as Mr Cutts points out, guest blogging can have a more sinister intention in mind: blind SEO. When two or three dofollow links become the reason why the rest oft he article exists, something is definitely wrong.

Every blogger — including myself — has receives at the very least a handful of such requests every few months that state they (the writer/s) have original, unpublished content they would like to offer exclusively to us to publish and yaka yaka yaka. And then they come to the point: could we publish it for them and have at least x number of dofollow links in the body?

Bloggers just starting out are probably the biggest victims to such near-spam and they publish that content quite happily, not realising that they are hurting their own blog’s image in the process.

Today Made’s, Garett Moon, has also written well about how guest blogging has become about the link instead of the ideas. I stopped accepting guest writing except from people I know since mid-2013 and, although my guest articles content has come down, I do not see my visitor count being affected all that much. And since I made this website more personal, I stopped accepting guest blogs altogether unless under special circumstances (often decided on a per-request/submission basis).

With so many people out there fighting to get their content published, it was only a matter of time before some of them found rather lowly means to achieve it. Although Mr Cutts talks of being OK with nofollow links as a sign of a sincere gust writing, I fail to see the harm in demanding dofollow links — especially when you are not being paid to guest blog. So the final decision ought to rest entirely on the quality of writing and the substance.

Further, some bloggers look to mass market guest-authored content they can make an offer to publish; the problem with this — apart from it being rather desperate an attempt — is that it is a clear indication that none of those articles were tailored for your site, so why should you want it at all? Guest blogging should be exclusive in that content ought to be made for your website, not that existing content must be given solely to your website: there is a river of difference between the two.

None of this means guest blogging should be shunned altogether; its intentions are pure and they still exist, but we just have to be a lot more careful about what we publish for our own good.

 Cover image: Flickr/Cameron Conner 

From start to finish: details and tips on how to write a blog post quickly, yet thoroughly

As promised in my recent article, I am going to dedicate this one to detail my blogging method. Generally, how to write a blog post so that it saves time, not takes it all away. Many people have asked me specifics before, and, over conversations with other bloggers, I learnt that this is one of the most frequent questions established bloggers get: how exactly do you blog?

When you come down to it, the thing is pretty simple; but some dumb it down so much that it loses meaning. A lot of thinking does go behind a blog post, and my intention today is to explain to you exactly what I do and how I do it. Particularly, the physical process of turning an idea into an article.

If, in my last writing I was unclear that I would talk about the mental approach rather than the physical technique, I apologise. In this one, we will surely talk about doing things — typing and things along those lines, yes. And I hope to keep this article quite short.

(Also note that, in an attempt to address the largest possible group of people, I will be focusing on writing on a WordPress blog. Except for a couple of specifics, however, the process should largely be the same.)

An idea strikes

Like everything else, blog posts too begin with ideas. At the start, it is one at a time; then it floods like a barrage gave way.

That is when you will need two apps I strongly recommend to all you serious WordPress bloggers. Firstly, get the WordPress app (download for Android or for iOS — or download your blogging platform’s app; Blogger, Tumblr, they all have one). Secondly, get Pocket (download for Android or for iOS — other options like Instapaper may serve just as well, although not on your pocket).

It is a universal rule that you get topics to blog about when you are in no position to actually blog. So twist this rule of nature using the two apps above. Ideas that come from offline go straight into your WordPress app: create a new post, title it and leave a note to yourself in your blog. Here is the screenshot I had used in my previous post, just to jog your memory:

Title your post, leave your idea as a note to yourself in the post body. Do not forget to save it as a draft before exiting, lest your post be published.

Title your post, leave your idea as a note to yourself in the post body. Do not forget to save its status as a draft before exiting, lest your post be published.

When you have time to blog and you sit before your computer, voila, WordPress is updated.

Some prefer to use dedicated note-taking applications for this. But in this case I find that complex and unnecessary because you end up noting down in one app and having your phone around when you blog, and copy things over between your blog and computer (or even across apps within a computer if that is the case). The method I have explained above works beautifully.

But what if your idea strikes while online? You can use the Press This bookmarklet in your WordPress Tools > Available tools menu if you are on your PC, but, if you are on your phone, switching to your WordPress app may not be the most time-saving option.

You can instead save to Pocket using a pre-determined tag. I use the tag #ToBlog which is not intuitive, so I never use it anywhere else by mistake. When I need to look things over, I quickly search for all #ToBlog saves and I have the stuff I want.

Organise your dashboard

This is an integral part of blogging. Other services may call it different names, but as a namesake I will call it the dashboard (which is what WordPress users are familiar with).

To focus on your blogging, let no part of your dashboard cry for attention. I have gone the extreme minimalist way and re-designed my dashboard to look something like this (hold on while I jump to my administration home and take a screenshot — there you have it):

Screenshot (115)

The desk is the same as the WordPress dashboard, but it has been fully customised to suit my needs with lots of quick access links. Please click to view it large.

You may not be able to make yours look exactly like this without some unnecessary effort (for most personal bloggers, anyway) but the point is not so much in the looks as in the pending notifications, alerts, messages, errors and the like. Deal with it as they come. Approve comments, make them private or public, reply — the whole aside process.

Now you are set to write and do nothing else.

The writing process: how to write a blog post

a. Where to write

This is a big question to many bloggers. Some of us bloggers hated the original WordPress writing area. And most bloggers hated it because everybody else hated it too. The new version, with the distraction-free writing option, is something I am quite fond of. But I never use the distraction-free editor because I cannot add tags, featured images, excerpts without switching around and that takes time. (I sometimes do these things halfway through an article.)

If you still hate the WordPress editor, try an alternative such as JustWriteBlog for Chrome. I do not use it myself, but have tried it and found it usable on a regular basis. (Why do I not use it then? I do not see the need for an alternative to my desk — not yet, anyway!) Alternatively, ScribeFire for Firefox is an equally trusted and (perhaps better looking) option. It is also available for Chrome as well as for Safari.

b. Know your WordPress editor shortcuts

If you use an alternative editor to the default WordPress editor, skip this section; if not, you will have some fun here.

When typing an article, know that all the regular shortcuts work. But make sure the cursor is clicked within the visual editor area. Hit Ctrl+B to embolden; hit Ctrl+I to italicise; hit Ctrl+Z/Y to undo/redo; similarly Ctrl+C/V/X will copy/paste/cut; and Ctrl+A will select all text.

Deeper shortcuts include several things you can do with the combination of Alt+Shift+shortcut where the shortcut (key) can be any of the following: D to strikethrough, N to spell-check, U to start a bullet list, O to start a numbered list (that is O, the letter, not 0, the number), M for image, and Q for quoting.

This is what my editor looks like. As you see, it is not the distraction-free mode because I then lose access to the areas on the right here. Besides, I have re-designed it to be pretty minimal, so there is not a lot of distraction stemming from this screen. More details typed into the screenshot (including a type -- sorry) so please click to view large.

This is what my editor looks like. As you see, it is not the distraction-free mode because I then lose access to the areas on the right here. Besides, I have re-designed it to be pretty minimal, so there is not a lot of distraction stemming from this screen. More details typed into the screenshot (including a typo — sorry). To view it exactly the way I do, please click on the image.

You can also hit Alt+Shift+W to go full-screen (distraction-free editing) and once there, special shortcuts work, such as Alt++ to increase width of the text area, and, conversely, Alt+- to decrease it. If you messed it up, Alt+0 will return it to the default dimensions (and it is 0, the number, here and not O, the letter).

Hitting Ctrl+number will quickly format your writing. 1 goes to heading 1 style, 2 goes heading 2 all the way to 6; then 7, 8 and 9 will turn it into regular paragraph text, pre-formatted code or address text.

Also make it a habit to hit Ctrl+S to instantly, temporarily save as you write, so that you do not lose your work.

Mac users, remember the eternal lesson: Ctrl = Cmd. Also, not all of these may work on all browsers.

c. What single button do I use most?

I am a big fan of the preview button at the top-right. Some lucky people can hit Ctrl+Alt+I to preview instantly. This gives me an idea of how my post will look once it is published for the world to read. I do not have to return to bulk-edit my work after publication, because that would be a foolish thing to do.

Using the preview capability helps not only to keep track of the post length (sometimes 2,000 words seem short in the editor) but reading in the actual format and design that the article would ultimately be read in, in my experience, makes it a lot easier to manually spell-check.

d. Add any images

It is generally a good idea to add images to your writing. It acts as a buffer between large chunks of text and gives your reader some rest. Five images in a 500 word article is too much, but three or four for a 1,000 word article is a good measure.

I add images at the very end, because doing so while writing is not only distracting, but also time-consuming. This, of course, is unless I have to make references to any content inside the image.

e. Tag, file and save

Finally, tag your post. My limit (and a good limit, unanimously accepted) is no more than five tags. Two things to remember when you tag your posts are, first, whether each tag represents the whole article rather than a portion of it. If you have only two words that truly represent your article, tag it with just two words.

Second, avoid long, spaced out, phrase-like tags. These are not only unnatural but may backfire by narrowing down your results too much; on the contrary, try not to be too vague either. For instance, I have tagged this article with the words blog, wordpress and technique.

h. Copying from elsewhere

I know a few people write their articles on text editors like Word. When you copy and paste across softwares, things get real jazzy. But the dangerous part is sometimes code is added to your copied text that does not make a visual difference when you look at it, but its presence is quite harmful for robots indexing your website.

Once you paste, WordPress has a handy tool called the remove formatting button. In the kitchen sink (Alr+Shift+Z) it is the sixth button (next to the paste from Word button with a W). Hit that and, even if you noticed no changes, you are good to go.

Publish or schedule it

Ah, the end.

You can publish your article right away, of course, but if you were feeling particularly energetic and wrote three in a day, you would not want to throw them all out at once, so hit schedule to post at your preferred time and date.

Then sit back and talk to your readers. It’s the second most rewarding part of blogging.

 Cover image: Flickr/Christine and Hagen Graf 


Personal blogging ethics and know-how

Two things prompted me to write this article: a couple of blogs that I follow, and the fact that I have never addressed the personal blogging scene very often in my considerable years of blogging.

Firstly, I will not detail the incidents themselves, but you might gather they broke or gravely bent these rules; and, secondly, I believe strongly in sharing what I have learnt with people who can put aside their ego and listen.

What can I expect from following all this, and when?

Now that that is done, here are a bunch of things most personal bloggers will never bother to practice because they are not blogging on a professional capacity. But these are things that you, as a personal blogger, should adopt.

Following what I detail below will help you create a more targeted community. It will help robotic evaluations better grade your blog and hence what you write will reach people you meant it to. It will, in general, make you blog more active and keep you on the safe side of the data gathering line i.e. those rules which are used to determine, across the internet, whether your writing is worth others’ time and is to be shared, or whether it is to be blocked.

What will I gain from all this?
Photo courtesy: Jacob Botter

How long will it take for results to show? Well, that depends on you and how strictly and closely you follow this.

Does it really work? It worked for me. I have several thousand people reading what I write, among my daily unique visitors, visitors who stay to read multiple articles, subscribers and other contacts, minus 40% of the total of them. So, if it worked for me, I do not see how it will not work for you.

You can continue reading, or stop right away for one of two reasons: you doubt me, or you hate me. I doubt you’ll doubt me given that you are on my website. But if you stop reading before the first point here because you posses a heated feeling of dislike towards me, you are the loser. (Look at what I did there.)

1. Site indexes and sitemaps

Amidst the enthusiasm of creating a blog or website, many first-timers (including me several years ago) think the work is done when the site is live and people are visiting it every now and then. What gets you more public attention, however, are robotic elements that cannot read your wonderful, flowery English.

Sitemaps literally tell these robots something like, “Here, this is my site and these are all the places you can go from all these places. These are interesting bits, so make sure you keep them on your list.” Well, not quite, but you get the point.

How do you make one of these sitemaps/indexes? If you are on WordPress, a sitemap is already made for you at /sitemap.xml and it conforms to the Google protocol.

In spite of this, it is always a good idea to create a human-readable site index if your blog has a complicated set up. To create a site index for a blog that is laid out, say, with a static home page and a blog page with five categories and three pages and some custom organisation, create a formatted list like I have done below and save it at /siteindex.

  • Home
  • Blog
    • Category 1
    • Category 2
    • Category 3
    • Category 4
    • Category 5
    • Custom organisation
      • Category 2
      • Category 5
  • Page 2
  • Page 3
  • Page 1

Ooh, sitemap!
Photo courtesy: INPIVIC

2. Revisions after publication

Depending on your blog (its size, popularity and so on) different robots index it at different frequencies. For instance, larger group blogs are indexed almost continuously, personal blogs with larger readerships, such as this one, are indexed anywhere from once to several times a day; smaller personal blogs may often only be indexed weekly or if you blog at a snail’s pace (nothing wrong with that) your site will be indexed just as fast — or slowly, perhaps.

This means, first of all, that smaller blogs have greater latitude in terms of how often they can keep correcting and rewriting their posts. Larger blogs almost always cannot. So far, I have never done it myself.

This is also an ethical question. Spend enough time in the blogosphere and you will learn a very important practice: once a structural or contextual change has been pointed out, mark it down at the head or tail of the article; making revisions or corrections after the fact is frowned upon, and rightly so. It is often equated to denying a statement made publicly.

If you have made a mistake that has been spotted, once you acknowledge that mistake; and if it is something all your other readers should know as well, simply add to the article a small note or update. Adding will not hurt site indexing as much as overwriting or completely re-writing.

3. Never lose target

You may be a personal blogger, but a targeted website gives authentic reason to follow you. If you write about your day with your stationery very often, do not give it up in favour of metaphysical posts.

Sometimes you just have to hit within the dartboard.
Photo courtesy: Raghul Selvam

This is something I myself had to do very recently. Ever since I shifted my focus to increasingly personal-style articles, I have been confusing readers, robots and aliens alike. For instance, several prestigious and lesser-known educational institutions alike have linked to my articles on how I use various software and hardware for college, especially this Evernote for college article. Why link to me and not just as often to, say, Engadget or Mashable? Authenticity and consistency.

Authenticity in that I am in the same position as my readers and it only makes sense to read a thing or two about college from a college-goer rather than a forty-year-old man who went to college when things were radically different and could not wrap his mind around how things work no matter how tech-savvy he may be.

Consistency because it has helped me establish my blog as a trusted source. It has been verified by Google, the largest indexer around, and several blogging communities; what this means is that people trust what I write (and it is a responsibility to keep that), and people will read what I write.

This helps gain an audience no matter how small you are as a blog or website. I, for one, enjoy hearing more real people’s opinions about gadgets and their experiences than that of a large website with 70 articles a day frequency. Why those large websites then? There are some things smaller bloggers cannot cover, like exclusive WWDC updates or live blogging of some uber-costly events.

So you get the point: write with a scope and stick to it. Because, no matter how differently you may think, a single bloggers views are not only considered more connect-able with than an organisation’s, but also more trustworthy. Think of it as listening to an opinion about company X’s product from a lay user as opposed to an employee of X.

4. Article length is extremely important

Google is getting intelligent by the month. Why do I fixate on Google? Because Google is the largest, and often, what Google creates other search engines try to follow in a bid to keep up. And a key element of Google’s verification of content trustworthiness is article length.

If somebody asked you a question with an answer simple enough, you would hardly try to point them to a 600 page book to read. Similarly, Google not only checks frequency (too often is as bad as too infrequently publishing) but also on word length. For starting blogs with lesser readership, you will need to work on serving readers’ interest as quickly as you can.

Would you read an advertisement this long?
Photo courtesy Charles R. Forker

As your reader base grows (and by this I refer to your regular reader base) you can increase your article length. This not only is a surefire indication of trustworthiness, it also ranks you higher when indexed. That is why I have come to view writing longer articles as a privilege more than anything else.

My articles are routinely 1000+ words in length. My important articles (those I know will attract more readers) have gone as high as 3000 words, or are at least 2000 words on average. Why bother writing so long if nobody reads it?

So start with a modest length of 500. Try not to go below that. 500 to 600 at first and go as far as 1000 once you have readers. Readership coupled with long articles that are actually read implies credibility.

5. Categories and tags are your both friends and enemies

Now watch me. Michael Schumacher. Because I said Michael Schumaker (and there, I said it a second time) it does not give me the right to tag my article as Michael Schumacher.

This is known as false tagging or (in case of categorisation) false categorisation. You may have a genuine reason for doing this (e.g. it’s April first) but the rest of the world cares little. Misrepresentation of data contained in your article will give you the blogging equivalent of a jail term.

Most services briefly ban you from being listed, so the only way people will find out about your blog over the next month or even year is by your telling them — not very promising.

Looking for a nudge in the right direction? I have tagged this article blog, personal, sitemap, and word count; and I have filed it under blogging.

Your everyday blogger isn’t filthy rich.
Photo courtesy Happy Bushra

6. Squash your expectations

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but whatever high expectations you had about blogging are not going to come to you anytime soon. The only reason I have no problem blogging religiously is because my blog can pay for itself, or at least because I come from a background of blogging for both a larger conglomerate and having run for many years an established popular science website.

But of course, that was not in my nature, so I handed the reigns to somebody else, shut down that website and decided to concentrate on building my personal website here on It is also why I never state that I was editor of a popular science website before. I wanted to build this one on my own, not by stealing readers.

What I mean to say is that unless you had been blogging for profit or had been a terribly popular blogger within your niche, the chances are slim that you will get more than a few hundred readers even at your peak. My average, at the start, was a puny 500 readers a day. And, ads or no ads, you will not get enough money to do anything right as a personal blogger.

My overall point is that by putting aside these unrealistic aims, you will be able to concentrate on realistic ones and gain a community around your blog. Also, do not go by comments: they do not mean a thing, really.

You can also read my previous collection of tips targeted towards personal bloggers. Or you can disregard my advice completely. But these are simple no-brainers that just work. If you don’t feel like blogging, you will enjoy this article I wrote a long time ago, aptly titled, “I don’t feel like blogging.”

Happy blogging. Send me your blog addresses and I’ll definitely drop by sometime!

  Cover image by Lisa Risager from Denmark   (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons 


What is your blogging approach?

Yesterday I received an email asking me what my blogging technique was. Apparently, “it is clear that [I am] doing something right” according to my sender, and he was interested to know what it was.

A conglomeration

I think blogging is a combination of many things, not the least of which is writing. When you come down to it, blogging is writing, but on a very different platform. So, when I was asked my blogging technique, I was at a loss of words.

Then I began to think about it systematically. When we talk of a blog, we talk of a post. So I would define blogging technique as the process of transforming a post from an idea, or an inspiration, or an opinion — generally, from something only existent in the writer’s mind — to something that is shaped and formatted in a way that a large number of people will like to read.

So where do we start?

The idea, uncatalogued

An idea strikes anytime. While conversing, while reading a book, while playing my violin, while sprawled on the swing, while playing with my dog, even while eating. You’ll never know.

But it would be crazy to get up and type an entire article. It is possible, but that would be a shoddy job.

All blogs start with a clean sheet: use it wisely, you will never get that chance again.
Photo courtesy: Flickr/guudmonring!

Secondly, I make it a point to read the writings of those around me. I have a friend and a handful of acquaintances who blog. Perhaps their reader base is smaller than mine (or they are lying to me!) and perhaps they are not the authority on anything on the planet, but I still make it a point to read what they write. I follow all their blogs, almost immediately know what updates they put forth and will definitely make some time to read their articles, word-to-word, start to finish.

Most times I’ll even leave a comment. It may not be a rambling one, but it’s a gesture. It shows I care, it shows I read, it shows the blogger they may be an individual, but they’re not unimportant to somebody else. This also helps to keep better perspective, fuels my own desire to blog and, maybe, I’ll even learn a thing or two in the process.

Catalogued and filed

Once an idea strikes my mind, I make note of it, because I write my articles at a set time and day and schedule it. Writing everyday may not be feasible. Break the habit one day and your blog starts to dry up.

Also, I do not believe in writing everyday. I no longer even believe in publishing x times a week or month. Having joined the slow blogging movement, I have come to view blogging increasingly as a responsibility rather than a hobby. But not responsibility in terms of regular publishing; rather, responsibility in terms of better thought out articles.

That is not to say my older articles were not well thought out. Had that been the case, individuals, larger tech blogs, universities and my own subscribers would not have been linking to my work from time to time. But I decided to choose between dividing my attention between a bunch of articles and a single one and now, the latter seems to hold more appeal.


I was out when I received Greg’s email (I’ve mentioned Karen’s email at the end again) so I made a draft straight into my dashboard: no other app or transferring of notes involved. I can access the draft when I sit to type my articles later. This is just a simple, not very time consuming approach I use; you might like to adopt it as well.


That is the biggest secret there is. Sit down and write. Your writing voice may be strict, formal, thrown about, uptight, lazy, comedic, stiff, sarcastic, honest or vague. It does not matter. All styles have followers.

Nearly everybody I have met has described my style of writing as formal (or some word that intends to mean formal). I do not try to write formally; that is my voice, how I speak, how I think. And you cannot be trained to think in a certain fashion.

So write how you will (wrong language/grammar is still no excuse) and what you will (again, slander/libel cases are a dime a dozen against bloggers, so tread light). People will read. The blogosphere is such that, like it or not, a few people will stumble upon your blog everyday. Maybe even 10 will come, or 50, or 100. None of that matters.

True dat.
Image courtesy: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

Your traffic isn’t your traffic

When you start blogging, remember that 100 man traffic you used to get? Well, about 20 of them never read anything, 10 of them had no idea how they came to your blog and another 10 very likely blocked you. Whenever I get my daily stats, I therefore cut out 40% from it. So on a gloomy day, my 10-15k visitors may be the remaining 60%. On a particularly good day, and on a particularly good article, the number may double.

The biggest change in such traffic is your own writing and it features heavily in my blogging technique/approach. People will contact you by e-mail. Yes, a lot more people do than you think, and it’s very rewarding. Why else to large websites declare that they do not interact to email queries? Because so many people do it. Conversely, I love to interact via email. It feels more personal than some lost cause comment at the bottom of a page nobody is going to scroll to.

So when you blog with a lot of readers, you get more criticism, hate, appreciation and responsibility to not waste others time. That is one of the reasons why, as a blogger, I highly value the formative years of my blog (as well as my website) when my readers were my friends and family. Only.

Wash your hands once you’re done

After I write an article, I forget about it. Some will tell you not to do this ever, but I say go for it. What good is an article in your head after it is out for the world to see? All you really need is to remember you wrote on such and such a topic, so when you need to cross-reference (or when you get a faint doubt) you just have to look back and you will find it.

David Weinberger at the Edelman Blue Hour Blogging
Photo courtesy: Flickr/Udo Herzog

Take time to write as well. Formatting may not be important enough to command even half-an-hour a day, but its importance cannot be underestimated. Use headings, spaces, embolden, italicise, underline, strike through and whatever else you can think of to make your point clear.

Use images as well. Mention living, breathing, existing people; it will make them shy away as a spotlight always does, but that is part of acknowledgement. So, as a last piece of sound advice, learn to acknowledge. Did somebody inspire you to blog? Say it on your blog, it will not belittle you. Did somebody’s harsh words prompt you to write a blog post? Write it and then discard it. On the long run, when the fury has died, you will wish you had never published such articles.

Such things happen. Years of blogging experience tell you a thing or two. And, lastly, remember, people know large tech blogs because they advertise, have a team of writers and throw out tens of articles a day. But the blogging scene was always built around the single blogger and we command 434% greater indexing. Doubt me? Check it out yourself. And the next time you think of skipping a blog, ask yourself if you are being moved by branding.

The biggest gems are found with single, personal blogger such as you (?), me (serious) and this guy (weird) and this lady (funny). Embrace it.

P.S. I had received another email much before this one, which I had, unfortunately, forgotten to attend to. I was reminded about it because of its similar nature. So probably in another article on another day I will address the issue of the tools I use to actually write an article and how I make the process less time-consuming. It focuses on WordPress, so if you are interested, drop me a word and I’ll write the article earlier than planned.

 Cover image: Flickr/Bombardier 


Blogging manifesto, slow blogging and a cuppa

This is one of those tough-to-write articles that is tough just because you are trying to come up with ways to avoid following what follows. (No pun intended.) But when you write three blogs, including this, a satire column and a science blog, all at once, you try to streamline everything into one, if for no other reason, just to loosen things up a tad.

A lot of people seem to have enjoyed my satire, a genre of articles I myself love writing, and the genre of preference any day. A smaller, but more targeted, group of people have freely discussed my science blog as well. Both of these platforms have died as of last week.

Blogging v content creation

The website (and particularly this blog section you are on) is what I opted to serve as a common platform for all this. What I have been most fortunate in is having readers with enough courage to take news from news sources and who would rather discuss with real people. If you know the blogosphere well, you will realise that better insights come from single bloggers rather than team blogs churning out several articles a day. (Yes, I speak of The Verge, HuffPo, TechCrunch, Mashable, Engadget and the lot.)

I follow these as well, but I use my own blog to voice my opinion. And I value a richer communication that a comment on these larger websites where you voice is one in a thousand on a single page. Not many appreciate the value of this, but I am not here to judge them. It is their point of view (and sometimes a point to oppose just because they believe they have to oppose you.)

But, ultimately, let us not forget that all the abovementioned large-scale blogs began as the works of single people. And people read these blogs just as they would read a more established newspaper, because what counts is the voice, not the person it is coming from. That would be like not looking at somebody’s photographs just because they do not shoot for Reuters or Nat Geo — quite an empty argument I would not want to waste my time on.

Slow blogging

However, some, at this point, seem to choose to go big or, surprisingly enough, go small. Having spoken to many people yesterday (and at times with many people at once) including friends, family and select subscribers, and weighing their advice as I saw fit, I have picked the latter. In this regard, I have come to re-evaluate how and what I blog, what type of articles to reduce, what type to write more frequently, and finally, about three months ago, I joined the Slow Blogging movement — something I had been contemplating for two years now.

We slow bloggers believe that the content created by large group blogs are writing for writing’s sake, not in the spirit of literature or writing as an art form. This was, admittedly, something I used to practice more on my satire network than on this website. I, for one, agree with this old New York Times article I found while rummaging around my Evernote, which brightly says, “earnest descriptions of the first frost of the season are nowhere to be found.”

My blogging manifesto

To wrap it all up formally, I took some time to write down my blogging manifesto, which brings about a new approach to my blogging habits. Specifically, the manifesto aims at a blog that,

  • is more personal and transparent to read
  • is more rich in terms of its literature co-efficient
  • is built to make sure readers receive more for the time they give to read it
  • is a rejection of immediacy, as Todd Sieling puts it, meaning content is served slowly, well-baked than hastily burnt
  • is evaluated with a fine-toothed comb before publication
  • is built on the ideals of high respect for its readers

The manifesto is 50-points long and geared towards fulfilling the above intentions. Click the large, attention-grabbing button below to read it.

This will be that last post I write (unless absolutely necessary and justifiable) which deviates from the points of the manifesto. My next article, however, will conform to the 50-point manifesto more strictly while, ironic as it may seem, making blogging and reading more enjoyable.


P.S. I hope you’re enjoying the minimalism after the newest redesign and update on this site. Problems? Suggestions? Get in touch with me.

Why would an editor-in-chief delegate editing?

I am picking on an old article for no reason other than the fact that I disagreed with comments made there — I will not judge whether it is right or wrong; at least I do not plan to at the moment.

In fact the article is about four years old and titled “9 tips from a (super-successful) small paper editor”. It was published on a blog called Sans serif (which carries many other terribly interesting, India-related articles, by the way — drop by there sometime).

The bulk of a newspaper

If you read through the article in question you realise that the titular small paper editor is the well-respected Mr K.B. Ganapathy, the editor-in-chief of Star of Mysore — one of the first evening dailies in my hometown, Mysore, KA.

Now I cannot say for sure how I ended up at that article, but it is most likely because I read one post on Sans serif and that led me to another and that to another, like a nuclear chain reaction, only much safer.

There is a quote on that article that states something to the effect of newspapers nowadays being so bulky (which I interpret as carrying many pages based on his previous sentence, although the speaker probably means carrying a greater number of articles). Here is the sentence I refer to:

In the early years of newspaper publication, centuries ago, the number of pages used to be one or two or a few more which the editor could read and scrutinise. But today the bulk is such that no editor can scrutinise all the text going into a newspaper.

An editor’s job

Once I read that sentence, I held myself until I read through the rest of the article before hitting the comment box at which time I realised somebody had already made the exact comment I wanted to make: is the bulkiness of a newspaper (in whatever terms) any reason for an editor not to edit every word and every punctuation mark in it?

Clearly, an editor’s job is pretty exhaustive: he must fact-check, correct spelling, grammar and make sure the writing contains a style developed by and unique to the newspaper, and he must filter out photographs picking the best ones, edit all content, make sure the publication is filled edge-to-edge, handle letters, opinion columns, errata, complaints, and generally be responsible for everything in the newspaper.

It seems like a lot for one man to do, but hardly anybody not passionate about things like this would ever aspire to be an editor. And we have hardly any editors incapable of performing these tasks on a daily basis — and we certainly cannot say somebody was forced to take up the captain’s job behind an editorial desk without fully reading the job description.

Lots of work, yes, but nobody forced you to become an editor: Photo courtesy Flickr/Alex Barth

Why delegation makes no sense

Delegation, to some extent, is a smart thing: let photographers handle photography — do not teach them the finer threads of their art — and let reports report, and let the publisher print it out, and let a designer alone attempt at refreshing a newspaper’s look; it would be pointless to do all this single-handedly, not to mention end up being a jack of all jobs.

But once all these people do finish their work, it still is the editor’s privilege (rather than just his job) to make sure everything is as he likes it. After all he does get to pick the cover story and all headlines if he so pleases, then why overlook the smaller stuff?

When he sends out his newspaper, an editor literally sends out his idea of the situation on that day, his design ethics, his vision — and his grammar of course — and a lot of carefully chosen words to make them all very clear. Since the newspaper will go to the editor’s desk long before it hits the streets, there is no valid reason for them to do a shoddy job and not thoroughly check every speck of ink on it.

In conclusion

Delegation is very different from giving up responsibilities. Delegation is only a means of slimming them down.

An editor ought to distribute work among his staff and encourage them to complete it with their best efforts. And then he must still go over it inch by inch, not toss it into the mix hoping that the photographer has done his job well enough and that the text-setter has done his job well enough.

That would be a lot like giving masons the full right to build your mansion as crookedly as they wish just because you are too lazy to examine the lands yourself: so go ahead and delegate all you want, but that is still no excuse not to thoroughly check your publication with a fine-toothed comb.

Few would mind mistakes — we are only humans after all — but not having your newspaper as you want it, being an editor, borders on foolishness.

As a last point, I definitely want to state that Mr K.B. Ganapathi (on whose talk the article that inspired this article was written!) has never conclusively stated that he does not carefully scrutinise his paper himself, just that it is a very difficult task. The rest was on the assumption that editors either do not have to or cannot. And I hope my views are as clear as my intent in this regard.

 Cover image: Flickr/Jon S 

7 Tips for Personal Bloggers

Blogging can be viewed as one of several things — an art form, a means of income, a means of trolling and a waste of time — but one thing is certain: blogs are taking an increased amount of importance on the Web space and, not surprisingly, offline too. Needless to say, while it is of absolute importance for brands to have blogs, it would not hurt a single person to maintain one either.

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Defining personal blogs

A blog can serve as a portfolio of things you are good at (or you think you are good at,) a collection of your thoughts or stories or even a public diary.

This is where worldly misunderstandings come in. Most people who begin blogging (or have been doing it for some time) have large misconceptions about the concept of blogging itself; so large, in fact, that it can be the end of their blog. So if you are starting out on a blog (and it is most likely to be a personal blog) or if you have already been blogging since a while, you can benefit from these seven tips.

Before we start off, let us take a moment to define personal blogs, so we know exactly what we are talking about.

personal blog is a blog or online journal that serves as a means of expression for the blogger, on their own platform, with their own community, independent of the type of sharing and the size of the community.
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 1.  Traffic means nothing

Anybody knows blogging is almost entirely based on traffic, do they not? It turns out that is a load of poppycock as far as personal blogs are concerned.

As a personal blogger, start thinking about your blog as a window of expression and look out from the safety of your house. Your major traffic will be your friends and family, but that does not mean you will never see anybody else visiting your blog.

To you, what is important is expressing your inner thoughts to people who care. If you are looking for traffic, or have monetary enhancements on your website or blog, you are probably mistaken about running a personal blog in the first place!

So, lesson#1, counting visitors is pointless.

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 2.  To SEO or not to SEO

A big word floating around the blogosphere is SEO. If you walked straight up to somebody and asked them to define the term, they would probably say it is all about getting your website ready for search engines like Google.

The truth is, nobody really knows what SEO is all about. If we do have to define it, it is merely a bunch of good blogging practices some of us maintain in order to make the content on our website, and its structuring, easily detectable by bots.

As a personal blogger, should all this pro-blogger stuff matter to you? Not quite. Personal blogging is more about how a website looks to humans and not bots. (Pro-blogging is all about striking the right balance between the two.)

The next time somebody tells you about Search Engine Optimisation, forget it, crush it, step over it and do not bother looking back. Worry about great looks, readability and design instead.

So, lesson#2struggling with SEO is also pointless.

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 3.  Personal bloggers = I see you be you

You can either call yourself in plural or do the clever thing and make it open that you are just another human being, sitting on a chair, laptop before them, typing (sense) away.

The point here is also a peck at the very definition of personal blogging. A company blog (or a blogging company!) will refer to itself in plural. You do not have to; in fact, you better not. Readers prefer talking to real people, not a bunch of mysterious men who draw ultra-formal pictures about themselves.

On the other hand, if you are working with somebody behind the scenes, to bring out something to your readers, feel free to use the plural; just do not make it overly officious.

So, lesson#3, by a single person, not the face of an organisation.

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 4.  Choose the right platform

Here again we come to crossroads. While having a blog anywhere would not matter, having a blog around the friendliest community does help immensely. Here we shall consider three currently major platforms: Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress.

As I have said before, there are several reasons why Tumblr is great for a community, but it has its drawbacks. WordPress is fusing several Tumblr-inpired features into its platform. And I am pretty sure something is happening with Blogger, or Google would have long gotten rid of it.

Here are things to consider and choose a blogging platform based on:

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  • Absolutely new to blogging (it is better to start with Blogger’s basic features and evolve to WordPress’ advanced features.)
  • Google’s your alleged friend if you use its blogger platform. Alleged.
  • Easy monetisation with products like AdSense (if you are hellbent upon monetising even your personal blog.)

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  • You hope to blog on the fly with quick updates, pictures, videos and very remain light on text.
  • You are looking for a quick (not to mention surefire) way of gaining a community.
  • You want to be able to make your own design, domain name changes etc. without having to pay every step of the way.

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  • Hands down the most powerful blogging platform there is. But it may need some coding knowledge.
  • You are hoping to share dedicated, text-heavy posts (and few photos, audio, video etc.)
  • You do not mind building your own community with a little effort, but a good guarantee it will happen.


So, lesson#3, pick the platform that is right for you.

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 5.  Tell people

Let us face it, you are no god in any field. Nobody is going report your opening a blog in any media. You have to do that work yourself.

While it is pointless bothering yourself with the optimisation we saw in #2, you still have to work towards getting the word out. What this means is that you need not spend hundreds of dollars advertising on other sites (you do not have to spend even a penny) but you will have to learn the magic of word-of-mouth publicity.

This actually works. I did it for one of my first blogs and it proved to be a great stepping stone to my current website. So start telling people everywhere. Talk about it in social networks, talk about it over a cup of coffee. Perhaps even tell a stranger you start a conversation with on the subway.

So, lesson#5you are your own publicity agent.

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 6.  Know your competition

The best part about personal blogging  is that you so not have any competition. You know those websites that get a hundred-thousand visits a day? You are not going to beat them, so stop trying and go write a blog post instead.

The so-called ‘big websites’ are not in a bigger league than you are, they are in a different league. They have a host of contributors, each one doing his own publicity, and are most often a corporation of some sort (although they choose to call themselves blogs.)

This does not mean you do not matter. The Web is all about fresh perspectives and original content. If you keep at your blog and speak your mind, the Web by and large will value your blog more than a steamy cog whipping out a hundred articles a day.

So, lesson#6you do not have to compete with anybody.

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 7.  Share the love

Let me tell you a law that runs on the Interwebs: you get what you give. You share more articles, your articles get shared more often; you like more posts, your posts get liked more often; you visit others’ blogs, you blog gets visited often; do you notice a pattern here?

This is no big magic trick. The more of something you do (such as, say, sharing others’ articles on Twitter) more agents around the internet realise you are active; people start following you, bots notice you interact, everybody zeros in on what you produce and then the same sharing and liking starts on your posts.

At the end of the day, look at it from a broader perspective: just as you want people to visit your blog and interact with you, others want the public to do the same on their blog too. Who knows, in this fuss you might even strike up a nice inter-blog relationship with other personal, or even pro-, bloggers.

So, lesson#7you get from others what you give them.


These are our seven tips for any personal blogger. Whether you are new or seasoned, it would be worth your while to re-visit these tips and make sure you are following them well.

Do you have your own points to share? Comment below or drop me an email.

[hr_padding] [notice type=”red”] Want more pro-blogging tips for free?

Download your copy of the latest edition of my well-received ebook, The Mainstream Blogger, for free. Click here to find out more.
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Cover image: Flickr / Hey Paul Studio

Telltale Pre-production Day 2: Screenplay Finalisation and Music Composition

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Update: Now you can listen to a quick preview of one of the Telltale background scores!

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This is part two of the reports on my second short film, ‘Telltale,’ inspired by Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart.’ Follow the link at the end to read the next/previous reports.

TODAY WE ENTER the final day of pre-production. With Raghul returning to shoot and the Telltale filming beginning tomorrow, I have taken it upon myself to have one last look at the script, and finalise that and the music composition (lietmotif only) for the film. Besides that, you can read more about test shots and sample editing below.

The screenplay

The screenplay I wrote for Telltale is actually one of my older older works — to some extent a spec script — that I merely tightened and shortened specifically for this project. The story is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart, a ghostly, horror-tale of how a murderer bends under the strain of his guilt and confesses to his crime before the police. For various reasons I have not adapted this work but written a story based on the same lines and hence given credit (which Poe rightly deserves) in the manner you have seen.

The script is highly symbolic, not pictorially, but more in terms of what the viewer hears, what the viewer sees and what the viewer assumes. This is where I was hesitant to tread on shaky grounds. While viewers of my last film caught onto the story with ease and caught on rightly (although I did get inputs of some who had not quite got the point) this time Telltale goes ahead to expect more on the viewers part.

I would hate to reveal the plot points right away, but I can state freely that the film relies heavily on good direction, camera movement, editing and — believe it or not– music. There were times when I thought I was putting too much strain on myself considering there is no assistant director, no specific cameraman, no separate editor or music composer; this was what happened with my previous film too, but since that panned our beautifully, I figured I would give this a go. Personally, I love music composition, so that is not a problem, and, although it would certainly help to have a hand on-board as crew, that is a little far of right now.

[pullquote_l]What came to me as a revelation was the use of rhythm in developing an overall structure in music. I just thought it was very interesting… How do you write a 30-second piece? Everything is extremely compressed.

— Phillip Glass


And this all adds up to clarify my original point: the screenplay this time has so many subtleties that I am sure not one viewer will get every single one of them. But that is where the fun lies, in everybody getting parts and in viewers getting together to add up their bits and pieces to paint a larger picture. Well, so much for the screenplay!

Voice, dialogue and editing

Annoy Me was a silent film that fared just as I had expected. But it is quite obvious not everybody has the class (yes, class,) or taste for silent films because they are so used to being spoon-fed that they hate to use their lovely little brains for an instant. I, for one, am against such straight-from-the-reel-into-my-head filmmaking; that is the rock bottom of filmmaking. In this regard I made certain that my screenplay got just the right amount of dialogue which viewers can hear while none of it gives away the plot straightforwardly. The point was to get the balance between telling and showing just right, and after several revisions I believe I have got it quite well.

The dialogues for Telltale will be voiced over the entire film, not as narrative but as —

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the protagonist reading his confession from a different timeline!

Anyway, there is no lip-syncing, and no trouble of on-location recording which, on the one hand, means the shooting becomes a tad easier, but on the other, means that the editing becomes a lot difficult what with multiple layers of sound (up to five) that need to be handled this time. (In contrast, Annoy Me had only two layers.)

I have also decided to try out a little colour-correction magic and fast paced editing in a couple of areas (mostly because it is a necessity, not just a vague fancy of mine.) If all goes well, the editing should stand out on its own, if not the direction and acting will surely keep the film together.

A few test shots I took turned out to be excellent, leaving very little work to be done on my side of the camera which means I can concentrate entirely on my actor. The digital editing also turned out fairly quicker this time as when compared to my last project (although I have not yet cut shots or combined them.) Either way, I have made sure that there is very little to mess up that cannot be undone at some point of time in the future!


Theme music and background score

THIS IS ARGUABLY the most awaited part for most of my readers on this website. As for others too, it may just prove to be very interesting!

The reason I say this is because of the emails I received over the weekend, after I had written my report of the first day of pre-production. I had not publicly written such reports for my last film so it was, understandably, a welcome piece of writing for most of you; especially to the ones who were interested in knowing what went on behind the scenes of my first film. While the emails consisted of things from screenplay queries to thoughts about the location, it was evident that almost all letters enquired of the music. If you will recall, I had released the theme score last time and it had received many positive thoughts.

For Telltale, however, I have decided not to release the music (it is meant to be a surprise) but, after giving some consideration to the matter, I have decided to release the notes of the leitmotif (see picture above!) If you cannot comprehend it, ask a friend who can and I am sure they will be more than happy to help you make sense of these weird markings.

Another interesting feature this time (except for the conjunction music which I will write only after the editing) is that there are two four-minute pieces of music (separate exclusive background score,) which means, on reel (and that is just a metaphor,) the music is actually longer than the visual. Needless to say, some of the music will be cut out and only that which is necessary to bring out the emotion will go on as part of the film (with repetitions, even more music will get cut out than you might imagine at first!) So I will certainly promise to release the entire soundtrack after the film is released.

So the big question is, what to expect from the music? In short it is semi-minimalist and semi heavy-bass so I would perhaps say, think Phillip Glass meets Hans Zimmer. But rest assured, the music is going to suit the film and its atmosphere just as well as the teaser poster (although it is till full MIDI.) I am also contemplating releasing a part of the background music (not the theme music, mind you!) here just to give you a taste of it. Let us see what time has in store…

On behalf of Raghul Selvam, I feel I must thank you for staying with us through pre-production and wish us luck as we head for the actual, powered-up filming come weather-friendly tomorrow!

Read the report of pre-production Day 1 (Location Scouting)