In this week’s TechFlash podcast, Todd Bishop asks me how I find the time to blog. I said that writing is how I develop a point of view, and that having a point of view is part of my job.
It’s a bit like trapping a soccer ball. You’re taught to trap the ball dead to your feet, but it’s easier and more aggressive to knock the ball in the direction you’re already moving.
In the same way, developing a point of view gets you moving in one direction, which usually sets everyone else on the field — customers, competitors, the media — chasing after you. I’ve always thought this is the secret to Michael Arrington’s success, that while everyone else is trying to absorb the news, he can re-direct its energy on goal.
So it’s worth my time to blog, but the trick is finding the time. I blog very early and very late at night, because I love it, whenever I can. I’m not Raymond Carver but I often think of him writing short stories inside a locked car, while his kids banged on the windows. I try not to write at work.
And I write fast out of necessity, trying never to spend more than 30 minutes on a post. I do this in part out of necessity, but also because I’ve learned that the more time I have to spend on a post, the more likely it’ll just be a mess. It has taken me years to write simple, fast blog posts. I try to think like a skier and take the fall line through an idea.
Here are a few tricks for doing just that:
- Have a point of view before you start. I got the idea of blogging at Jiffy-Lube speeds from one of my favorite bloggers, Fred Wilson. When he told me his daily posts take 30 minutes, I said “NO WAY.” He looked back at me coolly: “Were you asking me how long a post takes to write, or how long I have to think about it first?” I give myself an hour, and usually go on a run first.
- Come right out and say it: My twin brother reads my writing and often responds with the same complaint: “I’M TWO PARAGRAPHS INTO THIS THING, AND I STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHERE YOU’RE GOING.” A novelist once gave me similar advice about the opening page: “Let the s*** be flying.” A useful test is if you can’t state the gist on Twitter — not just what it’s about, but where you come out — you haven’t thought it through.
- Keep it short: 800 words is the length of a New York Times op-ed. These days, 300 words is what people really want to read.
- Use the basic tools of writing: use character, dialog, analogy, allusion — whether the allusion is to a poet or your favorite TV show. I just read a post about how start-ups are like the first ski run of the season, quoting a John Cusack movie on strategy (“Go that way, really fast. And if something gets in your way, turn.”) It was perfect.
- Get it out awkwardly & then make it exactingly right: sometimes I catch myself expressing an opinion without the proper caveats just because of the way it sounds. That’s rhetoric, not writing. Most of us actually prefer reading blunt, precise sentences stumbling through stubborn facts. Ezra Pound once said of Ford Madox Ford that he never hesitated to dent a pretty word or phrase to get at what he was really trying to say. This is what takes the most time.
- Be yourself: most writers try to take their personality out so it sounds proper. I like the goofy ones better.
- Just hit publish: the great political blogger Andrew Sullivan says blogs are like sharks. If they don’t move, they die.
- Focus on what’s new. For example, every company, including yours, was affected by Google Instant. And last Wednesday, everybody wanted to read about it. Every blog starts out like Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts, with random treatises on leadership. Posts on topical events usually get more traffic, discussion and links.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve learned so far, but it’s still a struggle for me. I’d love to hear in the comments how others do it.