Avid Readers, Occasional Bloggers

Tag: Writing Page 1 of 3

100 books in 2020, Big Books in 2021

My big picture reading goal in 2020 was to finally crack the 100 books in a year mark which I have been approaching for a few years. I was able to accomplish that and so look for a different approach in The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty-One.

Side note: I always feel a little guilty about counting graphic novels, novellas and other forms of very short books in my books I have read count. But this is in tension with my desire to read 100 books and to track every book I have read. And to be fair, I listened to a number of audio courses which are equal to quite large books given the number of hours involved. So I will call it even.

I will admit to sometimes being put off by very large books for two reasons. 1) hard to get to 100 if you are reading large tomes 2) I struggle to stay engaged and get a lot out of large books because I don’t always have the large blocks of time required to read such books well. I started thinking about this even as I was on track to read 100 books in 2020.

But as a way to challenge myself and read some books that I have had on my TBR pile for some time and have had recommended to me multiple times, I decided to declare 2021 the year of big books.

I also want to attempt to focus on some key interest areas in my reading: classics, books on conservatism, books on writing and books on faith and/or theology.

Blogging, Instant Gratification and Perserverance

As I have noted previously, one of the reasons I have struggled to post regularly is the feeling that no one is reading or very few.  Perhaps it is egotistical to want to have a large audience if you are going to write but I am just being honest.

On the political side I have written for online magazines and blogs that have significant traffic so perhaps that also colors my approach.  Even this humble site once had a much greater audience and higher engagement.  Alas, I have let it slip away.

So then the questions becomes whether that is worth attempting to reclaim.  If larger audiences is the goal I could always work harder and submit pieces for publication.  But to be honest that is a more work and more stress.

The fun of blogging is having control of what you write and when; and in some sense creating an identity that is your own.  I can write what I want here and don’t have to worry about editors decisions on publication or schedule.  Writing for publication is a job with the stress that comes with it.

Now maybe it is a job you love and so do it for fun.  And on the flip side blogging can begin to feel like a job if the pressure builds to the point where you feel like you have to post, have to tackle a particular subject, have to do certain things to please an audience or keep your traffic, etc. So the motivations and rewards are complex.

But one of the valuable lessons of trying to restart this blog, or the regular posting to the blog, is the discipline it requires.  If it were easy I would already be doing it.  Instant gratification and constant distraction is one of the reasons I am participating in a digital declutter project this month.  And using this break to focus on something more substantive like regular writing is also part of it (with the perhaps ironic caveat that the writing is digital).

Part of me sort of expects instant success.  I post a blog or two, review a book, and then wait for the traffic to flow in.  That is not how it works.  I do not have the recognition or connections to quickly reconnect with a large group of people simply by posting a few times.  It will take a blend of quality and quantity to start to draw readers in and maybe even build a regular audience outside the good souls who read and comment here already.

And that is part of the challenge I set for myself.  To see if I can build up the habits, focus and discipline necessary to find success blogging again.  Can I effectively and engagingly express my perspective and opinion on books, sports, culture, etc. in such a way that people will want to read it and will return to read more.

Perseverance plays an important role in successful blogging.  There will be days you don’t feel like writing or don’t feel like you have anything to say.  But writing is a discipline and requires pushing through and writing anyway.  Excellence requires commitment.  Now maybe many bloggers are not really aiming for excellence but my point is that if you want to draw more than just a few friends or acquaintances you will need to work even when you lack motivation.

And that is what I am working on across a number of fronts.  So however you found your way here, I hope you will come along on the journey and maybe even leave a comment or two.

To blog or not to blog?

For those of you scoring at home, my last blog post was roughly two and a half months ago. I think I have posted something like 16 times this year (a higher number thanks to a flood of posts in June). Clearly, this blog is a hit or miss type of thing (mostly miss without Jeff). To be fair, it does say “Occasional Bloggers” in the tag line …

So the question I have been mulling for the last couple of months (but not for the first time) is whether to keep blogging or call it quits after 14 years.

I think I want to give at least one more try at making it work. Let me give you some insight into why.

The basic reason I want to give it another try at making it work is that I still love to read and find books and authors fascinating.  I have read 75 books this year so that part hasn’t dropped off.  What I want to see if I can do is combine this love of books and ideas with the discipline and commitment to good writing and regular posting.  This is what I have failed to do for some time.  But I think it remains a skill and habit I can and should redevelop.

So what happened anyways? Why the steep drop off in blogging?  Obviously, a lack of time plays a big part.  My kids are older now and have activities that suck up lots of time and energy.  My wife is working full-time and that means a more complex schedule as well.  Throw in the distractions of social media (more about that in another post) and my interest in sports and it is hard to find time to sit down and write.

The other part is the combination of focus and motivation.  In addition to finding time to write, you need to have the focus to sit down and actually post something (particular if you want quality as opposed to just quantity) but you also need motivation to overcome the inertia of not posting.

And this is where I have been lacking.  I just haven’t felt like posting or that posting was worth the hassle.  To unpack this, allow me to offer Holtsberry’s key to communication: insight, clarity and persuasion.

Insight: you need to have something to say.  Why communicate if you don’t have something interesting, insightful or useful, right?  Insight means you have something worth communicating.

Clarity: you need to be able to clearly and effectively capture the insight.  Having something to say isn’t all that useful if you can’t explain what it is and why it is worthwhile. You may thinks your thoughts are brilliant.  Clarity means you can share your insight with others.

Persuasion: you need to be able to change someone’s mind.  This is the pinnacle of communication to my mind.  If you can share your insight clearly but also in such a way as to actually change the way someone thinks.  This might be through information or it might be through storytelling but changing someone’s mind or getting them to think differently is the ultimate in successful communication.

I had a real hard time getting motivated to blog because I didn’t think I could accomplish any of these three.  I wasn’t sure I had any insight, if I did wasn’t sure I could say it with clarity, and if I posted it I wasn’t sure it would reach anyone let alone change their thinking. Whenever I thought about posting a review, I had this nagging feeling that it wasn’t really worth the effort.

And like so many things, once you get out of the habit of doing it the easier it is to just keep not doing it.  Next thing you know months have gone by and you wonder whether you should hang it up.

So why not just give it up?  Been a good run, but lots of blogs close. Move on, as the saying goes.

I guess I don’t want to go out like this.  One of the reasons I started blogging was to improve my writing skills and engage with people and ideas.  I still want to do those things and I feel like I owe it to myself to do the hard work necessary to do them well. Basically, I want to use blogging as a tool to build focus and discipline and to prove to myself that I can write with insight, clarity and persuasion. [Plus, the free books and access to authors, etc.]

Time will tell if I have what it takes. So stay tuned …

Jonah Goldberg on writing a book

The problem, you see, is that people who don’t write books don’t know what an unending, unyielding ass-ache they are. I’d compare them to a non-stop flight in a middle seat between John Goodman’s sweaty former body double who’s now jobless because he “let himself go” and a runny-nosed, cotton-candy-loving small child who is hard to distinguish from a deadly pathogen vector.

But I can’t make that comparison — because writing a book is worse than that. You see there’s nothing “non-stop” about writing a book save the constant yearning to either reach the destination or the unending sound of the siren on your shoulder counseling you to give up and beach the ship. Even though you’re often surrounded by people, you’re always alone in that community-of-one called “the author of your unfinished book.”

It’s more like a years-long journey with constant layovers, cancelled planes, and rerouting through Newark. Every time you push away from the keyboard, it’s like deplaning just long enough to see if Wolfgang Puck Express has finally decided to more accurately rename itself “Bowel Stewery on the Go.”

I know what you’re thinking right now: “Stewery isn’t a word.” To which I ask, “That’s your objection to this rant?”

Jonah Goldberg in today’s G-file

A Conversation with Olen Steinhauer – Part Two

 

In the second part of our conversation Olen Steinhauer and I discuss the life of an expatriate and its impact on your perspective toward your own and other cultures, the future of publishing, and his plans for the future, among other things.

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