Twenty days to go till the hundredth, and we’re in reflective mode. It’s about the blog.
So far there have been a number of days that include current news; a few days about the illness; quite a lot about DP’s background and life experiences; and occasional DP opinions and moralising – sorry about that! It’s about writing to communicate all of that so I guess anyone reading has been piecing together more about Peace and his views. That’s what a blog is all about. But what have I, David P learned?
It has been, to quote a phrase, a learning experience. What follows might help anyone who’s thinking of writing a blog in future, though naturally some of the points are relevant to my own situation. This is what I think I’ve learned:
- Decide whether to make it interactive or not. If you provide the ‘Comments’ facility be prepared to spend a lot of time checking on them, and answering if you so wish; and monitor the input.
- You could also automate the monitoring. We decided not to at first, but when the Comments facility opened just five days ago, the first comment late that evening was a few words and a link. The link led to a pornographic site. Fortunately we were alerted and we deleted it; and now blogmaster Tim has installed a spam filter.
- If you’re going to moralise or put forward controversial views then perhaps making it interactive is a good thing: if you don’t do that the readers with other opinions might get frustrated. I doubt I’d be prepared simply to read others’ views (prejudices?) for very long.
- Sequence? It can be easier to take one theme or one period in a person’s life and then follow it through daily, but I felt that was not right for this blog. A few weeks ago there was a mention of a blog by another MND/ALS sufferer. Everything was based on that illness as he got worse and worse, and it lasted four years. He did talk about his family day by day but it was a single-themed blog. Because I was interested – for obvious reasons – I read it all, but it’s doubtful that many would do so unless they were actively involved with MND in some way.
- Or Variety? The intention here was, as far as possible, to jump from one theme to another, one period to another, backwards and forwards, in a sort of jigsaw. It seemed more interesting. That decision was based partly on some events I used to run in London: ‘structured networking’ where, between socialising before and after, 40 or more professionals would sit in a lecture room and I’d ask each one to come forward and speak for 60 seconds maximum about their interests. I’d seen it done before: the host had started with the back row and one by one in order they’d be called, along the rows. Everyone could calculate when it would be their turn, so many lost interest till it happened. I did it differently – 40 or so small cards each with a name; shuffled and spread out on my table at random; at random chosen by me; and so at random they were called. No one lost interest – it was too nerve-racking.
- Writing style: this was a lot to think about, so what follows is my own experience.
- The many years of studying Latin (up until 50 years ago!) have affected my way of writing. This might sound hifalutin’ but it’s true: unconsciously I often write English as if it’s a Latin Period. The Latin Period is a sentence structure with clauses, subclauses, sub-subclauses and so on, with the whole meaning left in suspense until the end; and it can be very long. Legal documents have that tendency. The German language, highly structured like Latin, can do it also. In business I have used that style, and in less formal arenas such as voluntary work. At this point I apologise to those who’ve had to read my interminable English/Latin-based Periods over the years! Although it comes quite naturally to me, that style is not necessary and in fact it can make the reading hard-going in English. It’s certainly not helpful in a blog.
- “Me, mine, I, myself’. This has been an effort. In relaying reminiscences and stories and opinions about the past and present and I suppose the future, those words naturally predominate. It’s intended to be a hobby however, certainly not an ‘Ad Majorem Pacis Gloriam’ site (translate it yourself!), so too much of ‘me’ seems uncomfortable.
- Escaping from pedantry. I once got into trouble by telling an Air Commodore, in a meeting with his senior staff, that I objected to something in a document he’d written. It was a split infinitive. He wasn’t amused. It’s been a long journey for me, from family life with uneducated parents, to widening my English vocabulary and defining the semantics, to the disciplines and structures of Ancient Greek and Latin (can you believe that we had to compose Greek and Latin metrical poetry?), to teaching English to foreigners, to running organisation after organisation with the importance of ‘getting it right’, that I’m a stickler for linguistic correctness? [That last sentence by the way is a short Period!]. If ever I’ve sent out a letter or an email and have realised too late there was a punctuation, spelling or grammatical error, yours truly would be very annoyed …. and would normally open a bottle of something. But I decided that I’d break the habits of a lifetime in this blog.
Keeping all of that in mind, this is the process right now. Each day I:
Choose a theme or story, preferably unconnected with the entries of the last day or two. Write it in my long-winded style (it’s easier). Then go over it a number of times to (a) try to get rid of “Me, mine, I, myself”; (b) break the long sentences into much shorter ones; (c) through gritted teeth break it down even further into chatty, colloquial quasi-spoken English; (d) gritting even further, disregard ‘the rules’ – be prepared to allow sentences with no verbs (so those aren’t sentences I suppose), to start and end with propositions, to ignore strict punctuation. Then go over it all again to see if it’s retained the original argument and meaning. Plus the question: If you’re going to moralise or air very personal views, think carefully about allowing a ‘Comments’ feature. As readers know I decided against it until 5 days ago.
In early April I said the intention was to do an hour on this each day. Well, not for the first time it’s an example of total failure. Each day is taking much longer. It’s my fault: I should learn to write more colloquially first time round, and in fact I am learning that but it’s taking a time.
All this leads to something mentioned early on, on 5th April. Anyone writing a blog, or writing anything for others to read, should try to find their own ‘voice’. A journey again: along the way it’s been really interesting to experiment with ‘voice’. I never thought I’d write like this. Others will do it differently, but I feel that while the physical voice is disappearing the blog voice is developing quite well – unless one’s a linguistic pedant of course. For better or worse I’m doing it my way.