[Note: I had promised Chapter Three of "Mastering Photography" for today, but it's just not quite cooked yet and I don't want to rush it. Here instead is a bit of a meditation on blogging that started as a response to Peter Croft. I can't be sure—my email records don't go back that far—but I think it was a question from Peter that inspired "On the Sharpness of Lenses" on mir.com many years ago.
I could be misremembering that. One aspect of my work life is that thousands of names go by without faces attached, and for a person with a primarily visual memory that can get confusing! —Mike the Ed.]
Peter Croft (partial comment—see the Comments section to the previous post for Peter's entire text): "I started my blog in May 2009...I've done 729 posts so far and I usually write something on average every second day. It's just a diary really, on anything and everything to do with my life. I never feel lost for words. It's mundane stuff (my car got bumped from behind on the road yesterday, so I'll gnash my teeth about that). Occasionally I get a bit more profound and I'm quite proud of a few of my posts. I always keep posterity in mind, thinking of Samuel Pepys's diary. Who knows whether someone in 500 years time will read my words about what life was like in the 2000s.
"I'm also an obsessive keeper of lists and notebooks. When I retired in 1999 I started keeping notebooks of every cent I spend. People say, 'I don't know where the money goes!' I do. It keeps my mind sharp too, as I mentally retrace my day's activities and where I was and what I spent.
"I get maybe two comments a year. I don't know whether I'm too boring or too ready to take up the cudgels. I admit I do have strong political views and opinions. Oh well, it's really only my on-line diary, written for myself so it matters not. I just feel the need to write."
Mike replies: It's known that a higher-than-random percentage of successful people keep (or kept) diaries or journals.
I haven't been able to find more about the "theory of diaries" so I haven't written much about it, but an article I read once made an impression on me. It claimed that writing diaries leads to greater accomplishment. It's said to work by improving your consciousness, and bringing into better awareness patterns and habits that are more below the surface for most people, which in turn improves your planning and your direction in life and helps you progress. The writer's conclusion was that maybe it's not that accomplished people keep diaries; maybe it's the other way around, that the process of keeping a diary helps people become more accomplished.
I do have to say that TOP is not a diary and it's not actually personal. As quirky and self-involved as I sometimes get, I have to say I always have the audience in mind and I am always (really without much in the way of exception) writing for others—to entertain or to enlighten or just to provide "virtual company." There's a lot of "me" in some posts, but it's always "for" you. So TOP doesn't function as a diary. In fact, I have a poor memory for what I wrote about on TOP in the past, last month or last year—so it's interesting, to me, too, to occasionally go back and scan over old posts.
As far as comments go, blog-writing is a numbers game. Only something like 2% to 4% of my readers ever buy things through my links, for instance. It's only because I have so many readers that that works. And only about 5% of my readers ever comment. That's one in twenty, though, which seems like a high ratio to me. And the highest percentage of a day's readers who have ever commented on any given single post is somewhere around 1%.
Peter might want to think about "inviting" comments more effectively. I'm almost always genuinely interested to hear from readers—often it's the way that I get to enjoy my own blog! (Since I write most of the posts, those aren't so enlivening for me.) But it's a knack to learn to leave "conceptual space," if you will, for others to step in to. There have been times when I've published beautifully presented guest posts that draw very few comments. It's because they're self-contained—"sealed," one might say. They're interesting to read, but they don't invite conversation. I try to leave some open ends in posts, because I'm eager to hear from readers.
Every day in its day
But back to the Theory of Diaries. Think of addiction: the great insight of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous was to understand the pattern of addiction and turn it on its head. Addiction works one day at a time; we think, "I'll just get high one more day and then I stop tomorrow" or "I'll just get drunk today but this is the last day, then I'll deal with it tomorrow." (Cf. the song by Jane's Addiction, "Jane Says.") Bill and friends got the idea to use the same strategy for sobriety: it's too daunting to quit forever (the idea can be so dismaying that it causes people to give up right on the spot), so all you have to do is stay sober for one more day—"one day at a time" in the mantra of AA.
The advantage of keeping a diary or journal of your life is that it helps you keep better track of all the perpetual tomorrows. It lets you see your patterns more easily. For instance, I've been wanting to write a book. But I've been wanting to for thirty-five years. In my mind it's always something I'm about to get started on—it's an ambition that's always in the present. But actually doing it is something I always put off.
That's the kind of thing a diary helps you with—if I kept a journal, I might be able to look back and think, "jeez, I've been thinking this way since 19xx. I'd better get to it." Or "this never happens; I'd better give up that ambition." It helps track your changes, your thinking, your priorities, helps you be more conscious of actual vs. perceived progress and stasis.
For the Theory of Diaries to work, it specifically shouldn't be literary—just write down what you did, who you were with, what your top concerns are that day, what you're working on and thinking about. But be practical. Think in terms of your life and its direction—your "progress" through your life you might say.
I have a friend who kept a journal for a number of years, and when a new situation presented itself that related to a period of her past, she was able to go back and reread her journals for clues as to how she was thinking and feeling back then. That's another useful feature of a diary. It's data. A record. Mining it can help with the kind of insight that helps you to evolve and progress in your life and understand yourself better.
Another friend kept notebooks for years, in which he wrote down useful ideas, quotes he liked, reactions to art, all sorts of things—they were like creativity-incubators. I always thought it was the same book he was carrying around with him, but then in his college room I saw about nineteen identical volumes lined on his shelf and I realized he was filling up book after book. Then the time came when he stopped. But he retains the metal habits that he developed while he was journaling—he's still very good at recalling quotes with exactitude, and he remembers names of artists and book titles. It was as if his period of notebooking groomed his mind, and eventually his mental habits were secure enough that he no longer needed the physical notebooks.
Can't do it
I've never been able to journal or keep a diary myself—I always got too distracted by ideas to keep a suitably simple record. I used to joke that if I had my life to live over again, the one thing I'd do is take better care of my teeth. But actually there are two things I'd do—take better care of my teeth, and keep a journal or diary.
Perhaps it's true that the great decline in the habit and practice of writing things down augurs against this for younger people today. Nobody works on penmanship, nobody writes letters (especially on paper)—the traditional arts known collectively as "letters" are in decline and disarray. Still, I believe that to write a diary or journal is great advice for young people who want to monitor their progress in life and improve their chances for success, accomplishment, progress, and for "knowing thyself."
(Thanks to Peter)
P.S. Notice how the third- and second-to-last sentences invite comment. See what I mean about that?
"Open Mike" is the off-topic weekly editorial page of TOP, not that I don't editorialize at least mildly throughout the week. "Open Mike" appears on Sundays.
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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