Saturday, January 31, 2009

More notes from a relatively new film blogger

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."--Samuel Johnson

1) I can see how others find blogging addictive, but I tend to dislike what it does to me. It's a bad habit. The activity fills me with embarrassment, remorse, and dismay. When asked if he ever allowed anything unrevised to be published, Vladimir Nabokov replied "Why should I show off samples of my sputum?" I try to revise, but while the army has their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), I have my SIPs, Stupid Impulsive Posts. Usually written at night after several glasses of wine, the SIPs prove very amusing at first, so I send them out. Then, the thought of my SIPs wakes me up just before dawn, leaving me appalled and ashamed. Anyone with a modem could be reading it! My wife will sometimes look over my work in exchange for a fee, but what I really need is a good editor, some tweed-wearing benevolent figure who looks at my SIPs and gently says, "Dr. Film, you look like you are under some strain these days. Why don't you take a month off. Relax. Take it easy," as he quietly throws the SIPs into the trash once I've left the room.

2) What's evil about blogging, of course, is the way the technology compels you to post frequently. When checking your stats, you notice that the amount of hits falls off of a cliff after you haven't posted for a few days. Your feed subscribers diminish daily like bored audience members leaving a theater. People lose interest. And so you become a monkey on a treadmill cranking out inferior product, obliged to work all that much more in inverse proportion to the money you don't earn. When I wrote for a newspaper (and got paid), I had a simple contract to e-mail the Arts editor a review every weekend. Now I may post 3-4 posts a week that are not quite as thorough, but more haphazard with fatigue and rushed writing.

3) I confess that I like to look through Darren Rowse's and Chris Garrett's book ProBlogger: Secrets to Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income. They also have an excellent website full of good tips on how to monetize your blog (I also have a weakness for endlessly chipper pro-blogging books like The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging). Still, I have two problems with trying to follow Rowse's and Garrett's tips. For some reason, I have the hardest time bringing myself to include ads on my blog. Second, ProBlogger recommends that you vary the kinds of posts that you write. I dutifully followed their directive and wrote sequential posts about video production, and that went well. I also tried my hand at writing the ever-popular "how-to" post. I composed a post full of tips about how to write movie reviews, and the post was well-received, just as Rowse and Garrett said it would be. But having written it, what other tips are there in relation to film blogging? How to watch a film? How to choose a good film to see on a given weekend? How to eat popcorn?

4) Sometimes, just as I wonder if it is cooler to be one of the 3-4 people who do not have a Facebook account, I also wonder if I should just stop blogging. Franz Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to burn his manuscripts after his death, and of course Brod ignored him, but that sense of never-satisfied high standards made Kafka's words more mysterious and impressive. Legend has it that sometime around the 6th century BC, Lao Tzu was all set to retire as the keeper of archives of the imperial court, but someone persuaded him at the last second to write up his teachings--the Te-Tao Ching. But his teachings are hardly there, because he preaches the wisdom and the benefit of taking no action. He wrote "Those who know don't talk about it; those who talk don't know it." Lao Tzu most definitely would not have blogged. In the same vein, I wonder if my reticence is ultimately preferable to more verbiage.

5) So how to I feel about my film blog? Vanity, stupidity, absurdity, a sense of the still-unrealized potential of cinema, the love of movies, and a hopeless crush on Pauline Kael. Also, the act of writing, the attempt to think clearly and exactly, can be its own reward. I also need to learn more about when to shut up.

8 comments:

JUS said...

Oh Film Dr... The blog isn't the words you create, but the community you attract to consider, discuss, and contribute to your ideas.

Don't feel stupid: lots of people process their thinking and express themselves only in their private little diaries which are found and read only after their deaths. By then, it is too late to get another perspective or an appreciation for their work.

If you feel stupid writing it, we must be total idiots to read it, right? But we're not idiots... just ask our mothers. Keep writing and we'll be here with you.

Blog baby blog.

hokahey said...

FilmDr. - You posed many questions that I asked myself when I planned to start my own movie blog this month - inspired by the Cooler and his network of connected blogs, including yours. I debated for a long time. Then I concluded - I love movies and I write about them even without a blog; I write a review, long or short, of every movie I see, as well as general articles about cinema, and I exchange them with Jason of the Cooler at the end of the year. Thus, the blog just makes my writings current and available to others who are interested. My blog is at hokahey-littleworlds.blogspot.com

JUS is right. It's the community - and you drew me to that with your series on your film class. By the way, I hope we find out how the films turned out.

Jason Bellamy said...

FilmDr: I don't pretend to be an expert on blogging, but let me offer you a few thoughts:

Blogging is what you want it to be. The books you've read are about attracting a large audience. They aren't necessarily about creating a great product. If a large audience is important to you, yes, you need to blog constantly and start memes and do all the other tricks of the trade that get people to come to your site and look at it. But wouldn't you rather that people come to your site and read it? Actually enjoy it?

The way to love blogging is to see it as an outlet to share what you would have wanted to do anyway -- write about movies, think about movies, talk about movies. If you love these things, then you love to blog, regardless of if you post seven times a day or once a week. A few years ago a popular movie blogger deciding to hang up his spurs suggested that 'every blogger secretly thinks about quitting,' or some such thing. Well, first of all that isn't true. And second of all, doesn't that mean those bloggers have lost perspective?

For me, the blogs I like to read are the ones that are genuine and thoughtful. Give me some compelling thought still in the sputum stage and I'll lick it up. Give me a post that's just there to fill space, to attract reader hits, to just pretend that you're addicted to blogging ... well, you might fool me once or twice, but in the long run I'm going to lose interest.

Now, before I go, consider this: "Mall Cop" is the No. 1 movie in the country right now. "Mall Cop." Popularity ain't everything. Would you rather be the director of "Mall Cop" or the director of, I don't know, "Che."

So trust your product. Would you rather have the "empty hits" (my term) of people so bored at work that they'll read (more like skim) anything, or would you rather have the hits of a devoted few, who read your words and really think about them?

Sputum or not, write the kind of stuff that interests you. The kind of stuff you'd want to read. There are no rules here. And if you find any level of success based on your own terms, well, you might not be making millions, but you'll be a happy blogger.

FilmDr said...

JUS,

Thanks for your comments. I guess I just I have a hard time with the sloppy improvisatory nature of blogging, and the lack of a good editor's quality control.

Hokahey,

Good to hear that you've started your own blog. I look forward to reading your work. As for my students' films, they are still in the final editing stages, but I will ask the best director if she minds having her work on display here.

Jason,

Thanks for your generous comments. You are correct about keeping the right perspective on the entire enterprise. And, what is it about Mall Cop anyway? What does its success say about the current American movie-going public? Is it Oscar-worthy? I'm almost tempted to go see it.

MovieMan0283 said...

I will concur with the chorus and say screw the authors of that book. Seeking a wider audience is one thing (I do it all the time) but desperately blogging for attention is another - and what's the point? As Dr. Johnson more or less points out, a blogger with 100,000 readers is still a blockhead (and a penniless one to boot though, by his definition, that's redundant).

Not to say I'm above your own concerns - especially when starting out, I took approaches that I thought would (and which did) widen my audience: participating in memes, posting every day, engaging in ongoing series, occasionally hawking my own wares on others' blogs. But in all of these examples, I was doing these things for myself as well as for potential readers (except perhaps for the last example, which, incidentally, was not something I was doing ON my blog, hence not a compromise of my blogging).

The memes provided a fun challenge which also allowed me to demonstrate a love for movies which I wasn't reviewing on the blog (mostly because I was reviewing things I hadn't seen before, instead of favorites).

Posting every day (which I continued for nearly 100 posts and then backed off from a bit - and then, as you can see from visiting my blog now - a lot) was a challenge for me to improve my own writing skills and get back in the habit - and knowing I had an audience only increased the pressure for quality. Sometimes I found myself compromising to meet the daily deadline. More often I surprised myself with what my mind could achieve under pressure - pressure which might have previously caused me to waive the challenge.

And the series gave me a thread to run through, a way to build my thoughts over a series of posts.

Anyway, there is also the issue of time. I found myself under a pressure not so much to build an audience as to sustain a pace and achieve goals I had set for myself - finish the Twin Peaks series, execute a hefty election series before November 4, finish the Griffith series, tie up all loose ends by December, don't forget to write about this or that from a few weeks back, the thing you never got to, etc.

I was able to meet all these goals but one of my unspoken New Years resolutions was to lower the blog a bit on the priorites list. The consequences of this have been unfortunately drastic: turns out that when the blog is Priority #4 or #5 instead of #1 or #2, you get 8 posts a month instead of 35 (it doesn't help that I had less free time in January than in other months, but that's another story). But I still write once or twice a week, I still have plenty of ideas for posts (and am still playing catch-up, albeit at a more laconic pace), I still plan to increase my posts in a month or so, and most importantly I still have readers.

All of which is a way of saying the following credo is the best to follow: write for yourself, seek readers but without compromising the reasons you started blogging in the first place), and hope that an audience follows.

In the mean time, have fun.

Hope this was helpful.

(I have some thoughts on the implications of your questions for filmmaking, on which I hold a somewhat different and complex view than on blogging, but that's another comment...for another day.)

FilmDr said...

Thanks for you extensive and generous thoughts, Movieman. I appreciate it when you say that you are not above my concerns. I believe the main issue is that when I get back to work at the regular (paying) job, my writing necessarily suffers, and so I find it difficult to "trust my product," as Jason said. During the summer, when I have two months off, I can write cheerfully to my heart's content, but like you, I have recently needed to scale back the posts to once or twice a week to save time for work. Also, since there is such good work being done by other film bloggers, it makes me all the more critical of my writing.

Through it all, I've noticed that I tend to have a weird blend of compulsions that move from being eager to please to being the opposite--a bastardly critic (perhaps the original compulsion). The latter makes me draw up short and question the entire blogging set-up, even with all its rewards and pleasures.

christiandivine said...

You echo some of my darker blog thoughts here, but the reward comes from writing pieces that may never see any publication. And the chance for even more readers. But I feel ya.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, christiandivine. I enjoy your blog, by the way, especially the political posts.