Attempting to write a blog has brought this home to me in quite a simple way, and I thought I’d jot a few things down in order to make the point. Writing – actual writing – is hard. Contrary to what you may think, each and every paragraph requires thought and consideration, there is no effortless flow here, no stream of consciousness that can lay down 1000 words in a matter of minutes. For the most part if I have an idea of what I want to say, I find myself composing things in my head as I walk around – frequently this is on the commute when I retreat into my inner shell and strap on my armour. My physical form is being crushed by humanity (or maybe not given I am on the Central Line), my literary form is buzzing, thinking a thousand thoughts, forming sentences and pithy one-liners. When I reach a keyboard out it all comes, a jumble of those musings. Then of course it has to be sorted, shaped, reordered. Sometimes re’written’ entirely. And of course sometimes nothing comes out at all, a day at work has frazzled me and I am left incapable of stringing even a few words together. I resort to gin and instead potter around the greenhouse. Occasionally this goes on for a few weeks and I am entirely silent. The point I am trying to make is that writing takes time. It might come fairly naturally to me, but that does not mean it is quick. Over the years, over eight and a half now, I have spent countless hours bashing out blog posts - around 1500 of them. That’s a big commitment, and it’s increased by the time taken to process and upload photos, to tinker with links, lists, maps, and all the other things that form a part of it.
As well as this avenue for the written word I also have a couple of Twitter accounts, and several times a day I might offer up some small nugget on one of them. Unlike the blog, almost no thought goes into this at all – with 140 characters to play with you could argue that you need to work even harder to craft a message, but actually it’s a far less intensive medium that I suspect takes most people almost no brain power. I offer up President Trump by way of example. So, a brief sentence that requires practically no effort to produce and can be done in seconds, versus several paragraphs of carefully honed prose that might have been, on and off, the product of an entire day. Of these, which do you think is likely to generate the most comment, the most interaction, the most introspection and response?
Exactly. It is the single sentence and this is the problem. And it is by such a wide margin that the blog does not even figure. Most posts I write are eventually clicked on (though not necessarily read I surmise!) a few hundred times. By contrast a two second tweet will likely get a couple of replies, a few 'likes', possibly a retweet. Now you could argue that none of this matters and you are right, it doesn’t. But the inverse proportionality of effort I actually find quite irritating, and it leads me back to the beginning of this post and the society we have become. When a blog, article, editorial or whatever it is is too long, or contains too much within it to allow reflection to be sufficiently brief, it has no future. Instead it takes almost no effort to 'like' or 'favourite' a tweet, literally none – it is the perfect button really. Tap, scroll on. Next! Actually composing a reply is also the work of mere seconds. A few squiggles on the phone, and blur of fingers, and it’s done. Two seconds to read it, a few seconds to consider it, perhaps ten seconds to reply back - including correcting the predictive text. The whole thing is done in almost the blink of an eye and we have moved on to something else. We are being trained to have the attention span of gnats – Breaking News! - and most of are coming up that curve very well indeed! I despair. When is the last time anyone read a book?
So when it comes to writing a blog post I am beginning to question why it is that I bother? The reality must be that nobody gets beyond the first two sentences before giving up as it is too much like hard work. That is the almost inescapable conclusion I am sadly coming to. Or, as many of my good friends have pointed out, it’s just really really boring! I’m backing myself on this one though. Yeah you might have to think a bit, not a lot but a bit, but actually as a medium this is far better than a tweet. Better than Facebook, Whatsapp or Instagram or any of the thousands of ways people can now rapidly and blithely communicate. Actual writing is far more able to convey meaning, emotion and fact. That it and the printed press in general is gradually withering and dying is a very great shame, or at least I think so.
I'm off to the greenhouse. Via gin and tonic.
I'm off to the greenhouse. Via gin and tonic.