Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Writing versus blogging

January 10, 2020

The empirical evidence is in.

It has been 6 months since I suspended my blog posts in favour of trying to move forward with some of my many stalled “writing” projects. Though the last 6 months have been a little rough on the personal front, I take it as proven that refraining from writing blog posts has increased my productivity in other areas, since 3 of 9 stalled projects are now reaching completion.

  1. A biographical article which I started over 5 years ago is now complete and I am finalising the citations and illustrations,
  2. A book which I started in 2010 is now a complete draft where only a final revision is needed, and
  3. An attempt at fiction has achieved a complete – if incoherent – plot. The only problem is that some of the best bits I have written don’t quite fit the plot. The dilemma is whether to massage the plot or to rewrite whole sections.

In any case the progress made means that my blog posts will now slowly restart, though probably very intermittently. Hopefully these 3 texts can be finished/published by this summer.


Writing for myself

April 11, 2016

Someone asked me who I had in mind when I wrote – and I had no answer.

I know that some people read what I write – whether blog posts or articles or books. But I really have no idea who they are. I find I constantly misjudge what I think people may like to read. I find there is no correlation between pieces I am pleased with and proud of and the pieces that arouse the greatest interest. Some writings which I think are trivial get thousands of readers and other essays which I think contain a few real insights struggle to get up to readers in double figures.

I certainly imagine how certain types of readers may assess what I write while I am writing. But while that may lead to a reformulation of something I wish to say, a choice of different language, it rarely leads to any substantive change. Changes, when they occur during the writing, are due to the writing process itself. In fact, I find my position or viewpoint changes as I write. Ideas which were diffuse or thoughts which were incomplete coalesce and become conclusions during the process.

The satisfaction of writing comes primarily in completing the essay or article or blog post. It is of interest and gratifying when some piece attracts many readers, but that gratification is often negated when the readership does not match my own view of the quality of the piece. When some essay that I am quite pleased with also attracts many readers, then it is just a bonus. But even that gratification does not compare with the satisfaction of completing even a rarely read essay.

The writing process itself, for me, contains much reading and much thinking. I take positions and then start reading what others have written on the subject. I start writing something and then go into a bout of reading which means that essay may not be completed for many weeks or even months. I make assertions which I then feel obliged to fact-check and to reanalyse. The satisfaction of completing something increases with the effort expended.

The real answer, I suppose, is that I write for myself. I have some readers but I have no targeted audience.


Spying in style

July 6, 2014

As a teenager it was James Bond for me. Later it was Quiller. They created more than their fair share of mayhem and destruction as they saved the world from a variety of evil megalomaniacs – but always in great style. But I came late to James Bond. Before that I had already devoured the adventures of Simon Templar and his Saintly and stylish capers. Sherlock Holmes had arrogance but did not have much style. Ethan Hunt didn’t have it either. Nor did Jason Bourne.

Much can be excused if done with class. While style alone is not class it is certainly a necessary ingredient.

Class is not appearance and it is not personality or charisma; it is a style and elegance of behaviour and a consistency of actions. – Essence of a Manager

In any event it is reassuring to note that the CIA gives proper importance to style – though this guide is only for the style of the written word.

CIA Style Manual

This is the eighth edition of the CIA’s “Style Manual and Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications”.

I find it very well done and something that could well be put to use by many journalists.

For example:

meaningful — is a vacuous word that is too often used by analysts to mean Significant.
The results of the meeting were meaningful is meaningless

Masterful, masterly — Careful writers distinguish between these adjectives. A masterful person is overpowering, overbearing, or imperious; he or she is capable of mastering others. A virtuoso performance is masterly, the work of a master artist.


The eighth edition of the Style Manual and Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications provides guidance for English usage and writing style in the Central Intelligence Agency. It incorporates most of the improvements that appeared in previous editions but returns to the organization by chapters of the earliest versions. The chapters on capitalization, numbers, abbreviations, italics, punctuation, spelling, and compound words have numerous headings and subheadings to enable users to find specific subjects quickly within the chapters themselves or through the table of contents. Further subject indexing is provided in chapter 9-the Word Watchers List-which incorporates many of the style rules in abbreviated form; it is similar to the Word Watchers Index in the fourth edition and to the overall organization of more recent editions. The manual also includes a comprehensive Spelling and Compound Words List, as have all previous editions, and an index to the entire manual.
The counsel in this guide is derived from many sources, including the works of Barzun, Bernstein, Copperud, Follett, Fowler, the Morrises, Strunk and White, Gregg, and other recognized arbiters of English usage. It also draws on the stylebooks of press services, newspapers, publishing houses, and past and present CIA offices.
A basic reference for spelling, compounding, and other instructions for all eight editions is the US Government Printing Office’s Style Manual, the most recent edition of which was issued in 2008. The GPO’s authority for spelling imd compounding words is Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, published by G. & C. Merriam Company. That dictionary or the more up-to-date abridgments of it (the latest being Webster’s 11th New Collegiate Dictionary) are the authorities for the preferred spellings listed in this guide that were not found in the GPO manual.
This guide is for both the creators and the processors of intelligence analysis-for the writers and for the editors of their analyses. It also serves writers and processors of administrative papers. Moreover, it has been used and will continue to be used by teachers and students of writing and publications processing.

It is not so easy, I suppose, to have a Style Manual for water-boarding. If only the CIA also had a Manual for classy behaviour.


Noted in Passing – why I write this blog

February 23, 2013

A few weeks ago I started a “Noted in Passing” feature which I hoped would become a regular weekly post with interesting links to other sites about subjects I did not have time to blog about. I find I have now missed a couple of weeks and a weekly post is going to be too onerous and this will now become an occasional feature.

However my failure to be able to keep up the weekly feature led me to review why I actually write this blog and I find that:

  1. I write primarily for myself on any and all topics that interest me and this interest varies over time and with my reading.
  2. I write when time allows and my posts reduce when I am on assignment or if I am travelling abroad.
  3. My posts here increase in frequency when I get “stuck” with my other writing projects but I find that just writing a blog post can often “relieve” the “writer’s block”. (And that I think is because a blog post is not directed at anyone in particular but my other writing is).
  4. I have no commercial interests or consequences connected with this site.
  5. Posts that are vaguely connected to my “6,000 Generations” project are posted on that site – sometimes with a link from this site.
  6. Sometimes what starts out as a blog post then becomes a longer essay which moves into one of my other projects.
  7. I don’t have any particular target profile of my readers because my own views seem to cut across all traditional religious and political boundaries and are often “politically incorrect”.
  8. Where I have actively formed an opinion it is the only opinion of consequence – for me. A consensus view – on anything – is inherently worthy of suspicion. Democracy has no place in science.
  9. I look at blog statistics from time to time but I  find I am not much motivated to “tailor” my posts in response to the statistics. (Typically this site has 400-500 visitors per day – 300 over the weekend – and occasionally a few thousand with 5,000 visitors being the peak for a single day).
  10. I have no political ambitions even though I am quite certain that if everybody agreed with me, all the world’s problems would be solved.
  11. I am content to observe and have no desire to be an “activist”, a “do-gooder” or “unprofessional” (which – it should be obvious – are the 3 most insulting epithets I can imagine).

So this blog is just a place for letting off steam, for getting my thoughts in order, for keeping my writing flowing and generally for developing my own views in areas that are relatively new to me. It is merely an extension of my space in the world – for good or ill.

When posts are of sufficient interest to attract many (or even any) readers then that is just an added bonus.

Blogging as therapy: My 1000th post

August 30, 2011

I started this blog in April 2010 but I was still occupied completing my book and did not really start posting until the summer vacations in June 2010.

This is now my 1000th post.

Since then I have averaged between 2 and 3 posts a day though there have been periods for a week or two with very light posting and some long winter nights with many posts. Some things are however becoming clear to me:

  1. I post primarily for myself as a way of expressing whatever might be engaging or attracting or disturbing me at that moment. Just putting a post together is a little exercise which itself forces feelings or emotions into expressible text.
  2. Having posted on a particular subject functions as a form of catharsis. Sometimes I may never return to a subject for a long while or even at all.
  3. I cannot judge – and no longer concern myself greatly – which posts will get read and which will not. Old posts which had very few readers when initially posted may suddenly attract readers for no discernible reason. Posts I felt were not very well written can attract many more readers than others which I thought were well expressed.
  4. I find that some sense of achievement occurs at the time when I complete the post and not – surprisingly – when the views of the post become high. (Just as the main sense of achievement was when I completed my book manuscript and not when I found a publisher!)
  5. The structure of my web reading has changed as a consequence of posting. I find I look for different viewpoints and not just supporting viewpoints much more regularly. I am continuously amazed at the amount of quality writing available on the web. There is a great deal of utter rubbish also. But it does not seem to be too difficult – or too onerous – to separate the wheat from the chaff. In fact some of the rubbish – if well written – can be quite entertaining.
  6. I seem to straddle all political labels of every persuasion.  On some subjects I would be labelled a fascist, and on others a socialist. I appear to be conservative and liberal simultaneously. Sometimes I find I support some views which would be considered environmentalist views and on many others I find I am totally opposed to what would fit that label. Some left-wing and some right wing causes attract me as often as others which repel. But I am quite comfortable in not finding any label which fits me. Being politically correct was not and is not of any relevance.
  7. A natural cynicism I have had about all politicians and all “do-gooders” is now I think a little more nuanced and analytic under the heading of “behaviour”.
  8. Blogging is a wonderful way of venting indignation.

In essence blogging functions as therapy for myself. It helps in sorting out my disjointed and chaotic thoughts. It forces me to read opposing views. I have even been forced to change my initial view as I have read more. It functions as a means of expressing indignation and a vent for letting off steam. It enforces some self-discipline. It creates some identity markers. It helps me to continue writing though it does take some time away from my next manuscripts. Whether it improves my writing is uncertain but it is certainly addictive.

It is – without doubt -therapeutic.

Some notes to myself for future posts include:

  1. It is perfectly OK to write for myself and not for any specific reader
  2. Avoid preaching
  3. Use fewer extracts from others and let the link do the work
  4. Don’t pretend to be a reporter
  5. Resist posting a link without comment
  6. Resist the temptation to “slander” which can be very strong but does not add much literary merit

The simple truth is that I shall continue blogging primarily for myself and I have no agenda other than to feel better in my own mind. It is an extension of my personal space; entirely under my control, my responsibility and for which I alone am accountable. But I am well aware that this space is also in the public domain. But this is precisely why  – because it allows public scrutiny- I think it is therapeutic.

If in addition some people read what I write and if some few find it readable or provoking or just interesting then that is a bonus. But what readers – if any -may think is entirely secondary.

%d bloggers like this: