September 1, 2010

Two or Three Things I Know About Blogging

As I tread onward into my fourth year of maintaining this blog, it's an appropriate time for reflection. To say that I've learned some things about film and particularly about blogging over the last three years would be an understatement so great as to make it a meaningless statement. I've absorbed so much I feel like I can't even remember what I knew or thought I knew about film three years ago.

And I haven't just learned about movies, and how they are made and why they are made and how people talk about them and why they are important, but also about the nature (and sometimes disturbing power) of blogging, about how to efficiently use the internet to find trustworthy information, about how to write HTML code, about the future of online media, about professionalism and respect, and about social networking (in the truest sense: developing real friendships with people thousands of miles away). But what overwhelms me more than what I've learned so far is just how much I still have yet to learn.

At any given point I might be tempted to take what I've gained from this and turn the lights off, as I've seen an unfortunate number of very talented bloggers do over the last year, or I might be re-energized to keep at it, even if aimlessly. I'm attempting to do the latter. It's no coincidence that I've written fewer posts in 2010 than either of the last two years - I've also seen significantly fewer movies than any year in the last decade. This is the result of a variety of factors that probably won't change in the near future, but nonetheless I still have a passion for film and, I think, a passion for blogging; the two have kind of blended together at this point and it's difficult for me to imagine one without the other.

So I'm continuing on, not necessarily guided by a set of clear goals but by the strange sense of enjoyment that I still get from watching movies and trying to coherently explain what I took from them in some kind of interesting combination of words on a virtual page. In doing so, these are the lessons I want to keep in mind: 

Quality over quantity. More than ever before, I have come to embrace the fact that post quality is much more important than post quantity - for myself, for my readers, and for the health of the internet, which is rapidly accumulating so much daily garbage that the idea of "green" or "sustainable" contributions to the global web is probably not far off. Some bloggers are in the unfortunate position of having to post frequently enough to meet some sort of quota, imposed either internally or externally. I do not envy people in this situation, and I definitely do not strive to be a full-time blogger and essentially be handcuffed mentally, if not also physically, to a keyboard and screen.

However, considering that Getafilm is an unpaid and actually rather expensive hobby when time and movie tickets are calculated, maybe I'm just as crazy for keeping this up. But, if I don't have glory or greenbacks resulting from this, at least I still have my sanity - and I hope to keep it by not driving myself mad trying to recapture the post frequency that I had early on. Besides, readers (you) don't have the same perception of my postinq frequency that I do, particularly since many of them (you) are reading via an RSS reader. 
RSS readers are essential to navigating the blogosphere. If you haven't yet learned about subscribing to RSS feeds, I'll suggest it may completely change the way you interact with the internet. It took me a while to get the hang of it, develop a reading pattern, and efficiently manage the number of blogs and websites that I subscribe to, but at this point it's a steady breathing apparatus in a deluge of online content. I check my Google Reader almost every day and am able to read a lot of great writing (not only from film blogs, but also from other topical blogs that I subscribe to) without having to actually visit dozens and dozens of websites. It may occasionally prevent me from commenting and getting involved in great discussions, but at this point I'd rather access the content in an indirect way than completely miss it in a direct way. 

Writing for myself is often more rewarding for myself - and everyone else, too. With the exception of local film happenings and other rare occasions, I don't do much in the way of promoting upcoming films, posting marketing materials (posters, trailers, stills, etc.), or passing along casting news and box office numbers. This is partly because I could never keep up with that pace, partly because so many other blogs do provide that information, partly because I'm not always interested in that information, and partly because I don't feel I'd be able to apply my own voice to that information in a meaningful way.

The last reason being the most significant, because I'm really only interested in my own thoughts. Just kidding. The truth is that I most enjoy reading other bloggers when they write about, well, themselves, and their movie experiences and memories and complaints and questions and opinions. I can get a lot of the other movie news from a variety of sources. But that's not what I'm seeking from "the blogs of others" - I'm seeking unique insights, opinions, and personality quirks. I expect others are after the same thing (Exhibit A: the popularity of Roger Ebert's Journal), so to the extent that I'm comfortable disclosing personal information, I really do want to include myself in most of what I write. And if what I write isn't always interesting to others anyway, at the very least it's an incredibly helpful way for me to process my thoughts and, ideally, sharpen my critical thinking and expository writing skills (which include, of course, being more pithy pithier).

Thanks for reading.


  1. Daniel: Congrats on another year of blogging! I think you have exactly the right attitude about it -- quality over quantity. And "quality" doesn't mean that every post has to be your best work. It just means you write because you have something to say and not because you feel the need to fill space. My opinion is that there are really only two kinds of blogs: ones that faithfully post content at least once a day and ones that don't. The ones that post at least once a day are daily-habit blogs. They're part of the routine, whether the content is brilliant or crap, or combinations of both. Those blogs offer the posts themselves, but they also offer a place to hangout -- like Facebook but with longer wall posts. I think any blog that doesn't fall into that category is really in the same camp, whether you write four times a week or four times a month. Sure, you want to remain active enough that people know you're alive, but short of that I don't think there are any requirements to post regularly.

    There's also this: Many readers don't have time to read four posts a week, just like you don't have time to write them. What we should try to deliver, I think, is that sense that when we post something we do so because we feel it's worth the time it takes to read (even if we know our most faithful readers still won't/can't read every post). Simple as that.

    As for Google Reader: If you're not doing this already, you might want to consider subscribing to comments on some of your favorite sites. If it's a Blogger site, it's as easy as going to the "manage subscriptions" page of Google Reader, copying the feed URL of the site in question, and then creating a new subscription that replaces "feeds/posts" in the URL with "feeds/comments." (If that sounds confusing, it won't when you go into your manage subscriptions page.) Of the dozens of sites I'm subscribed to, there are probably 10 or so to which I also subscribe to comments (yours included). The only negative about the comments subscription is that all comments from all posts go into the same feed. So sometimes discussions overlap, and in those cases the easiest way to follow along is still to open up the post in question and read the comments in order. Still, subscribing via Reader keeps you from entirely missing a great debate that unfolds at one of your favorite blogs. Quite often, I just peek at a few comments and then "mark all as read" if there's a large number of them. But, again, if a great debate unfolds in the comments, I know about it. I love that. I arrange my subscription so that the blog in question is first ("Getafilm") and then the comments feed is right after it ("Comments: Getafilm"). Sometimes when I go into Reader, I know the posts I want to read first simply because there's already a dozen comments in that feed, which tells me it's inspired debate.

    Anyway, maybe you're doing that already. If not, it's a time saver!

  2. Congrats on your 4 year milestone, Daniel. That is an incredible accomplishment anyway you look at it - esp. with the transitory nature of the Internet and blogging in general. I definitely subscribe to what Jason is saying, I can't imagine posting on my blog on a daily basis. I just don't have the time or the energy so I usually keep it to one post a week as it takes me so long to generate one of my essays and get it to the point where I feel its ready for public consumption.

    Anyways, it's good to hear that you aren't ready to throw in the towel and are continuing to do this crazy blogging thing. I look forward to whatever you have in store...

  3. Jason: Thanks, and I like that description of the difference between blog personalities. Getafilm is not a "hangout" blog for the most part, and I'm OK with that. Not that I don't want to have people over from time to time (I just got new patio furniture!), but I have a lot of fun hanging out at other blogs, too. This is where I can reflect a little more personally, and I enjoy having the space.

    I've kind of half done what you describe with comment subscriptions. I definitely utilize Blogger's comment subscription via email for individual posts, but I haven't subscribed to many full comment feeds in Google Reader because, as you describe, the number of mixed-topic comments can grow rapidly depending on the site. But I should give it a try for some blogs that may not have multiple daily posts and dozens of comments. What would really be nice is if the comments were somehow integrated within the post feeds, but then that would essentially wipe out half of the traffic on the internet.

    Incidentally, you've directed me to some really great posts and new blogs by sharing them within Google Reader; thanks for sharing this post!

    J.D.: Thank you very much. It's technically the three year milestone at the beginning of the fourth year, but is that the same thing? I just finally mastered historical century references a few years ago (e.g., 15th century = 1400's), so I'm still a little unsure about these things! Anyway, I can also relate to what you're saying about "preparing" a post for release. I am ever impressed by people who can churn out really well-written stuff in one night. Maybe it comes with time, but for now I still like to wait just a little bit (could be a day, could be an hour) and revise a few times before posting.

    Also, I just want to clarify in what I wrote above (see, here am I revising well after posting!) that daily updated blogs providing short posts, movie news, etc., are great for the purposes of those who administer them - and I visit them often. They are the great "hangout" blogs with entertaining conversation.

    All I'm saying here is that while at different times over the past three years I may have envied those in such a position, right now I'm completely comfortable within the "other" category of blogs, however they may be defined.

  4. "... the internet, which is rapidly accumulating so much daily garbage that the idea of "green" or "sustainable" contributions to the global web is probably not far off." Well said! I would never want to contribute to the glut, so I write when the spirit moves - and the blog is for me as much as for anyone else.

    Ever since I was little, I had an obsession with cataloguing and recording. That included movies at a young age. I kept lists of the movies I saw and wrote summaries of them. Then, at the end of the year, I chose a best picture. In the same way I keep a journal to record events, I like my blog for a place where I can record my thoughts about my greatest passion: film. If others enjoy what I write, I'm happy.

    I've really enjoyed your blog and I hope you continue it. I like and agree with what you said about "personality quirks." You really came through to me as a person when we had that back-and-forth last year about the merits and/or failings of Knowing and then a later back-and-forth about Jurassic Park: The Lost World. I enjoyed your sense of humor and your clever perceptions. So, I agree with you, that's what I look for in a blog - a connection with another writer who reveals a sincere enthusiasm for movies and is not out there to sound superior.

    So I like the blog for that connection, and I like it as my record, but I like it also because it's just part of what's most important to me: going to the movies and writing about what I see. I love movies and today's technology has given me the chance to connect with other people who feel the same. It's all about that for me. One of the best compliments my son gave me was his observation that compared to some blogs he's seen, he knows that "Dad, you just really love movies."

  5. Daniel,

    I don't know much about writing, but it seems to me that one should not try to write, but to see. If you learn to see, and in so doing learn to write, so much the better for us. In fact, really, it is no small miracle that anyone should care about the bare opinion and thoughts of an unknown person, and to be a part of that miracle, whether by listening well or writing well, is probably a part of what will give existence the surprising shine of a momentary grace.

    I haven't followed this blog for very long, but I am impressed by your facility to hold in tension a thoughtful critique of a film and the consideration of life outside the boundary of either the imaginary or the abstract (these could be called "heavy" posts). Also, you find interesting things to say that go beyond stroking pop-culture savvy, post-modern irony, caustic intellectualism, or a closed-circuit world of film-buff inter-referencing.

    Whether you should continue writing a blog that is expensive in time and money I can't say (though I hope you do), but whether to try to see, whether through the lens of film or otherwise, I would hope to be a foregone conclusion. To say and not to see is the realm of canvas-lunged windsocks and callous-souled pundits clawing away always at the same itch. To see and not to say is like a constant inspiration, an extended inward breath--I don't believe it is possible to hold it forever. Breathing teaches us something--balance may be instinctual, a habit of the body, a habit of the mind.

    Still, one does well to remember that it is only the greatest journalists who can truly hack syndication (can they, actually?), however much blogging makes syndication "really simple." From where I sit, you're a lot closer to that than I could hope to be.

  6. People, this is why you need to read Hokahey's blog (Little Worlds). Way to knock that personal thing out of the park, Hokahey! That's a great story. And you reminded me that I too have a habit of cataloging - in fact this blog was born out of a former practice I had of sending out a huge email to friends/family at the end of each year about the Oscars and what should have won/been nominated. Somebody on the receiving end, perhaps implicitly complaining, told me, "You should start a blog." Huh, I though. Maybe I will do just that. I never knew it would lead to so many great connections and new understandings. Thanks for your many good-spirited discussions, and your own personal influences on your blog.

    Will, thank you very much for your thoughtful, even poetic comment - you're quite the wordsmith yourself, I have to say. I'm glad you recently found your way here and I appreciate the thought you obviously put into film-life connections as well. Seems you recognize how movies can lead to real, applicable insights about life - the "seeing", if you will. Sure, I watch some movies for the pop culture references or to appreciate the art (be that acting, directing, cinematography, etc.), but that's not where my passion lies. My passion lies in the intersection where what's on the screen connects with my thoughts about the world. When some idea I have about life is completely affirmed or completely challenged by something in a movie, or, best of all, when I discover a "new" idea about life altogether. Makes it hard to quit this habit.

  7. Thanks for the plug, Daniel. I appreciate it. I feel sometimes that my blog gets sucked into a cyber black hole of oblivion, and then someone leaves me a thoughtful comment or compliments me in some way and I feel pulled out of that black hole.

  8. I can relate to that, but again, I don't want to think that posts that don't elicit comments are not worthwhile posts. Part of why I'm writing is to help my thought process. Sitting down and actually forcing yourself to write cogently about what you see is a huge challenge, and I find some satisfaction in finishing that process and hitting "Publish", even if it doesn't always create great epiphanies for others.

  9. @will Good God. Coleman, look out.


    Belated welcome back.

    Quality over quantity. If more people used this as their mantra the blogsphere would be a better place. I personally have lost site of this from time to time but I am reigning myself in.

    "Some bloggers are in the unfortunate position of having to post frequently enough to meet some sort of quota, imposed either internally or externally."

    I few in this trap more than a few times myself. It sucks. Many of the bloggers you speak of are trying to make money off of their blogs thus the post frequency for constant spidering, viewers, higher page rank, etc.

    I have set up a schedule and schedule posts in advance. This helps to unchain me from the screen.

    RSS feeds are very important but there is something to be said for the visuals on a site. An image in a post might sell you on reading it.

    "I don't do much in the way of promoting upcoming films, posting marketing materials (posters, trailers, stills, etc.), or passing along casting news and box office numbers."

    I know the feeling behind this, believe me. That is why I stripped my presentations down to the bare essentials. I'm in and out in 15-20 minutes.

    The original, main reason why I started my site was because I wanted others to read my reviews and I wanted the ability to post them whenever I wanted to. I was tired of "The Man" telling me when my reviews would be published. I will admit that I wanted to make a few bucks in the process as well. The reason I post as frequently as I do now is to test myself and see if I could do it as the professionals do on a daily basis. This is part of a larger goal I have been harboring for sometime and have been rolling out in cost effective pieces, ProMovieBlogger being the newest piece.

    Blogging for cash is a trap, a big one, especially when your blog does not have a "sell point" over all the others in your niche.

    Blogging for fun and entertainment, exercising your writing skill, is much better.

    When you sell that first ad though, then the second then the third it feels good. Really good.

  10. Eighth line down:

    I meant "I fell into this trap..."

  11. I love hearing about your experience, especially as I've seen you increase your posting frequency and branch out with the second site. By all means I hope you succeed, and I'm glad we both understand why we're doing this. Above everything else perspective is vital. You can't say it much better than you do here: "Blogging for cash is a trap, a big one, especially when your blog does not have a "sell point" over all the others in your niche." I do not (which is OK with me) - but I think you do with ProMovieBlogger. Good stuff you've been putting out there. Thanks again for those thoughts!

  12. I didn't realize you were paying attention. Cool man.

    I'm trying to focus on what I care about and believe in.

  13. Four years, wow! You are akin to a dinosaur in the blogging world :) Congratulations on the upcoming milestone.

    Quality vs. Quantity: I totally agree with you. There is so many bloggers who publish nearly content-less post such as a couple pictures or a movie trailer and then wonder why their blog gets no hits or comments! I also tend to shy away from blogs who post too much content in one day.

    This is not to say I don't get the urge to "keep the troops happy" on AM because discussion tends to die down if I stop posting for too long. As Jason said above, AM is the type of blog which is more a place to hangout than a true content gold mine and I don't hold illusions that our content is anything special in the big picture of things.

    RSS Feed: I haven't personally used RSS Feeds so far. I make it a point to visit the blog of every single one person who comments on my blog so I do. I go through my blogroll daily and I also keep bookmarks of blogs of "interest" :)

    Great post Daniel!

  14. Thanks, Castor - you guys have definitely built yourselves up over at AM pretty impressively, what with both the community and posting frequency (and quality - all of your posts require actual writing). Seems to be a bit of the best of both worlds - a hangout blog with great content.

    Boy, I have to urge you to consider using Google Reader, much as I appreciate your traffic here! I also used to do the visiting tango, but as I developed more and more blogging contacts I just found it really hard to keep up. Even now it's still difficult to find the time to add even more blogs to my reading cycle, but Google Reader makes it that much easier by delivering the content to me.

    One option that works well for others is a truncated feed. So, for example, I would always see that you have new posts up and within Google Reader I would just get tease, but to read the full post and comments I would have to click through to visit your blog. This way you still get the traffic and interaction while also keeping your readers (which include me) right up to date on new materials. And, incidentally, your blog comes up very high in my list because it's sorted alphabetically.

    All that being said, I don't truncate my feed, partly because I didn't know how to do it at first, partly because if people feel moved to comment I assume they'll click through anyway, and partly because the difference in traffic/hits is meaningless, at least to this point.

    Sorry if none of that makes sense...

  15. No, it makes a lot of sense, at least in terms of saving time and energy visiting each blog individually. I will give Google Reader a try and see how it goes.

  16. Nice - let me know if you have any questions, but you're pretty savvy so I'm sure you'll figure out if it's for you or not.

  17. Don't know what I can add that hasn't already been said.

    I wouldn't normally want to say that one thing or another is "correct" or "right" about blogging, but you clearly have the proper perspective. Above all, and this works for blogs of all types, even if they're not my bag or yours, is do what makes you happy. I think, above all, that's what this post is about - after a few years, you've wrestled with what you want out of Getafilm (and what you want to put into it) and have come up with the balance (for lack of a better word) that suits you. And that's truly terrific.

    I'm still, after all these years, battling with that. Someday, I suppose.

    And hell yeah, Google Reader is a must.

  18. I've almost come up with the balance that suits, at least a balance, even if it doesn't suit me.

    And I actually think you have a very good handle on the what and the why of BC. Can't imagine how you maintain the LAMB as well!


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