Thursday, July 5, 2007

Colin's guide to writing a blog worth reading

I've been a proud member of the "blogosphere" for a whopping seven months now, so I figured it's about time I lay down the law. I've perused many a biker-blog in my day, so I thought it would be interesting to try to figure out what exactly goes into writing a blog that I like. I've actually been working on this post for quite a while now, so hopefully it's not just off-the-cuff hogwash that I have to edit tomorrow.

I'd like to think that I'm a fairly typical biker-blog writer/reader, so maybe sharing what makes a blog good to me is something that could be generalized from. On the other hand, if the amount of time I spend on cross results is any indication, maybe I'm not that typical.

Disclaimer: There are, of course, many reasons to write a blog other than having me read it -- so the only way anyone should feel slighted by this is if your main goal with blogging was to get me to read it. And there are literally thousands of cycling blogs out there, (which makes me even sadder that there are so few nordic skiing blogs) so I have no intention of referencing everything that is good enough to make my RSS feed.

Things That Really Matter

  • English Style
    Or possibly, "having a decent vocabulary." This isn't the same thing as writing proper English, but it's just boring to read a giant paragraph of sentences that are totally lame. The vast majority of us lead lives that are not that special when reduced to their summary -- the best version of a story is rarely the shortest. Break out your thesaurus and give me some interesting details. And if there aren't any interesting details, why are you writing about it?

    Be funny. Invent new metaphors. Have some freakin' style about how you lay down the prose. If you can turn a decent phrase it will probably get you ahead in life -- and it will definitely get me to read your blog, even when you're writing about your watts (WATTS!!).

    exit17.net has some of the best examples of this in the Race Reports section, but sadly it seems to have fallen into disrepair.


  • Race Reports
    I was introduced to the biker-blog world from roadbikereview.com race reports, and they're still my favorite thing to read about. If I quit racing I'd stop blogging, because I wouldn't have interesting things to write about (see previous bullet point!).

    Racing vicariously through other people's race reports is something I enjoy, so I'll read just about any race report -- I've never even turned a crank racing on the road, but I love reading about it. And I'm 3000 miles away from the west coast, but I'll still read a well-written race report that takes place there. So for me, the vicarious enjoyment is enough.

    But the best race reports, of course, are from events I was at featuring folks that I know. People like to read things that they can relate to, and what's a stronger shared experience than a race? Cyclists everywhere come together for races, so if you write about races, there's a lot more people that can fully relate to the event than say, if you write about your wattage on a training ride.

    Some of the funniest race reports, often from races I was at, come from Thom P.

  • Passion
    This seems like a kind of cheesy thing, but it's absolutely required for long term blog-awesomeness. And don't think for a second I mean "passion for riding your bike." I mean passion for writing, and storytelling. If you aren't really into writing, then it's only a matter of time before your quality suffers, because you're doing it "because you should" not "because you want to."

    The flip side is that, if you're passionate about writing about cycling, then it comes through in your posts and can mask a lot of other flaws with your blog. Because you're excited, that excitement carries over to the reader, assuming you have a decent command of the english language (see bullet point #1!).

    gewilli loves bikes and writing and always has something to say.




Things That Kind Of Matter

  • Update Frequency
    Before I started using an RSS reader to read blogs, I would've put told you this was essential, but now that I got my act together and don't have manually check for updates it's no longer a deal breaker. However, it's pretty hard to be passionate about writing if you never do it, so if I love your blog you probably do update a lot.

    bikesnobnyc updates with truly insane frequency, given the narrow subject matter.


  • Opinions
    We all know that controversy sells, and blogs are no different. Second to race reports on my list of "favorite things to read" is the classic "blog flame" post. Product reviews? Race organization "critiquing?" Promoting something? Assuming you can actually turn a persuasive phrase (see first bullet point), then I'd love to hear you argue a position about anything bike-related. This also has the side effect of sometimes lighting up your comments section, which often becomes unsavory, but is still fun for everyone else.

    Once again, this one kind of ties into passion -- if you're really into what you're writing about, you're probably going to have strong opinions about it.

    There's no shortage of full-size opinions and snark (the bastard child of an opinion) over at the cyclocosm.


  • Educational Value
    This one only "kinda matters" because not everyone has something educational to say, and it's unreasonable to expect that kind of insight out of everyone, especially young and naive people like myself.

    But, if I finish reading your post and say to myself, "wow, I never knew that," then I'll come back for months hoping to for another "Eureka"-type reading experience.

    sprinter della casa's video race reports have taught me so much I occasionally think I actually know how to road race.



Things that don't matter

  • Site Design
    I do enough web design that I am somewhat horrified by Kerry Litka's vintage 1995-esque blog, but I still read it religiously, so the only conclusion I can draw is that site design absolutely doesn't matter.


  • Pictures
    I feel like this one might be personal -- while I am drawn to visuals just like any other seeing creature, I'm also quickly put off by posts that try to make up for empty prose with pictures (for example, the post before this one). In the long run, it doesn't matter to me -- telling a story with just pictures isn't descriptive enough, and a lot of the blogs I love are mostly picture-free.

5 comments:

Alex 7/06/2007 9:48 AM  

Well put, but I have to disagree when it comes to pictures. Maybe it just comes from years of reading the pictures in National Geographic instead of the text, but I would much rather read a race report complete with some pictures than just read the race report. Granted, I've read many great race reports with no pictures, so I'm not saying they're necessary, I just like them. I think that there are many instances where a picture can say it all, particularly in a humorous post. But no, I guess they're not a necessity.

gewilli 7/06/2007 4:25 PM  

so...

to translate that mountain of verbage you are saying:

"I write good code - look here" (link to cross results)

These are the blogs i look at all day when i'm not writing code for cross results.com

;)

and a damn fine web log entry if there ever was one...

josh 7/06/2007 10:54 PM  

its aboot time someone wrote something like that. well done.

NVdK 9/04/2008 11:41 PM  

Please oh please oh please read mine? M'kay? Well. You don't HAVE to, but I think mine at least has some of your attributes of a readable blog. And I post on RBR. That help? :-)

phantomF 4/18/2013 1:19 PM  

Don't know how I missed this when it was posted.

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