Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Urge to Keep Writing

I have this obviously malfunctioning mechancial pencil...I have this obviously malfunctioning mechanical pencil sitting here next to the computer. There’s a picture of me trying to use it -- again -- even though it doesn’t work properly.

It’s one of those throw-away, cheap plastic ones that comes with a few pieces of lead which once you get through you’re meant to toss the sucker in the garbage. That is to say, it isn’t designed to be used for very long, as it doesn’t really accommodate adding more lead the way the slightly more expensive ones do.

When I shake the pencil I can hear a couple of pieces of lead remain, and so am reluctant to get rid of it. But there’s definitely something wrong with it. Whenever I grab the thing to jot down a note, it only takes a few strokes for the lead to disappear mischievously back into the plastic tube. Notice up above how I couldn’t even make it through the last word of my short note.

I click the top a few times and begin anew, but if I press onto the paper with any force at all the piece of lead gets pushed back in once more. Still, I keep using the stupid thing, usually cursing a couple or five times before I get through whatever it is I was jotting down.

The note I was taking related to an idea I had for today’s post -- something about the blog itself. Didn’t have anything too definite in mind, but rather just wanted to ask for some feedback about what readers think about blogs such as this one and their current place in the larger scheme of things.

I’ve remarked before here how when I began the blog more than four years ago, there seemed to be hundreds of folks out there writing about poker on a regular basis, covering an amazingly wide spectrum of styles and abilities -- both writing-wise and poker-wise. But the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of interacting-slash-communication over the last couple of years has clearly edged blogs over into a more specialized location of this here virtual community we got goin’.

Such an observation was already being made by many over a year ago -- perhaps even earlier than that. Not just about poker blogs, but blogs, generally speaking. Most directly tied the so-called “decline of blogs” to the rise of other forms of “social media” such as the quick-hitting Twitter or other, non-verbal types of communication (e.g., fast-streaming audio and video, images, even games) with which those of us who use the internet on a regular basis are now very familiar.

Just think for a moment how you would spend an hour “surfing” on the internet in 2006 and compare it to what you do during that same hour today. How much of that time is spent reading articles (or blog posts) of more than 500 words today? How much in 2006?

When I began Hard-Boiled Poker, I did so because I enjoy poker and writing, and thought it would be fun to combine those two pursuits in a poker blog. I posted regularly -- even early on, when I wasn’t sure anyone at all was reading -- for no other reason than because it was fun to do. Over time I did attract a few readers, then a few more, then eventually found myself having joined what I experienced as an especially cool community of poker-lovin’ writers and readers.

My goal at first was to try to post every other day, which I essentially did for the first year-and-a-half of keeping the blog. I finally got wise to how folks read a lot more during the week than on Saturdays and Sundays, and so starting in January 2008 I decided to begin posting every weekday. This I’ve somehow managed to do without fail for what is now almost three years, even sometimes posting more than just weekdays, but adding posts on weekends, too (such as when I’m covering a live event).

As I sat here this morning fighting with that damned pencil once again, I recognized that there’s something maybe a little stubborn about posting with such regularity. I continue to get lots of hits, and I know from the feedback I receive (both in comments and via other means) that folks are reading. Even so, I can’t help but think I could perhaps change the way I am contributing to our ongoing conversations about poker.

Not saying I’m planning any big change right away, but just wondering what others might think. I continue to enjoy keeping the blog, and only rarely do I experience writing my weekday post as something arduous. Sometimes I have other writing assignments or responsibilities that make it harder to keep to my schedule -- and occasionally, like today, force me to post a little later in the day than I would otherwise. (Included among those other tasks is the writing of a second novel, to which I’m increasingly wanting to devote more time, too.)

While I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of writing my posts here, I’m also now very cognizant of having an audience -- much more so than when I began the blog -- and so try with every post to provide something of value to the reader. It is my hope with every post that the reader who makes it all of the way to the end has gotten something from doing so... that is, feels the five minutes or so was time well spent.

But as I mentioned above, I sense it becoming more difficult these days to tear many away from Facebook or Twitter or other places for those five minutes. So by writing another post here today, am I being inflexible by doggedly sticking to the same routine? Like with the pencil? Or like with my poker playing, where I also tend to stay with the familiar, perhaps to my detriment.

F-Train wrote a thoughtful piece at the end of last week titled “The Decline of Poker Writing” in which he addressed a few different issues regarding the current state of “poker media” and the availability (and quality) of jobs within that small world. I may be addressing a related issue here when I suggest that the decline in poker writing (in the form of blogs) is related also to a decline in poker reading -- speaking quantitatively, that is.

If any of these musings inspired some thoughts of your own, do share ’em. Thanks once again to those who took the five minutes and made it to the end of the post. And once again, I sincerely hope it was worth it.

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Blogger F-Train said...

Your point about blogs is well taken and something I've been thinking about on and off for a while. There are very few blogs I regularly read anymore. Part of that derives, I think, from the fact that there are few interesting voices taking unique looks at fresh topics. After 6-7 years of massive amounts of poker writing, a lot of things start to feel stale.

(Side note: I have always been impressed by your ability to have something unique and interesting to say almost every day. It is a rare gift.)

Another part of it derives from a general societal shift away from the written word, especially medium-length and longer pieces. We live in a "TLDR" world now, even with video content. I have been told by PN video people that videos which are longer than 3 minutes in length get significantly fewer views than those which are 3 minutes or shorter.

3 minutes seems to be the magic number today: if something is going to take longer than that to watch / read / do, people lose interest. With videos, a 3-minute video is a 3-minute video. With reading, what is a 3-minute piece of writing for me might be a 5-minute piece of writing for you. And there's no way to judge exactly how long it will take to read before you start. If you see a "wall of text", you may assume it will take longer than it actually will.

It's too bad that "length" is now such a determinant in whether or not something gets rid. Quality should be the top priority.

Do blogs still have a place? It depends who you're writing for. If you're writing for yourself then a blog will always have a place. If you're writing for others, maybe yes but maybe not nearly as much as blogs did 2-3 years ago.

10/12/2010 2:24 PM  
Blogger NT said...

I, for one, seriously hope you'll keep on keeping' on. I don't want the 3-minute readers that F-Train mentions, and I don't much care for stuff aimed at those readers.

I think that Facebook and Twitter and the like will gradually reach their own "room temperature," as the thrill and novelty wear off and their downsides become clearer. I think the future will offer us an array of reading styles/types to chose from. I hope you'll keep practicing the one that suits you best.

10/12/2010 4:13 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...


You consistently have one of the best, most interesting and most well-written "poker blogs" left out there today, and I frankly would not be all that interested in a 144-character synopsis of your posts like I am in reading your actual posts themselves.

I think twitter and facebook and such have become so popular because at the end of the day, as you and your commenters have hinted at, most people out there just don't have a whole lot to say, even less so that is original, independent thought. This is why so many people who were blogging a year or two ago have now switched full time to the shorter media -- because it more squarely fits the amount of original, interesting thought they have on a daily basis.

F-Train is spot-on that you (like F-Train himself) are one of the few people who do an excellent job of always coming up with an interesting poker-related read. I would never encourage anyone to blog if they aren't feeling it, but as someone who does the same struggle as you with some regularity on an "old fashioned blog", I definitely hope you will keep at it as long as you are enjoying yourself.

I don't care how popular twitter gets, or the next thing which only gives you 14 characters to express yourself instead of 140, if you keep writing interesting posts, the readers will keep coming. Myself definitely included.

10/12/2010 4:55 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

Okay, I’m going abstract here…bare with me.

This is a good post and one of the better that I have read in the last week or so. I read alot! I'm interested mostly in this.

"I’m also now very cognizant of having an audience -- much more so than when I began the blog."

This is something I am more cognizant of in my day to day dealings unrelated to blogging/writing or other artistic endeavors but rather in my everyday dealings. What your saying makes perfect sense in the context it was written but thing is that you and I and everyone has always had an audience it's just that most of us fail to recognize said audience. It’s a cool feeling when that realization hits and then it seems a bit like a weight. I struggle with it but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a little crazy so I think it all comes out in the wash.

Kind of weird for me to pick out that one line in your post but it kind of hit me when I read it.

Again great post. Keep up the work.

10/12/2010 7:17 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Urge to write, but don't have the time.

If I write personally about poker it's quick and doesn't show the layers that a past post may have because I just don't have the time to play a bunch of sessions then go into analyist mode. While I love the game like a third child, it gets sent to the backseat due to work-kids-school schedule that I adopted this year.

I save the pokery goodness for my weekend posts.

10/13/2010 10:05 AM  
Blogger The Shrink said...

I use my blog to stimulate my other writing. I stick to a schedule of at least every other day because if I do that, at least until now, it does keep my thoughts fresh for the bigger projects.

I hope I have the good sense to know when this is no longer working and back off the frequency of my blogging.

10/19/2010 1:07 AM  

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