Jamming with Words

I treat blogging like musicians treat improvisation. There is always a structure upon which a musician bases his improvisation. The blues is a popular structure use for that purpose. It has a basic chord sequence that everyone knows. Once you’ve agreed upon the key, your set. This blew my dad away when an older male relative and I were able to say let’s play blues in E and that was all that needed to be said. He was totally unaware that there was an agreed upon structure underlying the blues.

It is the structure that provides the context in which the musicians can improvise. Otherwise, how would they coordinate their performance? Some people think that having a fixed structure like that would be constraining and perhaps even boring. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I write a blog post, I look for an idea that has enough substance that I can write five hundred words or so about it. I try to start off with a hook, some surprising statement that will pique the reader’s interest. It has to be relevant to the topic although it might not become clear until the reader has read most of the post.

Next, I start expounding upon the various aspects of the topic. If there is a logical progression that needs to be followed to explain what I’m talking about, that dictates the way the exposition unfolds. But some topics lend themselves to a treatment that I think of as a ramble.

I start writing about one aspect of the topic and follow where ever it leads me. Sometimes I discover things about the topic that I had never known before. Sometimes it becomes a vehicle for a story about how I discovered what I know about the topic. Sometimes, not often, it falls apart and I throw it into the folder with unfinished drafts to return to at some later date.

Such a ramble fits the definition that Paul Graham gives for an essay. As he explains it, an essay is written to discover things about a topic as much as it is about expressing it to someone else. He does spend more time than I do editing his essays. I really need to follow his example and edit my essays more carefully.

In my defense, Paul has several books under his belt not to mention a Ph.D. Writing a dissertation teaches one rigor in writing. I am not making excuses. I need to learn my craft. I’m just a good bit down the learning curve. I am just now learning the fine art of editing a draft.

The part of writing a blog post that I’ve been learning to do recently is to bring it to a close with some appropriate summary of what it has been about. It is like the musician that restates the main theme of a piece after improvising on it for a while. It helps set the hook firmly in the mind of the audience.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.