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Jan 26 2010

An unnatural blog

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

Today marks the fifth anniversary of this blog, so I thought I would pre-empt my series on the end of politics where I excoriate Obama and the Democrats and indulge in some self-indulgent musing about the whole blogging exercise and my contribution to it.

After some initial hesitant steps when I was not sure what I would do with this new medium, I soon settled into a routine of one op-ed length essay of about 1,000 words on a single topic each weekday. Apart from repeating some postings when I am on travel or for holidays, I have not taken a break. As a result, I have now written about 1250 essays and well over a million words. But I realize that this type of blogging is not natural for the form.

The big advantage of a blog is that it can be a way of providing immediate and informed commentary on news, whereas newspapers and magazines have lag times that can be quite considerable.

The second advantage is that a blog post can be of any length. Magazine and newspaper and journal article are of the ‘long form’ type and there are often constraints of length that one must conform to, about 800 words for op-eds, or 1,500 or 5,000 or 10,000 word lengths for magazines and journals. But a blog can be any length at all, from just a few words to thousands. So you can say exactly what you want to say, no more, no less, as the need arises, which can be enormously liberating and prevent needless verbiage.

What I have done is seemingly take the negative aspects of the long form essay (fixed word length and more analytical pieces) and used it as a basis for my blog. I am not entirely alone in this. Glenn Greenwald’s excellent blog (which should be a must read for anyone) also has usually one long (often very long) analytical piece each day, but his deals with breaking news on the legal and political fronts. I often learn about breaking news from his blog. I cannot do the kind of quick analysis that Greenwald can (he is a constitutional lawyer and has a lot of expertise at his fingertips) except on rare occasions, so I rarely publish things in such a timely way.

So why I am blogging in this unnatural way? Partly out of necessity. It takes me a while to digest information and make sense of it. I jot down ideas that I think are interesting and may have some insight into, and sometimes think about them for weeks or even months before I write them up. Also I have other work to do so that I cannot spend a lot of time keeping up with breaking news or cruising the web picking up interesting tidbits to comment on.

I know that every one is busy so it has been my goal to not waste the reader’s time. I arrived at the approximately 1,000-word length because it can be read in a few minutes. Since what I write about usually deals with old news, to add value, the blog post should contain things that are at least useful or new or interesting. One way of adding value is to provide at least some original analysis. As someone for whom teaching is in the blood, I also try to explain science or other difficult topics in ways that I hope will be clear and helpful to those who do not have the time to invest in learning these things on their own. The combination of trying to explain something in depth while restricting myself to the daily word limit has resulted in the many multi-part series of posts.

I also try to write the post as well as I can, given the limited time that I can devote to it, because I know how annoying it is to read something that has typos, factual errors, poor grammar, and generally looks sloppily done. I feel that such writing is an insult to the reader. So each post is rewritten and edited several times before it is posted, which is another reason that I rarely comment quickly on breaking news stories. I also try to be as accurate as I can about the information presented and give the sources so readers can follow up for themselves. All that takes time.

The benefits of blogging for me personally have been tremendous. In researching the information for the posts and in trying to explain things to others, I have learned a lot myself. I think I have also become a much more proficient writer as a result of the practice I have gained. The blog posts have often formed the first drafts of articles that I have subsequently published in more formal venues. Even my recent book God vs. Darwin began as a series of blog posts.

In the process, I have learned a lot from the readers and made many new contacts and renewed others thanks to people finding the blog.

At each anniversary I wonder how long I can keep up the pace. My main worry is that I will run out of things to say and start repeating myself. So far, I think I have avoided that danger. It has been fine and fun so I plan to keep going.

So thanks, everyone, for reading and commenting and sending me information. Here’s to another year!

POST SCRIPT: Book signing and talk

I will be giving a talk and having a book signing on God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom at the Joseph-Beth book store in Legacy Village in Beachwood, Ohio at 7:00 pm tomorrow (Wednesday, January 27, 2010).

I would enjoy meeting any readers of this blog who can make it.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    healthphysicist

    Thank you Mano!

  2. 2
    Kellybelle

    Happy Anniversary! My second is coming up. Wonder what it is about the winter months that inspire blogging?

  3. 3
    Kosmofilo

    I’ve been following every single post since I found your blog. Keep the good work! :)

  4. 4
    kado unik

    so curious about the book, hopefully selling

  5. 5
    Bargain Holidays

    Hi Mano,

    I think that you’re writing style is pretty engaging.

    I’m curious to know if you have considered using Twitter also or would you find the 250 character limit per Tweet too limiting perhaps?

  6. 6
    Mano

    I got a Twitter account to see what the fuss was all about but decided it was not for me. Apart from the length limit, I felt that the medium wasted time for both the writer and the reader by putting out vast amounts of half-baked thoughts.

  7. 7
    Bargain Holidays

    Hi Mano,

    That’s very true, however it could be used as a vehicle to write a little teaser headline and get people to click to read further.

    That way you can be sure that your audience is eager to read more on what you have to say perhaps.

  8. 8
    sheila

    Mano, cheers to you!! You haven’t skipped a beat in your writing… whatsoever. Given the ‘unnautral blog’ :)

    Keep it up and God bless! Sheila K Custom Logo Design

  9. 9
    Easy Jobs

    Mano, this is one of the best blogs I’ve read in a long time! Keep up the good work and good luck with everything you do!

  10. 10
    Brendan

    Thank you. I enjoy a blog that has an unnatural lean. You are principled and disciplined.
    All the best.

  11. 11
    Kathy

    Hello Mano,
    I find it very encouraging to hear you say that your book “God vs Darwin…” actually started as a series of blog posts. Frankly, I had not thought of using the blogging platform as a means by which to begin or outline ideas and information that could later be compiled into a book. But, even if you hadn’t quite intended it to happen that way, it is a fantastic angle!

    Also, I agree, overall, with your thoughts about Twitter being a time-waster. But it doesn’t have to be. I think that once you attract a more academic “following” then it could be a good method of outreach when you have a book release (as you do now), or an upcoming speaking engagement, etc (as your other reader mentioned, offering a “teaser” headline). I think the trick is to attract the right following right out of the gate.

    Just a thought… Anyway, again, thank you!
    Cheers,
    Kathy

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