I was approached recently by Design Feast, a blog described as “a go-to resource for students, professionals, educators and the design-curious—delivering relevant and diverse design content, creative voices and projects” to contribute some thoughts about the hows and why of blogging. Below are my responses, originally posted here.
Venessa Miemis describes herself as a “Futurist” and “Metacog.” She is an avid reader, from The Age of Spiritual Machines to her latest indulgence in complexity science. Adjacent to her reading appetite, she practices her hobby of picking up new hobbies like yoga and gardening, even beer brewing. She also takes full advantage of the highly diverse cultural scene of New York City. One of her pursuits is a Masters in Media Studies at the New School which shares space with Parsons. I discovered Venessa and her blog Emergent by Design via@designthinkers. It is where I discovered her insightful post about design thinking. Her blogging reflects her holistic attitude and practice, and her sustained web-based publishing experience may help your entrance into the blogosphere or further inform your current work in it:
Why did you create a web site of regular entries?
I had a lot of ideas swirling around in my head, and got really frustrated when I couldn’t articulate them to people in conversation. The process of putting it down on paper and figuring out how to communicate in a clear, simple manner has been incredibly helpful in understanding what it is I’m actually trying to say. It’s also intrinsically rewarding to have people come to the site and engage with the ideas presented there.
What web-based solution did you select and why?
I’m using WordPress because it seems to be simple and highly customizable. What I’d really like to do is a “blogazine” style, which would made the posts more visually interesting and contextual, but I don’t know anything about coding. I guess it’s something I’m going to try and teach myself this year.
What is your definition of a good blog and what are three good blogs that you frequently visit?
A good blog is one that makes you think. I don’t have any three blogs that I consistently visit, because it all kind of depends on what I’m researching, but three that I think have interesting content and ideas are GOOD, Worldchanging, and Inhabitat.
How do you create content for your blog?
I try to notice emerging trends and to recognize patterns in information, and connect the dots in new or different ways. Often I’ll see a series of posts bubble up about the same topic within a couple of days of each other, and I check them out to see what’s interesting to people at the moment. Then I try to figure out how it might be related to something else that no one has mentioned yet. I try to put a new spin on it, and then leave it open-ended to let people draw their own conclusions about what it might mean. It’s a process that allows my posts to act more like primers, which ends up sparking some great conversations and comments.
How do you stay organized and motivated to contribute to your blog?
The instant feedback alone is very motivating. I find out right away if a post “works” or not based on the traffic, comments and retweets onTwitter. But also, my blog is about my own personal exploration and development, so when I go too long between posts, I question whether I’ve gotten lazy or complacent in my thinking and learning.
As far as organization, I’m still working out a system. I bookmark articles for future reference in delicious, and have between 20 to 30 half-baked blog post ideas in my Google Docs at any given time. That seems to be working for now. I’ve heard people swear by Evernote, but I haven’t had a chance to experiment with it yet.
For those aspiring to make a web site composed of regular thoughts and/or images, what is your advice?
It sounds so cliché, but I think it really does come down to having a passion for your topic. I’ve tried starting a few other website/blog projects, but they’ve become more of a burden because my heart hasn’t been fully in them. On a more practical note, I think it’s really important to have a method for capturing ideas and information. For instance, I always have a notebook with me to jot down insights or ideas, and I take photos of random or inspiring things with my phone’s camera. I also think it’s good to make an environment where you can go to be creative, if possible. I have a workspace (below) in my house with my desk, bookshelf, and corkboards tacked with images I like and sticky notes of ideas. I know I can go there and have uninterrupted peace of mind to work out ideas for blog posts.
What is your quest in blogging?
Well, I started to lay out the purpose for the blog in a post titled A Metathinking Manifesto. But generally, I think we’re at a turning point in history, characterized by accelerating change and increasing complexity. Many of the systems that serve as the foundations for how we operate as a society are failing, (education, government, healthcare, etc.), and in turn creating a tremendous opportunity for us to collectively invent something new. It’s a tall order, and will probably require a fundamental shift in the way we think about the world and our place in it. I’ve always liked the Einstein quote, “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” I agree. So how do we get there? That was the impetus behind the blog, and the suggestion in it’s title, “Emergent by Design.” It implies that we have a choice to be active participants in the process of constructing a better future. My hope for the blog is that it might serve as an inspiration to others and a challenge to see the world through a new lens.
Joe McCarthy said:
Thanks for sharing this.
Your motivations for blogging align very closely with my own. I particularly like your articulation of seeking understanding through the articulation process required by writing [in public]. Connecting the dots is also a motivator for me: sometimes I feel compelled to write a post when I encounter series of potentially related things (that I feel just need to be connected). I remember being inspired by danah boyd’s blog title and tagline (as well as her posts, of course) – “apophenia :: making connections where none previously existed” – and like you (and danah), I like to make connections in the posts themselves and through the comments and conversations that sometimes ensue.
One of the issues I wrestle with, though, is how much of my motivation is internal / intrinsic, and how much is external / extrinsic. I started out blogging with the intention of using it as a public platform through which to seek greater understanding for myself. If others benefit from reading, I’m happy for them, but that’s just icing on the cake. However, after a few posts brought a large number of comments (well, for me, “large” is more than a half dozen), I found myself more aware of an audience … and wanting more of an audience.
After reading Don Miguel Ruiz’ Four Agreements (and blogging about two of them), I understand how a desire to “hook” the attention of others is a natural – probably evolutionary – part of human development. But I continue to struggle with what almost seems like an addiction to attention … and find myself vacillating back and forth between whether / how much I care about whether anyone reads – or comments on (or tweets about) – anything I write … and how much I should or want to care. My most recent blog post is unintentionally offering me an opportunity to reflect on these issues, as it probably has – and I expect will continue to have – the lowest ratio of number of comments or tweets to words in the post of anything I’ve written … actually, maybe it’s not completely unintentional, given the topic I wrote about (questioning motivations behind tweeting and retweeting).
In any case, my motivation for going into all of this here is your assertion above that “I find out right away if a post “works” or not based on the traffic, comments and retweets onTwitter.” So it sounds to me like you have both intrinsic motivations and yet an awareness of – and an evaluation metric for – the extrinsic properties. I’m wondering if you grapple with the intrinsic / extrinsic motivation issue, and are willing to share how your understanding of these potentially conflicting motivations is evolving through your practice of blogging.
Venessa Miemis said:
well, most days i feel kind of sick to my stomach….. will my next post be as good as the last? how often should i post? will the audience care about this topic? (i’m kind of following/being followed by a bunch of fields – the business folk, educators, researchers, PR/social media, etc) can i consistently write something that will appeal to them all? (answer: no) am i going to sound stupid? are my thoughts misguided? am i asking, or telling? am i presenting ideas to be interpreted by the reader, or trying to force others into my point of view? do i have a point of view? what the hell am i doing?
so yeah… i’m struggling with this daily. i’m hyper-aware of my thoughts too, so it’s an endless cycle of questioning myself and trying to identify my own motivations. sometimes i feel that i’m doing this because i want people to have a reaction like ‘i never thought of it that way,’ for the sole purpose of encouraging thinking that is DIFFERENT, whether good/bad right/wrong.
other times, i wonder if i’ve built myself into a Skinner Box – I’m like the rat in the experiment who knows if they press the lever, they’ll get a food pellet. And every post, every comment, every retweet…pellet, pellet, pellet. Do I want the pellet, or do I just have a need to keep pushing the damn lever? I mean, all of this behavior becomes very conditioned.
does knowing it’s conditioned make the action less worthy? or is it just another way to understand the context of human nature?
there’s something kind of fascinating about putting yourself out there like this. it’s like a……. fractalization of identity, of the self. people are reading or commenting on your blog, or following you on Twitter and retweeting you or sending you messages, or commenting on your Facebook or LinkedIn updates, and you don’t have to even be there. But they’re interacting with your ideas, your thoughts, YOU. i mean…. in a sense, we’ve achieved a kind of immortality. a blog is not a book, but it’s a stamp, it’s a legacy that says ‘i was here.’
it’s interesting too because in the past, you had to be “somebody” to share your voice. or like the saying goes, that history is written by the victors. now we’re all historians, providing our own perspectives and narratives about the “Truth” of our realities. i don’t think there really is a truth, there are just stories. and that’s usually where my thoughts go, and i make peace with whatever the motivations are to blog. ultimately, it doesn’t matter. we’re telling each other stories about ourselves and the past, making meaning of today’s stories, and collectively creating stories of what tomorrow could or should look like. it’s what we’ve always done.
i want people to read my posts and comment and engage, not because i think i am better or smarter or right, but actually just the opposite – i’m curious and fragile and a social creature, and i want to belong to a tribe, where my voice might be good enough to let me sit at the big kid’s table and join the conversation.
i think it’s probably one of the strongest of human desires – to feel that your are being heard and understood.
Joe McCarthy said:
Venessa: thanks for the elaboration on your own experiences with intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. I like your more lighthearted approach to the practice of blogging: “i make peace with whatever the motivations are to blog. ultimately, it doesn’t matter.” (and by lighthearted, I don’t mean to imply lightweight, as I agree with Ned that you are doing a fantastic job of raising important issues and sharing keen insights).
Your allusions to stories and truth prompted me to dig out my copy of Dan McAdams’ book, “The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self”. As he puts it, “In order to live well, with unity and purpose, we compose a heroic narrative of the self that illustrates essential truths ourselves.”
This conversation also prompted me to pluck a book that was down a few layers in my stack and start reading it last night: “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, by Daniel Pink. I only got through the introduction, but suspect this will shed more light on my own motivation for blogging. He emphasizes three essential elements to motivation:
*Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives
*Mastery: the urge to get better and better at something that matters
*Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
I already posted a few notes about a book talk – well, a book-centered conversation – with Dan I recently attended, but suspect reading his book will warrant an a whole new post when I’m done … er, but I’ll do that over on my own blog, rather than a[nother] really long comment here.
Thanks again for being willing to delve further into the blogging motivation issue!
Ned Kumar said:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on blogging. You bring out some excellent points on what makes a great blog — and which has practical applications for me. For years I have been involved in the blogosphere but resisted starting a public blog. Not because of a lack of passion; but on the contrary being passionate about too many areas. I love to dabble in a wide variety of diverse fields (child psychology to analytics to food&wine and a few in between 🙂 ) and was not sure if by blogging I would imprison myself into a way of thinking. So I satisfied my craving for the release of ideas and stimulating conversation by actively commenting on a number of blog domains (and some internal postings within my company). However, I feel strongly now than ever before the need to start a blog and so your post was fantastic in terms of certain insights.
As far as your comment “where my voice might be good enough to let me sit at the big kid’s table and join the conversation” goes, I can tell you (from my experience at least) that you are already sitting at the big kid’s table – Just speak up your mind kid :-). Seriously, your blog is one of the best I have seen in terms of being stimulating and impactful. I am of the notion that when it comes to blogging, it is the quality that matters and not the quantity. I have seen folks create blogs every other day with a couple of paras – it might work for some but I really don’t think of that as blogging as much as an extended version of tweeting. Anyway – you have done an excellent job so far.
And just for fun, here is some play on words. I thought the word “RIVET” captures some of the things you talk about in your conversation about ‘riveting’ blogs :-).
Relevance of the topic to your audience
Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya 🙂
Business Questionnaire said:
irst and foremost I’ve always loved to write. I find it easier for me to communicate this way than to actually speak out loud — which may be a hindrance to me in real life, but for the purpose of blogging it’s a plus. Not to say that I’m a full blown jackass in person, but you get what I’m saying. Writing’s cool, it’s healthy. I started blogging because I love sports, so naturally if you love to write and you love sports, you start a sports blog. When I first started in February of last year I had no idea what I was doing. It began as an all-encompassing Detroit sports blog because I genuinely follow all of my Detroit teams with equal attention (yes, Lions included). Since then I’ve brought on board my friend and fellow Wing fanatic Brent, and up until just recently I made the decision to just focus on the Red Wings. I figured if I narrowed the focus down that the content would be better, and so far I think it has improved. I say that I had no idea what I was doing because I wasn’t experienced or knowledgeable about blogging when I started. I was 21 when I began, and yet I followed sports like a 65 year old — reading papers and watching the news. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I just think the Internet gives you infinitely more options to choose from (groundbreaking opinion, I know). Now there’s 10 to 15 Red Wings sites I check on per day, reading different perspectives that I never would have found before. My motivation when I first started was to have an outlet to ramble about sports through writing, because that’s what I enjoyed; I never had an eye on gaining readership or communicating with other writers or anything like that. Over time that has changed. I enjoy the communication between different sites, commenters, the occasional disgruntled Predators fan, and I discovered this all on the fly. Now look at me — it’s a year later and I’m a Wings fan reading a Devils site for god’s sake. The Internet is cool.
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks, great story. i feel the same way! the part that is becoming very interesting to me is the communicating and network weaving. and i think that’s the part that is really making this blog “work.” i spend a tremendous amount of time not just thinking about stuff and writing it down, but responding to all the comments too. (i don’t really like the word ‘comment’, it feels insulting. everyone who responds here is entering into a big conversation.) i wish the way the comments section was set up was better… with the threads easier to read, and i’d like there to be a feature to add certain content… but i don’t know how to do that, i keep saying to myself i need to find a programmer who would be willing to help me to expand this site. but anyway, yeah, it’s kind of amazing what happens when you show appreciation for the time/effort someone puts in to leave a comment – now all these smart people are coming out of the woodwork because they know they can engage here and be heard. honestly, every post feels like a mini TED conference, where i throw out an idea, a bunch of people chime in, and i feel smarter at the end. 🙂