Thursday, March 31, 2011

Butterfly Blog Effect

Never far from my desk over the last year or so is a collection of about five pieces of printer paper, kept together by a single paper clip. On the front of some of them are sections of a long printed list of topics, in no particular order. Taking up more room than the printed words by now are the equally random collection of topics written in my own chicken-scratch hand writing. These are the pages on which I have kept ideas for posts to write here on Too XYZ.

Once I have written on a topic on the list, I put a line through it. Now here is the interesting part. Except for a cluster of some of the oldest topics on the typed list, most of the topics with a line through them are the ones that were chicken scratched onto random spaces on the pages. The final two pages in that paper clip are in fact nothing but the chicken scratch, and those pages have the most lines through them by far.

It's a visual for my whole view on this blog, and how it has changed and evolved in some ways. As well as my view on the nature of blogging itself.

The typed list was the one I came up with before I even launched Too XYZ. A list of topics I planned to address, regularly, each week, or every other day, regardless of what was going on. I had made the long list so I would have something to say as I got this blog underway. I envisioned checking my prepared list, seeing what was next, writing on it, putting my little line through it, and moving on to the next thing on the list when the time came.

About a month into my launch, the first chicken-scribblings on that list showed up. I had read something, or noted a tweet, or gotten a response on a previous post, or came across an article that needed to be read. I wanted to make sure I wrote about it here on the blog. Once I got through my typed list of course.

But as days wore on, and more chickens scratched up my papers, I was realizing more and more that it was the ideas that came to me on the fly, or in response to something that happened that day, that were getting more attention from me. I still referred to the typed list here and there for ideas, but the things I had written down in pen or pencil, or whatever I could find were the ideas that were itching to be written. The things of the moment. And you know what? Those things often got the most responses.

And looking back, some of the topics I put on the typed list seem tame, quaint, or not quite a fit with what Too XYZ is today. Keep in mind, those were the topics that were designed to be the very groundwork of this blog.

The moral, friends, is that a blog should be about what speaks directly to you. It should be a place to share the ideas you have now, and the things that have pissed you off. The things that have excited you and the things that scare you. Even if nobody reads them. Extend my experience into a metaphor for your own writing. Even if you don't get back to your chicken scratch list for a few days, you will find that most of the items on it will not cool as quickly in your heart as do those manufactured topics you typed up on your launch list.

Planning is good, and even necessary. But don't lock into it. Embrace the Butterfly Blog Effect, which is a variation on the old concept. Somebody somewhere says, comments, tweets or responds to something, and suddenly you are blogging about it. That blog leads to more blog ideas for not only you, but those who read it. Which in turn leads to more comments, blog ideas, book concepts, emails, and so on. Before you know it, you look back and see that while your blog or other writings have taken a turn far from what you originally intended (my old typed list) you are writing and blogging and communicating in the moment with a fresh urgency that lends potency to your posts. (My chicken-scratch list.)

Be disciplined. Have a plan. Keep track of things. Know what you want. Make your typed lists. They may be the foundation blocks of your building. But the decorations, and food, and friends and parties that take place within that building and make it home are the things you write down on the spur of the moment. Embrace those.

I realize many will say that a blog must have a specific plan, with a recurring theme, so as to establish a niche, and gain credibility in same. And that we need to reign in our desire to speak on many things and stick to a routine. Well the closest I get to routine around here is to mention, yet again, that I am Too XYZ for that.

Do you have a website or blog? How much of it's content is preplanned, vs. being inspired by events and knowledge you didn't expect along the way?


Jess said...

I have a nice balance between both spur of the moment writings and pre-planned ideas. But yes, agreed - it is usually the spur of the moment ones that get the most comments.

Ty Unglebower said...

Yes, a mix seem to err toward over planning as opposed to under planning.

Vickie WriterLeft said...

Blogs, like most writing, ought to surprise and delight people - including their writers. The best of them grow and change too - love the "butterfly blog effect" notion.

Ty Unglebower said...

I agree, Vickie. Too much predictability and the blog becomes just as boring to write as it is to read!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, this was really useful. thanks!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I think you've encapsulated the mission of this blog and our challenge.