Thursday, 25 November 2010

Mark Twain: good blogging advice

This is completely lifted from Mark Liberman's post at Language Log - From Mark Twain's autobiography - but it's such good advice that I can't resist quoting it:

Finally, in Florence in 1904, I hit upon the right way to do an Autobiography: start it at no particular time of your life; talk only about the thing which intrests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.

Also, make the narrative a combined Diary and Autobiography. In this way you have the vivid things of the present to make a contrast with memories of like things in the past, and these contrasts have a charm which is all their own. No talent is required to make a combined Diary and Autobiography interesting.

And so, I have found the right plan. It makes my labor amusement — mere amusement, play, pastime, and wholly effortless. It is the first time in history that the right plan has been hit upon.

- page 220, Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, Mark Twain, ed. Harriet E. Smith, Benjamin Griffin, Victor Fischer, Michael B. Frank, Sharon K. Goetz, Leslie Diane Myrick, University of California Press, 2010 - originally "Author's Note" in Mark Twain's autobiography, Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, 1924

Mark Liberman comments, "This is also the right plan for successful blogging, in my experience".

I couldn't agree more, particularly if you extend the concept to the balance between "personal" (day-to-day authorial experience) and "external" (topic material encountered or uncovered). It's an approach that has kept me interested in JSBlog for four years - despite an initial dread of running out of ideas -  and it's the one used by the weblogs that I read most regularly, as well as pre-weblog diary accounts such as Cecil Torr's Small Talk at Wreyland (a diary of an antiquarian landowner).  A similar format can be very successful in fiction, as with WG Sebald's Rings of Saturn (which combines the narrator's walking tour of East Anglia with meditations on the history of places visited).

- Ray


  1. Read this last night, thought "how very true!" and have been thinking about it since.

    I realise that it applies to other pre-blog media too ... for instance, I now see it as the common link between those parts of any publication to which I often turn first: OpEd columns and reader's letters, for example.

  2. Yes. When commenting about this, I also had in mind the extremes of "all-internal" and "all-external" as ways not to do it. Even if the writer leads a vastly eventful life, blogs solely about their author's daily experience rapidly become dull if they never make any attempt to cross-link that experience with broader research. Conversely, I find "pure article" blogs, where you never feel you're connecting with the author and why they're writing, strangely uninteresting in the long run.