My Blogging Influences

I have been blogging since late 2005, about 9-1/2 years. Over the course of that time, I’ve written 5,546 posts (5,547 if you count this one). That amounts to more than one-and-a-half posts per day, every day during my run thus far. I don’t even want to try to count how many words it amounts to.

In all the time I’ve been blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever written about my blogging influences. I’ve written about writers who have influenced me, but I’ve never gotten specific and identified those writers who influenced my blogging. I thought I’d do that today.

Compared to other forms of writing, blogging is still relatively young. The people who have been doing it the longest have only been doing it for 15 years or so. At first glance, this narrows the scope of influencers, but the truth is there is only one blogger out there that has influenced my approached to blogging. The two other people who have influenced my approach and style, while both writers, were never known for their blogs.

My style and approach to blogging has evolved a great deal since the early years. I used to rant a lot more than I do now. I used to write about things that no one else cared about. Over time, I’ve narrowed my focus, and I’ve done my level best to cut out the rants. I was reading the latest issue of Baseball Digest last night and came across this remarkable passage by the magazine’s editor, Bob Kuenster:

At the start of my career in covering Major League Baseball, a great writer told me to report on the good of the game. It has so many great things and good people that you should focus on that end of the spectrum and leave the controversial garbage for the hardcore news people to write about… fans want to read about the good in the game.

While I’d never thought about it in explicit terms, this is exactly what I’ve been evolving toward here on this blog. Writing about the good, whether it is in technology, science fiction, writing, family, or whatever it is that I happen to be writing about. I don’t always achieve this, but it is what I aim for. This isn’t to say that I don’t recognize the other end of the spectrum, but as Kuenster says, there are plenty of other people writing about that stuff. No need to add my voice to it.

Here are the three writers who have influenced my approach to blogging and writing about the good of the game.

John Scalzi

John Scalzi has been blogging at Whatever for 15 years. He’s one of the originals. And while John doesn’t always write about the good of the game, he does several things that has influenced me on this blog over the years:

  • He writes engaging posts.
  • He writes with clarity.
  • He writes consistently.
  • He writes in a way that encourages discussion and dialog.

Each of these things are something I have worked toward over the years, and John’s example has been foremost in my mind when doing this. Engaging posts are important for the same reason that hooks in piece of short fiction are important. You want to engage the reader and get them interested. Clarity is also important. With a potential audience as large as the entire Internet, it is important to try to be as clear as possible to avoid confusion and chaos. I think John does a great job of this, and I’ve worked hard to establish clarity in my posts.

Isaac Asimov

If you look at the thousands of essays that Isaac Asimov wrote over decades, and combine that with his colloquial style, you could make the case that Asimov was what we might call a “proto-blogger.”

Over the years, I think I’ve managed to read nearly every essay that Asimov has written, and his influence on my style here on the blog is undeniable. There are three things that I think I’ve taken away from Asimov when it comes to blogging:

  1. Clarity. This was Asimov’s bread and butter. His ability to explain the difficult, to communicate complicated subjects in simpler terms that anyone could understand is second-to-none. There have been and will be other great popularizers of science, but Asimov was one of the best at this.
  2. Colloquial style. I like to think that I’m fairly informal here on the blog. If that comes through, I have Isaac Asimov to thank for that. People who know me have said that I write the way that I speak. I think this has changed over the years. I used to write a lot more like I speak. Now I write colloquially, but that is different from how I speak. And I’ve had no better example for this than Isaac Asimov.
  3. Range of subjects. Asimov wrote on just about everything. From science to Shakespeare, from Gilbert & Sullivan to the Roman Empire. Early on in my blogging tenure, I did this as well. Over the years, my scope has narrowed dramatically. But I feel comfortable writing just about anything, and I think that is heavily influenced from my reading of Asimov’s essays.

Al Martinez

People who lived in Los Angeles at any time in the last 40 years or so should be familiar with Al Martinez. He wrote columns for the Los Angeles Times for decades. In high school and college, I remember reading his columns, and they were often the highlight of my reading for the week. He wrote about everyday things in funny, colloquial way. I remember his columns as being generally upbeat and positive. Martinez is now retired, having written his last column about a year ago.

While there isn’t one specific thing I’ve taken away from reading Martinez’s columns, my sense is that I hope that my posts come across to others the way his columns did to his audience.

I find it interesting that all three of my blogging influencers were journalists. John Scalzi wrote for newspapers before he ever did any blogging. Isaac Asimov wrote many essays and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines. And Al Martinez was a journalist throughout his career.

I suppose the natural question to ask at this point is: who is influencing me today? I hear every now and then that blogging is dead, just as I hear that short fiction is dead. Of course, I’ve read essays from the early Golden Age of science fiction in which the writers of the day claimed that short fiction was dead. But I don’t think blogging is dead. I think it has become much more difficult to distinguish a blog from the masses, but the gems have always been rare.

Today, there are several bloggers that I’ve been particularly impressed with. I find Maria Popova‘s Brain Pickings one of the best blogs out there today. People often wonder how I manage to do so much, but I wonder how Maria does everything that she does. If you’ve never checked out Brain Pickings stop reading and go there now. You’ll be delighted.

Business and tech blogs are a dime a dozen these days, which makes it both easier and more difficult to stand out in this space. It’s easy to distinguish yourself with excellent, original content, but it is extraordinarily difficult to produce excellent original content. That said, I think Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer, and his team, are doing remarkable things with the Buffer Blog.

Any else out there have people who have influenced their blogging? Or how about examples of outstanding blogs to look for? Drop them in the comments.

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  1. Jamie, what an amazing accomplishment! I have followed your blog for several years, so I missed some of your earlier rants. I recently took my website live and started blogging, and you are one of my blogging influences. I enjoy your content and the clarity with which you write, and your paperless posts have helped me learn how to make Evernote an invaluable tool. I recommend them to anyone who tells me they are trying to figure out how to eliminate the mountains of paper clutter in their lives. I have never considered myself a science fiction lover, but your writing has piqued my interest in reading more, especially Isaac Asimov. Thanks again for this post. I will click through now to read the others you recommend.


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