The Noisy Channel

 

Book Writing vs. Blogging

April 24th, 2009 · 3 Comments · General

When I announced that I’d be writing a book, I promised that I would blog about the experience. It may seem odd that I’m only blogging about it now, when I’m almost done, but perhaps that gives you a sense of how absorbing the book-writing process has been for me. In any case, I’m not sure if or when I’ll write another book, so I wanted to take a moment to jot down my thoughts about the experience.

Blogging, at least for me, is about public conversation. It’s an asymmetric conversation, for sure: I’m the blogger (at least on my blog!), so I get to go first. But my best posts–and, in my opinion, the best blog posts in general–are those where a comment stream quickly takes over, making the post more of a conversation starter than a monologue. Perhaps the best example of this on my blog is “Looking for a Devil’s Advocate“, which inspired over sixty comments in a conversation that lasted for three weeks.

A major factor in this dynamic is immediacy. A reflective blog post might take me an hour to write (fortunately most don’t take quite that long!), but that is still close to instant gratification, particularly when I’m blogging about a timely topic. Comments may only take seconds to write (Jeremy’s being a notable exception), and I don’t moderate comments–precisely because I want to preserve the momentum of real-time conversation.

Writing a book, needless to say, is quite different. I spent over two months putting together these hundred pages about faceted search. While faceted search is a current industry topic (albeit not as topical as Microsoft’s latest earnings report), I found myself drawing on materials from Aristotle, Linnaeus, and Ranganathan–hardly the usual fare for blogging. Even my more recent material includes research in the 1990s that barely has a web presence, let alone a presence in the blogosphere. It’s odd to think of such recent work as history, and yet it felt that way to me.

Perhaps that’s because writing a book is neither immediate nor conversational. It is a lonely endeavor, even for just a couple of months–though that might just reflect that I am pathologically extrovert. I had to resist the temptation to write the book as a wiki, encouraging the world to make edits and suggestions throughout the writing process (I’m sure my publisher would shudder to know that I did entertain this possibility). Only now in the final stages of writing have I been receiving feedback–and it is a refreshing change! Indeed, I’m moved by the number of people have stepped up to volunteer their time and effort–including people whom I have never met face-to-face. To anyone who questions whether an online social network is real, I stand as a case study in benefiting from the reality.

In short, it’s been a great learning experience, and I hope the artifact proves valuable to a broad audience. Still, it’s nice to be able to spend more time blogging again. I am a sucker for instant gratification.

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jeremy // Apr 24, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Comments may only take seconds to write (Jeremy’s being a notable exception)

    Hey, maybe I’ve just gotten so good at the 8-paragraph rant that it really does only take me seconds, too!

    :-)

  • 2 Grant Ingersoll // Apr 25, 2009 at 7:13 am

    So true. It’s funny, I started out blogging (http://www.grantingersoll.com and http://lucene.grantingersoll.com) as a way to “practice” writing, thinking it would help lay the groundwork for writing a book (it did: Taming Text, http://www.manning.com/ingersoll) and now, after having worked on a book for a while (the end is in sight), I find the interactive/stream of consciousness nature of blogging to be much more satisfying.

    Then again, maybe it is due to the fact that writing a technical book takes a lot of work to make it come alive, even if you are a good writer.

  • 3 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 26, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    It certainly felt like more effort to produce the book than it would have to produce a comparable amount of blog content.

    Of course, you’re writing a much longer book. I can’t imagine writing something over the course of a couple of years!

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