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The film The Shawshank Redemption has become something of a Western pop culture touchstone, mostly because it is the story of an individual human spirit refusing to break and, in that refusal, rising up to inspire others. In the end, isn’t that the story that we hope that our blogs will tell, one that rises above the morass of other blogs to inspire and entertain others?
It turns out that the film contains an abundance of lessons about life that can directly be applied to the art of blogging. Looking at a few of these lessons could provide some nice insight into the art of blogging – or just bring about a desire to watch The Shawshank Redemption again.
I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.
Blogging takes discipline and faith to be successful. Many new blogs start off with a good deal of passion. They were inspired by one of the many great blogs out there, see that it’s just a little post or three a day, and they think to themselves, “I can do that!”
The truth is that it’s not that easy. The successful blogs that make it to the top of Technorati’s list of popular blogs didn’t get there because an individual started a blog on a whim. These blogs are the result of strong organizational and creative skills; not only do these bloggers have the creativity to post interesting things, but they have the discipline to post them every single day.
Even more, a successful blogger must have faith in what he or she is doing. If you judge yourself by the usage statistics of the first week or month of a blog’s existence, you’re going to find yourself disheartened. You must have faith that your blogging is engaging enough that you will build up an audience. If you don’t believe that with all your might, it will be very hard for your blog to soar above the crowd.
There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.
Human experience is powerful. Once a blogger chooses a topic, quite often they’ll write lots of factual pieces focusing strictly on this topic. The blog then becomes a wonderful factual resource, but it fails to become truly engaging for the community.
Blogs that succeed are ones that figure out the art of wrapping their topic in the swaddling of human experience. Their own experiences and the experiences of others can transform a dull topic into something engaging. In the words of Pere Henri: “I think that we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create… and who we include.”
As humans, the one experience we truly have in common is the human experience. The art of capturing an audience is in finding common experiences and elaborating upon them.
I could see why some of the boys took him for snobby. He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place. Yeah, I think it would be fair to say… I liked Andy from the start.
Be yourself. Some people blog from a perspective that is not their own, mostly because they believe that no one would actually be interested in what they have to say. The real truth is that people want authenticity – and the best way to be authentic is to be yourself.
Obviously, you need to stay within the realm of your topic area, but you should always feel free to bleed in as much of your own personality and other interests as you can. If you’re a parent, mention those experiences; if you’re a student, mention academic life. Create a framework of authenticity around your blog by simply being yourself and writing what comes naturally.
Many bloggers seem to resist this and focus on their specific topics or their “persona,” but I offer as a counterpoint the success of boing boing. They write about cultural absurdities, but the reason the site is so endearing to so many readers is that one gets a feel for the humanity of Cory and Xeni just by reading for a few days. They become real people to their readers, and this is a powerful feeling.
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.
Inspiration comes from unexpected places. In this scene in Shawshank, a field full of prisoners is taken aback by the sudden appearance of operatic music over the prison’s loudspeakers. Virtually none of them had ever been exposed to opera before, but Red was certainly inspired by the Italian women.
The best way to be inspired is to be exposed to new things as well as new perspectives on old things. It’s so easy to visit the same blogs again and again each day, but inspiration often arrives for me by jumping into blogs I’ve never seen before, usually found by searching for whatever idea I’m thinking about in Technorati and flipping through some of the sites the search brings up.
There is so much good stuff going on, with so many different angles and perspectives, that we deny ourselves a great chance for inspiration by choosing to ignore it.
Geology is the study of pressure and time. Thats all it takes really… pressure, and time… that and a big goddamn poster.
Persistence pays off. Much like geology, blogging is all about pressure and time. We apply pressure by blogging as well as we can each day, and we provide the time factor by being persistent with blogging.
Much like the sliding plates under the Earth’s surface, eventually the forces of pressure and time will bring about an explosion. We’ll write something that will appear on one of the top blogs and be passed rapidly around the blogosphere, and our traffic will spike up. If we keep the pressure applied, it will happen again and again and, eventually, we will slowly move up and become one of the top blogs. People will include our site in their routine of daily visits.
That’s all it takes really … pressure and time.