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Blog Burnout

It's something of a comfort to see something new at your favorite blogs every day. But as each morning brings a new posting--maybe followed by one at lunchtime and others in the afternoon and at night--you may forget that there's a human being with a day job and non-computing interests at the other end of the line.

And so, sadly enough, some of the best bloggers sometimes elect to call it quits. That happened Tuesday to one of my favorite daily distractions since the fall of 2004, the Washington Nationals fan blog Capitol Punishment. Author Chris Needham signed off late Tuesday night in a post titled "Tonight's The Night":

... things change. I've done plenty of writing these last few years. Lord knows how many books I've essentially written. And finding new things to say is tough. (I'd say 'interesting' things, too, but that'd imply that half my posts were!)

It's time to move on.

To characterize the quality of Needham's work, I'll turn to The Post's Nationals beat writer, Barry Svrluga, who commented on it in his Web chat:

I have to say, I was crushed by this. There are lots of Nationals blogs. Only one was bookmarked on my computer and in my BlackBerry. Chris offered intelligent, analytical, scathing and funny takes on the Nationals.

Svrluga followed up with a blog post later that day. How often do you see the beat writer for the biggest newspaper in town lauding the work of an unpaid amateur writing on his own time?

I e-mailed Needham to ask what led him to hang it up (and it wasn't too few hours in the day):

The actual writing -- as evidenced by my frequent typos and incomplete thoughts -- was surprisingly little. I could dash off a short post in 10 minutes or so. Something longer, where I'd dig up some stats, took maybe an hour. I would've been doing all the reading anyway, which is what takes up the bulk of the time, so I'm not sure it's really 'fair' to consider that as part of the blogging time.

Instead, the well had just run dry:

I imagine that all bloggers go through phases. Some days, there's a lot to say. Others, there's nothing. Lately, finding new or interesting things has been quite a bit more difficult, especially all off-season, when there wasn't a whole lot of activity compared to previous off-seasons. I thought about seriously going out on opening night, but figured I'd give it a few more weeks to see if my feelings would change. They didn't, so off I go.

(He could have fooled me. Needham was cranking out a post about every day up until the end, making me look like a lightweight the whole time.)

Needham's story isn't all that unusual. I've seen many other blogs expire over the past few years. Sometimes, the postings gradually peter out, and in other cases a "goodbye" or "I quit!" notice marks the occasion. Either way, when you've gotten used to enjoying this person's work, it's a sad day when you realize that you'll be deprived of their writing from now on.

It's like learning that one of your favorite bands has broken up, except that with blogs you feel much more like you've been having this long, involved conversation with somebody else.

If you've staked out a corner of the blogosphere for yourself, the end of somebody else's blog may also be an unsettling reminder of your own effort's mortality. That's something I can't help but think about as I've stepped up my own output--on top of the weekly Fast Forward and Help File columns, there's my PostPoints tip-of-the-week e-mail, our weekly podcast, every-workday posts on this blog, daily status updates on Facebook for friends and even-more-frequent posts at Twitter for the general public.

I need to make sure that I can keep some kind of balance between these pursuits and all the other parts of my life. (And yet as I type this, it's past 7 p.m. on Wednesday night. Hmm.)

Have you started a blog, then given up on it? Please tell your story in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 8, 2008; 9:50 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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Comments

While I'd love to establish a blog for to shout my angry (lord, these past seven years have left me angry...) expositions to the heavens, the reality of daily posting (which I perceive as a requirement to acquire and retain any sort of audience) has kept me from it.

I share your sorrow, however, when a favorite writer hangs it up; Royal Ford, longtime automotive reviewer at the Boston Globe, recently called it quits. While I rarely cared about the cars he was reviewing, I greatly enjoyed how he wrote, the joy he conveyed in the job he had ("I get to race a porsche 221mph and write about it!"), his willingness to put himself in his columns (he frequently railed against people who smoke in their cars -- windows rolled up -- with children inside).

Yep. Now you've got me all skeered I'll lose my daily Pegoraroizing, too.

Posted by: Bush -- not related | May 8, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I have a blog and rarely post to it. It's a nice solution. I don't court a readership and, for the most part, don't get one.

Which reminds me: Hey, everyone, check out http://www.spam-o-matic.org! It's infrequently updated!

Posted by: Lindemann | May 8, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

4.5 years and still going strong, but my tagline says why:
A mix of personal and pop culture, updated whenever I feel like it.

Posted by: Hemisphire | May 8, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I love it when friends and relatives keep a blog going for others to know what is up with them. I hate those blogs that say nothing....and end up with people ranting. Even our local meteorologist's blog, which started out with excellent weather information and in depth historical weather stuff has declined into a rant about nothing. Then...it is time to quit.

Your blog does a great service to so many people, Rob. We love your detailed reviews and the opportunity that you give your readers to respond with their reviews. I am not sure what happened with that whole eBay issue. Could you give a brief synopsis of the online sales scene...or is it opening up a tidal wave again?

Keep up the good work! If you need to take a break and just post 1 time a week, that is fine with us. Just don't quit your blog!

Posted by: rjrjj | May 8, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, everybody! (blushes)

Just so we're clear, this post isn't some kind of cry for help or a threat to pack it in. For one thing, this is part of my job, not a hobby. For another, it's fun. Somehow, it often feels like less work than my old weekly newsletter was, even though I'm writing two or three times as much each week.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | May 8, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I post occasional bits to kuro5hin and husi. Not daily, sometimes not weekly.

But I've been doing it for almost 10 years.

Posted by: wiredog | May 8, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I have a blog and update it rarely. It's sorta more like the annual Christmas newsletter (although I post a bit more than that), updating friends and family with major developments, as well as the occasional topic that I start thinking about.

RSS is great for this type of thing, I think. That way, people don't have to go out of their way -- they're checking their reader anyway.

Posted by: jp | May 8, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Ideas and opinions, thoughtfully considered and articulated, are a joy to read. Blogs can expand one's community, unify public opinion and provide the opportunity to learn (if only another's perspective).
Blogs are also less intimidating and often less boring than "Letters to the Editor".

Posted by: Halelani | May 8, 2008 1:45 PM | Report abuse

For the last year, I've written an English-language China blog based in Shanghai. And believe me, there's no lack of interesting material to blog about. But even so, two weeks ago, in the midst of the Olympics/Tibet blitz, I announced a 15 day hiatus. Now, I'm a writer by trade, so part of my reason for suspending operations was the need to complete other projects. But also, quite frankly, I was beginning to become tired of hearing myself spout off. Generally, and at its best, I think of my blog as a "reported" blog. That noted, the tone of mine - and most, I think - blog writing is a bit over bearing. And, I think you reach a point where you either feel comfortable sending out your opinion multiple times per day (ala Andrew Sullivan) or you reach the humility horizon and decide that someone else's opinion is probably just as worth burning out. I've promised my readership that I'll be back on May 14, but I must say that - after 296 posts in 50-some weeks, I'm seriously struggling with whether I want to do it or not.

One thing that nobody wants to talk about - but I will - is the way in which a blog can deliver instant gratification to the writer. That is to say - is there any other form of writing that produces such rapid data on whether or not people are interested in your thoughts? Most of the bloggers that I know (admittedly, not many) are obsessed bordering on addicted to their readership stats. That's unhealthy, and I think it contributes to burn-out.

Posted by: Shanghai Scrap | May 8, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I just hit my 10 year anniversary last month. I think can get tiring -- I've tried quitting once, but I felt compelled to pick it back up. It just becomes a way of life.

Posted by: darleene | May 8, 2008 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I have started a blog and given it up. I once had two well-read blogs, one general and the other about a specific topic. The general blog, which covered everything from politics and law to music and literature, was the winner of a prominent best new blog contest. But, after years of doing professional level writing without compensation (I am a former journalist for the Des Moines Register, Atlanta Journal and AP), and a published fiction and non-fiction writer), I quit.

Another factor in my decision to stop was the atmosphere of the blogosphere. It is often anti-intellectual and just plain vicious. I believe that I am having a better conversation with readers of my 'official' articles and books.

Posted by: Podesta | May 8, 2008 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Blogging regularly is not a hobby or a job - it's an obsession! And as I told Rob, the blog will follow me to the grave. I'll give up my day job before I give up ZNF. ;)

Having said that, I've been burned out twice over a several year period (December 2005 or 2006, April 2008). In each case about a week off (or light posting) was enough to recharge before something angered or excited me enough to get back to work.

Posted by: Dave Zatz | May 9, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Rob, your insecurity is an embarrassing to behold.

Posted by: Jaypeg | May 9, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I blog a few times a week about American Indians in children's and young adult lit.
I do it as a way to reach teachers, librarians, and parents who may not have access to professional journals, or to books academics write.

I'm critical of errors, bias, stereotyping, especially in popular and classic books like LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in NM, working as a professor in American Indian Studies at UIUC.

I average about 400 hits a day, but that figure goes way up in November (Native American month, and.... THANKSGIVING!!!)

I'm going on two years now. There's so much WRONG out there with images of Native peoples, that I doubt I'll run out of material to write about. It's depressing, though, to see the unending stream of this material.

Visit my Internet blog and resource: American Indians in Children's Literature.
To get to it, go to my faculty bio and click on 'Web Page'
http://www.nah.uiuc.edu/faculty-Reese.htm

Debbie Reese

Posted by: Debbie Reese | May 9, 2008 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Could it be that the Washington Nationals just became too painful to write about? I can barely stand to even watch them on TV, let alone write about their pathetic tribulations.

Posted by: Pete from Arlington | May 12, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I first came to the realization that a milestone was coming fast back in Feb 2007. I was about to turn 39, which meant I would soon hit 40. I'm not sure why, but at some point prior to my birthday, I decided to blog my way through my 39th year. I came up with Day 366 as a title (well, settled is more like it as my original one 365 Days was taken) and posted my first entry on Day 1. 364 days later, I posted my last entry to my blog.

I'm not sure whether I'll take up my pen and paper again (metaphorically speaking, that is), but maybe one day I'll take my writings and expand on them. Who knows, maybe a book will come from it. Or maybe it will be a present to my kids about what their dad was like when he was 39.

Read it for yourself, starting at Day 1 at http://day366.blogspot.com/2007/02/day-1.html.

After I stopped blogging on a daily basis, I felt a weight lifted from my chest. I was no longer responsible for daily postings and I could relax a little more, not having to worry about whether I posted something or not. It's been a couple months since I stopped and I've often thought about starting something else. I haven't as of yet. Maybe one day I'll take it up again, but for now, I'll just keep on keeping on.

Posted by: Day 366 | May 12, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I thought about starting a blog, but then realized it would be like caring for a two year old on a 365/24/7 basis. Figured I'd already done that 3 times, and didn't want the responsibility. However, it will be sad when my favorite blogs stop.

Posted by: JRen | May 12, 2008 6:48 PM | Report abuse

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