The enforced seclusion caused by COVID-19 nudged me to experiment with blogging. I had a dormant blogspot.com account, and I started writing on that site. After continuing on blogspot for a couple of months, I shifted to a WordPress blog site. I started writing on Medium in October 2021. Having completed a year of writing, I wanted to look back and assess my experience and what I have learned as a writer. My guide to this was how other writers have approached this issue.
The raw material for my blogs has been notes on my work, personal life and professional experiences collected on my laptop. The speeches I had given on various occasions also became suitable material to be converted into blogs. Some of these were technical talks on plasma processing, thermonuclear fusion and other applications of plasma physics, which, when converted into blogs, attracted friendly response. How my poems came to be composed became an interesting set of blogs.
Some writers have used earnings as the primary measure of their success. Since I am not a member of the Medium Partner Program, as writers from India are kept out, this yardstick is irrelevant to me. Denial of membership is a disappointment, though Medium may have reasons to follow this practice. But I believe that this is discriminatory, and hope Medium would correct this asymmetry in the future.
I have gained over 1500 followers in this period, and I am grateful to them for that honour. I have a rule of reciprocating the courtesy. I try to read their pieces. But time is indeed a precious commodity,
The pieces which got traction were those written about science and technology. “The Explosion of the Fusion Startups” describing the visionary inventors behind the private commercial efforts in Fusion technology startups and following a dream thought unachievable by many for a long time attracted 768 views. This was an eye opener, because I had a mistaken impression that people do not prefer ‘hard’ subjects. This led me to spend more efforts in preparing articles on science topics, especially plasma physics, plasma processing and application, Thermonuclear Fusion etc, where I have the expertise.
“Plasma Route for Cheap Hydrogen”, which describes the microwave-assisted plasma pyrolysis technology which converts Methane into plasma in which light hydrocarbons react to form allotropes of carbon, which have high commercial value with 192 views.”The Fusion Mavericks” describing the role of startups in pushing the fusion agenda got 234 views. “Plasma Route for Cheap Hydrogen” explaining the direct methane reduction for producing Hydrogen got 192 views.
“The Syrian Christians of Kerala” described the ancient community of Nasrani Christians converted from Hindu faith into Christianity by St Thomas in the first century AD. This attracted 138 viewers, proving that the exotic sells.
“A Man Called Reacher” was an appreciation of Lee Child’s character, character in the mould of Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero: the stranger who appears from nowhere and corrects the wrongs. Reacher stories fulfil the patterns which recur in myths and fairytales. Reacher series is popular on Prime TV. This collected 202 views.
“Reflections on Building India’s First Tokamak” described how a small team of scientists at the Physical Research Laboratory in India ventured into the hallowed area of Fusion Machines and successfully built a state-of-the-art machine in 1989. This attracted 136 views.
Pieces about people seem to attract readership. My article about Prof Kaw, a colleague and an internationally acclaimed plasma physicist resonated among the people who have known him. There were 314 views as of now. “A Miracle at Muvattupuzha” is a story about a man who rose from abject poverty and extreme misery to become a very successful entrepreneur employing 4000 people attracted 414 viewers.
It is possible that my marketing is quite weak. Apart from putting links on Facebook and LinkedIn, and an email announcement to a small group of friends, I spend minor efforts there. I shall be grateful for advice on how to improve this shortcoming.
Except for A Thousand Lives and New Writers Welcome, I have not bothered to become a member of writing groups. This was because of laziness and an aversion to bureaucracy. Now that I have spent a year, I shall take joining writers’ groups more seriously.
The pieces which did not do very well to attract large viewership were those of a reflective, autobiographical nature. These included pieces of shopping in India, description of efforts in becoming a writer of books, experience and evolution as a self-taught painter, thoughts on innovation, fascination with words and the images they evoke, childhood memories, etc. Perhaps the Indian ethos and perceptions colouring these pieces do not strike a universal chord.
Some response is worth relishing. Francesco Beni wrote to me: “I’ve just started my podcast about books and literature and related topics. Therefore, I write to you: could I use some of your articles published on the website?. I would like to translate them into Italian in order to tell those stories on my podcast, mentioning your name and inviting people to read the original article too.” This was indeed appreciation of a high order, and I complied with the request gladly. Later she used my blog on LibraryThing, the software to make library catalogues for another podcast.
In response to my recalling discovering outstanding books in remote bookshops, Justin Boyette wrote: “One time when I visited a bookstore in Blue Ridge, Georgia, I found an early edition of Robin Hood with a short love letter inside. It was originally a Christmas gift to someone who existed an entire lifetime from when I found it. Incredible.”
Justin Donlan had kind words about my piece on collecting books. He wrote: “Fascinating read, John. I particularly liked this insight about the purpose of fiction. While reading, especially fiction, I have realised how they change your perspective and outlook on life. Fiction allows you to assume various identities of varied circumstances, which is a great luxury denied to you in your paltry existence. Fiction is a great simplifier. It discards the non-essentials and highlights what matters. Events that take years, in reality, get distilled into a few chapters.” He also admired my blog about Philip Dick: “I know of PKD through Blade Runner and The Man in the High Castle, and I mean to read his fiction. Thanks for providing the biographical info. I did not know of his beliefs in the simulation hypothesis or of his mental health difficulties.” In response to my piece on the LibraryThing, he mentioned Harold Bloom, whose mind was the library. He could recite extensive passages that he had read decades ago. Eva Rtology invited me to submit the Philip Dick and Idea stories to the Data Driven Fiction.
Sena Ugurtas responded to the quotation by Ernest Hemingway: “All good books have one thing in common — they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you’ve read one of them, you feel that all that happened, happened to you and then it belongs to you forever: the happiness and unhappiness, good and evil, ecstasy and sorrow, the food, wine, beds, people, and the weather.”
Nour Boustani was another kind reader who admired many of my stories, “Innovation Cycles and Industrial Revolutions, An Affinity for Science and Cheques and Balances.” Violet Daniels accepted “The Pleasures of Collecting Books” to the publication “A Thousand Lives.”
G Merrick liked “A Cavalcade of Heroines” and my comment about why we love our fictional heroines. Jay Brodell commented on Climate Change Fiction: “The real world has little use for sellers of doom, especially those who use climate change to promote ideologies such as veganism, a solar-powered world and the elimination of human freedoms.”
Shubhasree Desikan commented on “A Hero’s Journey,”: “Reality is a pale shadow of fiction — a contrast to the usually held view… perhaps the very complexity of life dulls the impact of character and the comparative simplicity of fiction sharpens it like a cut gemstone adding to its lustre.” This is indeed a unique perspective!
I am deeply thankful to all my readers who added to the green-coloured bar graphs which go up and down, showing the difficulties of authorship. I am also thankful for Medium for providing such a rich, happening platform for writers to come together. To the community of Medium readers who have become my followers, I say “thank you from the depth of my heart!”.