Should I blog?

29 Jun

I ask this very specifically, for and about people like me who want to be ‘writers’. I apologise in advance for the earnestness of what is to follow, but I’m preparing a couple of workshops that I’m giving over the next couple of months and as I’ve been trying to articulate how I see blogging as a form of writing, and its potential (or otherwise) for ‘new’ writers, I couldn’t think of any other way to think it through than to write myself a blog post (so I guess the simple answer is ‘yes’).

In asking this question I’m not saying that my blog and my blogging habit all stem from ‘wanting to be a writer’. My blog and my blogging habit are about…well, you’ve got a blog, you’ve read my blog…you know all the things that it’s about. And this question can be easily applied to the wider set of questions, ‘should I blog instead of…’, and I’m sure you have your own range of neglected options to insert here – knitting, playing with children, getting together with friends and so on.

I’m not going to define exactly who I mean by ‘writers’ or ‘want to be’. You can decide for yourself whether or not it applies to you, but I do think that the discussion is slightly different for ‘new’ and ‘established’ writers (as discussed in posts such as this and this at Sarsaparilla).

So, having apologised for this post, my blog, my writing and myself; having determined that we are simply addressing one very small part of blogging; having broken a most important blogging rule (get to the bloody point) I shall ask the question again (because by now you’ve probably forgotten what it even was).

Should people who want to be ‘writers’ blog?

First up, the most obvious argument against blogging: blogging is a distraction from other writing. You already know what I’m going to say, don’t you? So is vacuuming the dust from the corners of the cutlery drawer. As is teaching myself to say the alphabet backwards (actually, I did that the night before my matric biology exam, but I offer it here in case you haven’t thought of it for yourself and need a new procastinatory activity). And reading The Advertiser, weeding the grevilleas, watching Grey’s Anatomy. The list goes on. It’s a spurious argument that one about distraction (do you know, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever used the word ‘spurious’ in a written sentence), presupposing too many things: that every moment I have spent blogging might have been directly applied to some other project; that I haven’t also been writing other things; that other writing projects are all more worthy than this; and that blogging is only about writing.

Perhaps now is a useful time to recall the wise words of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union: abstinence from all things bad, moderation in all things good.

There is a danger that blogging will swallow your best ideas. That once blogged, they can not be used in some other form. The scrape of the spoon on the bottom of the saucepan that led to this post isn’t available to me any more, for example. But that doesn’t mean I’ve necessarily lost anything. I love that piece of writing. It works perfectly as a blog post and wouldn’t work so well anywhere else.

I’ve become less worried about it too since I began performing standup. In standup – though I’m a beginner there too, so speak only from a beginner’s perspective – it seems okay to repeat yourself on your way to getting it right. You should polish your pieces until you think they will work, but very often you (I) don’t know whether they will work until they’ve been said outside the safety of your empty kitchen.

Blogging has sharpened my writing. I know, when I blog, that someone will read what I have written, and quite possibly that someone will read it only a few minutes after I’ve finished writing it (if I got hit by a bus, would I be happy for that to stand as my Last Post). I’ve been able to experiment with voice and with point of view and blogging has heightened my awareness of the every day. I might think, for example, of the colour lipstick I wear and the sentence I could use to describe that on a blog.

I could have learnt that from my other paper journal, perhaps, but a blog does not work in the same way that a private journal does. Because a blog is not private. Different bloggers deal with this differently, but deal with it they must. Anger, for example. I would never directly blog about my anger with important people in my life. Too hard to mop up. But I do blog about it every now and then. Like here. I can’t tell you how pissed off I was that day. And I didn’t need to once I’d written it down that way. And it gave me an idea, and there’s a larger piece of writing that’s grown from that, and I’ll be able to use it one day (well, I hope so, you know, maybe).

Not only does a blog bring you readers, it brings readers you get to know a bit about. Because blogging can’t be only about the writing. It’s about reading too. Reading a lot. And somehow, I think that can’t help but give you an insight into your own writing that isn’t available in any other form. You get told endlessly at workshops ‘write for yourself first’, but blogging teaches you – quickly – what that means. Not just how to do it, but the implications too.

On the relationship between your blog and your readers, there’s something to be said about learning how to ‘write what you know’ – direct experience – and transposing it to mean more than what just happened or what you immediately felt. But at the same time, you must be honest, because your blog readers (generally) expect that what you write in this form is true. I haven’t quite worked out how to articulate this point yet, but I know it is an important one. Do let me know if you think you know what I’m trying to say.

There’s a lot that blogging can teach you about other forms of writing. I imagine you could learn a lot about writing an open-ended narrative like a soap for example. And there are endless types of online writing which would blogging could introduce you to. I’m not sure about a novel though (and there’s an excellent discussion about that here). Though possibly if you were very good at forward planning and had a very particular kind of structural control. Maybe then.

That’s enough for now, isn’t it? I’ve spent far too long on this, haven’t I? Thanks for reading this far if indeed you have. Back to the shoes and coffee cups tomorrow. Promise.

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33 Responses to “Should I blog?”

  1. Pavlov's Cat June 29, 2007 at 2:37 pm #

    What a great post, and there are a squillion things that come to mind but for the moment I will narrow it down to two.

    1) This bit —
    ‘… learning how to ‘write what you know’ – direct experience – and transposing it to mean more than what just happened or what you immediately felt.’

    — is the centre of everything I’ve ever tried to teach when I’ve been teaching writing, and it seems to me, sadly, that fewer and fewer aspiring writers understand about the ‘meaning more’, possibly because many of them do not read and do not care about finding out more about the history of the literature they aspire to produce more of. (Uh oh, everything’s turning red. Back to the point, sorry.)

    The way I have always put this to my students is as a little rule: ‘If you’re angry with your boyfriend and you want to use it as material, don’t write about your boyfriend: write about your anger.’ The words I like best to describe the transition involved in this sequence of thought are ‘processing’ and ‘mediation’. And it seems to me that a blog is a perfect, absolutely perfect, site for said processing and mediation. On it you can write about your boyfriend and, while you write, start thinking about and sifting through and placing in context the precise qualities of your own, and by extension everybody’s, anger. It’s as though the blog can give you a physical platform for what used to be a completely interior (and often derailed) process.

    2) I remember something you said ages ago, in the course of some debate about the ‘blogging’s the new journalism’ thing, that I have quoted endlessly to various people ever since. Do you remember saying this? “Blogging isn’t the new anything. It’s blogging.”

  2. Pavlov's Cat June 29, 2007 at 2:37 pm #

    What a great post, and there are a squillion things that come to mind but for the moment I will narrow it down to two.

    1) This bit —
    ‘… learning how to ‘write what you know’ – direct experience – and transposing it to mean more than what just happened or what you immediately felt.’

    — is the centre of everything I’ve ever tried to teach when I’ve been teaching writing, and it seems to me, sadly, that fewer and fewer aspiring writers understand about the ‘meaning more’, possibly because many of them do not read and do not care about finding out more about the history of the literature they aspire to produce more of. (Uh oh, everything’s turning red. Back to the point, sorry.)

    The way I have always put this to my students is as a little rule: ‘If you’re angry with your boyfriend and you want to use it as material, don’t write about your boyfriend: write about your anger.’ The words I like best to describe the transition involved in this sequence of thought are ‘processing’ and ‘mediation’. And it seems to me that a blog is a perfect, absolutely perfect, site for said processing and mediation. On it you can write about your boyfriend and, while you write, start thinking about and sifting through and placing in context the precise qualities of your own, and by extension everybody’s, anger. It’s as though the blog can give you a physical platform for what used to be a completely interior (and often derailed) process.

    2) I remember something you said ages ago, in the course of some debate about the ‘blogging’s the new journalism’ thing, that I have quoted endlessly to various people ever since. Do you remember saying this? “Blogging isn’t the new anything. It’s blogging.”

  3. drew June 29, 2007 at 3:51 pm #

    I think blogging is now old enough and mature enough that for the most part, it has taken on a kind of expected rhetorical structure. Most blogs, while they may vary in subject matter, age/sex/sexual proclivities of the author, and geographical perspective, have all adopted the “Today I ate a cheese sandwich” element. (I would acknowledge who came up with that summation of the power of blogging if I could remember where I read it.)

    So blogging now sits somewhere on a continuum between writing greeting card content and writing a novel. It now has its standard norms: you rant about something that makes you angry, you rave about something you love, you talk a lot about minutiae of everyday life (shoes, mugs), embarrassing things that have happened to you and what you’re going to do on the weekend.

    In some respects, it gives you the same opportunity to record life events as a diary or journal. You can use either as a way to amuse yourself, as a blank canvas for ideas, no matter how small or embryonic, or as a catharsis for anger or frustration. The difference between the two is that of audience, and this is where blogging overtakes journal writing for the possibility of public feedback that’s it offers writers. It’s not just getting your mum to read your book report because you know she’ll say it’s fantastic.

    I guess the feedback we all seek as bloggers is that email or RSS popup that tells us someone has commented on our latest post. Comments are a decent measure for reader engagement and you’re only going to get reader engagement if your writing/storytelling skills are up to scratch.

    I don’t mean comments are the be all/end all of blogging; sometimes we do write just for ourselves. But I think that for anyone who “wants to be a writer” (and I’m inferring from that term a level of commercial success as such), you need to be at a skill level where audience engagement becomes a priority. Writing purely for yourself is a luxury I think only the private diarist can really afford. Blogging gives you the chance (or the challenge) to build and engage an audience with nothing other than your wits as a writer and a not-ugly template.

    And I could have written a post on my own site but chose to leave a comment here because you wrote something engaging.

  4. meli June 29, 2007 at 4:24 pm #

    Interesting post! I might come back with more thoughts after I have lugged all my worldly possessions to my new house and scrubbed this one and stopped having to avoid my unbearably nasty housemate (which is what I’m doing now, by the way, waiting till she’s gone before I get up).

    Just wanted to add that something else blogs offer is a sense of community which is quite difficult to get elsewhere. I’ve always avoided creative writing departments at universities from a stubborn idea that I was going to do it my way (a view I’m not sure of any more). But these blogs are nice because the secret writers show their faces, and it’s encouraging. (I promise to show my own secret would be writer face soon enough, once the details from the first paragraph are taken care of.) Also, unlike real life, if you don’t like them you never have the embarrassment of trying to escape from the conversation. For me it’s the same with blogs by academics and other phd students – a phd is such an isolated process that it’s so lovely to be able to connect with other people in the same boat, in the midst of your self-imposed isolation.

    Right, on with the day. Do you think she’s gone yet?

  5. ThirdCat June 29, 2007 at 8:05 pm #

    Hi all and thanks for your responses. PC – I do indeed remember saying it and I still think it all the time. I think I mean it slightly differently here than I did in the political blogging debate – here I think I mean that it isn’t an either/or – you don’t have to blog or write a novel.

    Interesting you should say that, Drew, because I used to aspire to greeting card writing. But then I tried it and I was really shit at it. It is the audience element, isn’t it? I think I shall try to do some more thinking about this before my workshop.

    Oh, meli – has she gone? I hope so, and that the move goes smoothly. Yes, the sense of community is good – I do enjoy the discussions about writers and writing that pop up around the place.

  6. ThirdCat June 29, 2007 at 8:10 pm #

    oh, and drew – shoes are not minutiae. Cheese sandwiches are, but shoes are not.

  7. elsewhere June 29, 2007 at 8:58 pm #

    Hmmm…has a dark night of the blogging soul descended on some of us recently? Is it something to do with the winter solstice?

    Seriously, it’s very hard to judge whether one’s time spent blogging might have been better spent writing after all (whatever that is). I suspect that the spectre of publication hangs over things — the desire to spend time writing something that might receive the imprimateur of an external publishing body rather the vanity publsihing of the net — when there’s a sense that it does all go into the pot, as you’ve inferred in earlier posts.

    The stuff about blogging and reading is v interesting…

  8. drew June 29, 2007 at 9:19 pm #

    Sorry. It’s the not-being-a-girl thing.

  9. Janet June 29, 2007 at 9:41 pm #

    I started blogging as a way to come back to writing after an absence of more than ten years, thinking oh, I’ll have a blog for a while, be fabulously crafty, live a life of domestic bliss and find myself ready to start writing fiction again in a year or two. Yes, well. Turns out I love blogging more than I ever loved writing short stories. Although I don’t love the finished product quite as much. But nearly.

    If I were to try and write ficton again (and it’s a very big if), I think I’d still blog and keep a handwritten diary. So I could download all the clutter in my head and keep track of the half formed ideas that I might need later. That’s alot of writing so I guess I’d need a couple more hours in the day.

    As far as truth goes, that’s an interesting point. For me, there’s a certain censorship at work. My family and friends read my blog, and because it’s an innately autobiographical form, I can’t even pretend it’s fiction. So I need to find ways to express certain aspects of my life in indirect or allegorical ways and remain true. Something I’m struggling with now.

    I’m rambling. I’ll stop.

  10. blackbird June 29, 2007 at 10:08 pm #

    But at the same time, you must be honest, because your blog readers (generally) expect that what you write in this form is true…

    This is fascinating to me –
    When someone blasted me in my comments a while back I was deeply concerned that my readers would believe HER and think I had been lying to them for years.
    Why do we expect that this form is true?

  11. tut-tut June 30, 2007 at 12:57 am #

    Interesting; I thought I would find sitting and posting the most freeing form of writing, but for me it is not, and I don’t know why.

    The blog must be the reason behind the great popularity of the memoir now, so I would see that the notion of truth is quite central to blogging, to tag onto blackbird’s comment.

  12. Meggie June 30, 2007 at 5:18 am #

    After all the sage comments here, I feel a little intimidated.
    I began blogging to join in with a ‘community’, I suppose.
    I have found it incredibly rewarding to find some people like to read what I write.
    I also find it very therapuetic, -if I am angry, I can dispel the anger with laughter, usually.
    I dont agonise over things in the same way, as I would if I was writing it as an exercise- it might be more readable if it is spontaneous.
    Probably nothing of what I have said makes sense.
    I should just shut up, & think about it some more.

  13. Mikhela June 30, 2007 at 7:31 am #

    On a more prosaic level, the regular practice of blogging has made me a better writer. It’s still not the soaring prose giving readers access to the inner me that I envisage, but it’s better. Sometimes.

  14. elsewhere July 1, 2007 at 1:02 pm #

    Workshops — not part of something I could attend as a work junket, is it?

  15. genevieve July 1, 2007 at 2:02 pm #

    Ditto el, are you presenting in Adelaide, FPTC?

    Lovely post, and I appreciate the fine distinctions you are drawing first up between different kinds of writers who blog.

    Amen to everything about sharpening writing, and opening things out that were formerly closed off.

    In late 2004 I wasn’t going to write at all, and blogging sucked me in as I wished to comment on a US blog about a book I was interested in. My earliest posts on Reeling and Writhing confirm this – the first one reads, ‘time to blog – and I only really wanted a profile’!!
    A lot further down the track, well past the ‘addicted’ stage, the Google fairy tapped me on the head with her little wand, and a MSM editor found me, and voila.
    So I am one of those whom blogging has drawn into trad publishing – scary, if I let myself stop and think about it for too long. But then I find all writing scary if I stop to think too hard, which is why blogging has been such a great ignition button for me.

    (PC, that is a great point about forgetting the person and concentrating on processing and mediation – I think I am going to have to email you about that sometime.)

    Also second the motion about anger – the first name of my litblog was directly attached to a block of rage so solid I still can’t cut it up. But I decided that if it was going to be in the paper more than once, perhaps the name should be less dark and bitter. So the transformational aspect can be very helpful, even if you write the ‘odd angry shot’ and then trash it later.

    Very good stuff, lucky workshoppers 🙂
    BTW I hope you don’t get this twice…

  16. Jennifer (Penguin) July 1, 2007 at 3:08 pm #

    I’m not in your target audience (blogging is the most writing I have ever done, and I’ve never really aspired to be a writer), but I found this fascinating to try and reflect on why I blog, nevertheless.

    I find it really sharpens my thinking, to have to think through an argument. And my addiction to comments does make me write much more with an audience (mostly specific other people) in mind.

    I do use blogging as a procrastination device (from my work, not other writing), but I think it is excellent practice for those parts of my work which are writing (albeit very technical writing), and is probably more productive than otherwise.

  17. ThirdCat July 1, 2007 at 5:41 pm #

    Hi all – thanks so much for your comments. I really mean that. It has really helped me solidify my thinking on what I am hoping to convey in the workshop. And thanks for your encouragement too.

    When you find those extra few hours you will let us know the secret, won’t you, Janet?

    I wonder whether the truth bit would be better dealt with in another post – I kind of tried to wrap the whole thing up in one sentence, but of course that couldn’t be done. It’s pretty complex, isn’t it? But just to quickly add to what others have already said about it: in terms of new writers, I was thinking that blogging could expose the links between what happens in real life and what becomes fiction and what kind of implications that has. But there is much, much more to be said about it.

    Meggie, you should not feel intimidated, but I often do myself – so thanks for commenting. Anyway, I think what you say about spontaneity is particularly important – it is a very different way of writing and thinking. I also hadn’t addressed the ‘community’ part of blogging which you and meli mention and it is very, very important. The thing is, you can’t just set yourself up as a blogger and expect that people will come to you.

    Jennifer, I’m glad you found it useful too. I didn’t really mean to create a ‘target audience’ – just that I was trying to keep my thinking focussed and I needed to apologise for being so serious about it all. Procastination isn’t always unproductive.

    ‘I find all writing scary’ – genevieve, yes, why is that? I must think some more about that. It is interesting to hear about the beginning of people’s blogs. I really admire the way you have kept your focus.

  18. Kirsty July 1, 2007 at 8:43 pm #

    I recently read a post that provoked the question in my mind: ‘Are bloggers reliable narrators of their own lives?’ After a bit I thought I’d asked myself a rather silly question.

    I suppose we can’t categorically discount the possibility that the odd person has created a purely fictional persona to blog with, but I do wonder if the concern with the truth of the blogger isn’t a bit like the oft repeated Big Brother accusation that people aren’t being themselves. The BB accusation always annoys me no end because it relies on quite a static version of human subjectivity. When are we not ourselves? I tend to believe that it’s just that we’re constantly in different situations where there are certain behaviours that are more acceptable than others, ie you behave differently around strangers in the bank than loved ones at home, in both situations you’re still yourself.

    I suppose the thing about blogging is that it seems at first glance to lack conventions about normally accepted behaviour, but just from reading the comments here, people clearly come to some understanding about what they think the limits of revelation etc are–and this is not something that’s necessarily arrived at by oneself, but through a period of interaction with others via this particular form of writing.

  19. genevieve July 1, 2007 at 10:19 pm #

    Aww, that’s noice of you TC. Part of the reason for the focus is that I can’t do too much family blogging as my kids are more than old enough to read it. Having said that, one of them read a slightly personal post a while back and thought it wasn’t too bad. So maybe I will master some of the limits of self-revelation at some point.

    Do note, too, that writing’s scary only if I stop to think too hard about it. I do have a tendency to over-scrutinize what I do – the point I think I was obscuring there is that blogging helps me to get past that and just put it out there.

  20. ThirdCat July 2, 2007 at 9:22 am #

    Hi Kirsty – yes, that BB thing is ridiculous, but I always thought it was a function of their age (or more specifically maturity), because I seem to recall similar drunken conversations when I was around 20 or so – maybe it’s to do with finding ourselves. And you’re right, in blogging, people do come to an understanding of how much of themselves they will reveal (as Janet said, this is very much the case because people you know irl will be reading it).

    One other thing I’ve been thinking (still closely linked to the life into fiction effect I mentioned above) is if you are a natural exaggerator for effect. You know, say you exaggerate elements of stories to get a laugh at a dinner party – it is one thing in conversation, but another when it is written down.

  21. ThirdCat July 2, 2007 at 9:24 am #

    Genevieve “I do have a tendency to over-scrutinize what I do”…heh – it’s not a small club, that one.

  22. genevieve July 2, 2007 at 3:57 pm #

    I am glad to hear it, I’m the family pariah in that regard. Bless the blogs, each and every one.

  23. Helen July 3, 2007 at 8:28 am #

    That once blogged, they can not be used in some other form. The scrape of the spoon on the bottom of the saucepan that led to this post isn’t available to me any more, for example.

    Why ever should that be so?
    It’s your writing, your intellectual property. If, fifty years after your death at 102 as a famous writer, your biographer writes about the intriguing detail that the idea for chapter X of your seminal novel Y came from something you toyed with in blog post Z, well, so what? It’s yours.

    Oh, and “Blogging is not the new anything”: so true. If I see “blogging = attempt at journalism” again in the next few months, I’ll track the writer down and throttle him/her. (Note to the literal minded googlebot: this is a joke, Joyce.)

  24. ThirdCat July 3, 2007 at 9:03 am #

    Hi Helen – it really is very frustrating, isn’t it, and yes, I think of throttling too (in a joking way of course).

    The thing I meant about it not being available is just that I’ve kind of processed it now, and I feel like that’s a complete piece of writing, so I don’t think it will pop back into my brain again.

    I did used to wonder a bit about the ‘morality’ of taking blog posts and turning them into something else, but I think I’ve pretty much come to your conclusion now (with the pragmatic advice of the mister ringing in my ears).

  25. Helen July 3, 2007 at 10:43 am #

    Look at it this way – it’s NO different to the “notes” and “fragments” that get collected and archived for authors. The only difference is that it’s on the web. It may add a frisson of interest for literati and geeks that fragment X turned up in narrative Y, but that’s not a bad thing, and shouldn’t detract from it at all for the reader.

    I’m sure the literati like Dr Cat can come up with all sorts of examples of writers who recycled stuff, I think DH Lawrence did? Anyway that comes under the heading of “I know it’s out there but don’t have time to research it”!

  26. bec July 3, 2007 at 8:30 pm #

    The link to this page is going instantly to my friend the Real Author who nags me all the time about putting my energy into books, not blogs.

    btw, hello thirdcat. long time lurker (we have mutual bloggerly friends), first time commenter!

  27. ThirdCat July 4, 2007 at 9:07 am #

    hello bec…and just yesterday afternoon, I was there lurking at your new blog…I wonder what Real Author will think!

  28. Stomper Girl July 5, 2007 at 9:58 am #

    I started my blog as a family snapshot so that I could remember stuff about the kids in years to come. So if I ever write an autobiography, the blogging will have come in handy!!!! But many authors insist that a journal of some sort is necessary, both as a record of things that might be used in fiction (inspiration) and as a discipline (practice makes perfect)

    Here via Muppinstuff today, although I have bee here before.

  29. fifi July 17, 2007 at 6:39 am #

    This is an incredibly interesting post, as are the responses. I agreee with Helen.
    Don’t underestimate the power of your words. Quite a number of times a post of your has resonated in my head fro quite some time, leading me to see things differently. I look forward to any paper version of your thoughts also.

    Blogging has also forced me to look at the way I see myself. It is private, I can say what I want if I want. Any response, in the form of a comment, is still a thrill. That bundle of thoughts would have remained in my head had I not blogged them, and perhaps that would be a good place for them. But in the real world there is often little forum for co-present discussion or chat…especially when life is so busy, and distances so great.
    btw don’t worry about “dying” re the other post. Horrid experience like that usually turn out to be the most useful. I had a gallery owner once bag out my paintings in front of a crowd. I thought I should die, but it was the best thing that had happened to me up till then. Really.

  30. Cristy September 9, 2009 at 5:29 am #

    How did I miss this post (and the lovely conversation that followed)?

    Oh well…

  31. Rick October 1, 2009 at 6:04 am #

    I’m a bit late to the conversation, but I have something to say. 🙂

    I’ve been a book editor and writer for 20 years. Blogging is good exercise — just don’t let it eat up all your time and creativity.

    It’s particularly good for helping you find your reader’s ears, as well as your own voice. Too many writers write for themselves (and never get published).

    So, I’d say, blog until it becomes a problem, then take a break, then come back. But remember that it’s just practice, not career-oriented writing.

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