Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why Blogging Is (and Isn't) Fabtacular

[Note: included with this post are completely gratuitous pictures of small children dancing. Because small children are cute. And dancing is fun. That is all.]

It’s time for some metacognition about the blog, folks - or, as I like to call it, Metablognition. I’ve only been blogging seriously for coming on six months now. Oh, sure, I had an online journal during my undergraduate years, but that was different. When I started it, the point was just to rant about my emotional roller-coaster life, and then eventually it became a way to quickly tell a small group of friends what was going on with me and my schedule. I updated infrequently, and when I did, it was “This is what I’ve been doing for the past couple weeks” or something similar. I never reflected on things, never pondered deeper issues of life, never considered aspects of the world outside my little bubble.

When I graduated, I moved over to Blogger and created my first blog, and it worked out okay, I guess. But for the most part, it was still just talking about my day-to-day life and my schedule and general recaps of events. I liked that my friends could read my blog to find out what I was up to, but I didn’t really care who did or didn’t read it – that wasn’t the point. The point was just to keep people up-to-date on what I was doing.

During this past spring, however, I began to look at blogging differently. Lady M started her blog, and through her blog, I started to find and read some other blogs, and I began to realize that blogging could be much more than a schedule recap. Blogging could be – was, in fact – a credible writing genre. And that, dear readers, excited me.

This was a way I could work on my writing – move towards being a real writer. While I get down on myself fairly regularly, I have come, over the years, to appreciate my writing. I have gotten to a point where I actually think I’m a pretty good writer. Given that, why was I producing utter crap? I knew I was capable of better writing than that. Even worse, why was I allowing myself to post my utter crap on the internet, for anyone to see? Was that really what I wanted people to believe of my writing ability? I had infinite space with which to practice my craft, and I was letting it go to waste.

So I slowly started trying harder with my posts, and as I approached the beginning of summer, when I would be returning to school as an overworked and underpaid (read: not at all paid) graduate student, I saw an opportunity. Here was my chance to start anew, with a clean state. I could start a new blog, and from the very first post, I would actually put effort into my writing. My writing would actually represent my abilities. My writing would be worth reading.

And so, on June 26, I put up the first post of my new blog. And I realized that blogging was harder than I thought. Or, rather, blogging well was harder than I thought. But I also acknowledged that the only way I was going to get better was to practice. So I did. Of course, I was hellishly busy with schoolwork, so I didn’t get as much practice as I might have liked. But I was, in fact, working on it, and I did, in my opinion, start to improve.

I stopped creating posts intended to say nothing more than, “Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve been busy, hope you’re all well.” Or, at least, I stopped doing those unless it was really necessary – like when I disappeared to go to the hospital, for example. I tried to start looking for interesting things to discuss on the blog, instead of simply summarizing what had been happening lately. I talked about the quintessence of teaching, I talked about self-esteem, I talked about the indelible impressions people leave on our lives. In short, I stopped talking solely about myself. Oh, sure, I still talk mostly about myself. But generally, I talk about aspects of myself, my life, and/or my thoughts that I think might actually hold interest and relevance for other people.

So the blogging has been going well for me, to say the least. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s changed my life. For one thing, it’s completely changed the way I think about the world around me. When I’m out and about now, I’m constantly thinking, “I should blog about this,” or “I should get a picture of this for my blog,” or “Oh, that’s like the post I just wrote a couple weeks ago.” So much of what I see, I now see with the eyes of a blogger. It’s a little strange, sometimes, but mostly I think it’s a very fun way to go about life. Plus, it makes me look at things with a different perspective, and I end up noticing a lot of things I might otherwise miss.

For an even bigger effect on my life, blogging has given me a much-needed outlet to share my thoughts, feelings, and struggles with others. When I was going through the crisis with my boss about the blog, I suddenly realized how important it really was to me, when I realized that I could not give it up. I needed it. I still do. My director commented to me that it was the writing that mattered, and I could do that on my own any time I wanted. But I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to explain to her that the writing was only part of it – for me, the sharing mattered at least as much. I needed to feel connected to other people, to feel like others were invested in my welfare, to feel that others were interested in my experience. This blog has been invaluable to me in my recovery.

It’s also introduced me to so many amazing people. See those links, over there on the sidebar? Every single one of those links goes to someone amazing and wonderful, many of whom I would not know if I had not started blogging. And the ones I already knew, outside of the blog world? I would not know them as well if not for blogging. So not only has blogging been a good thing for me, as an individual, coming to terms with myself, but it’s also allowed me into a community of people willing to support and love me through some incredibly serious and scary crap.

As far as the writing itself, blogging is really great as a medium. As I see it, it’s better than writing privately for two main reasons – context and accountability – and both of those are due to the existence of a real audience. Having an audience of real people reading my blog gives me a context for my writing. I’m not writing abstractly, to and/or for myself – I’m writing for you, the readers, at least as much as I am for me. When I write, I have real people in mind to consider when I think, “How funny will this be?” or “What effect will this have on a reader?” That kind of context is really useful for writers.

Accountability is also very important. I try a lot harder to write well when I know people are going to be reading it. I also work harder to come up with good content, and to write regularly. I get more practice because I write more, and I write more because I know I have readers out there reading. It’s harder to let myself slip into laziness or indifference when I know you all are out there.

But there are ways that blogging is a really crappy medium for writing also. For one thing, that accountability I mentioned as such a great thing? Well, the flip side of that is obligation. Once I’ve developed a routine, breaking that routine is a big deal. So if I’m updating two to three times a week normally, then after about five or six days I start feeling the pressure – “Crap, I have to post something now or I’ll lose all my readers.” It’s a big feeling of responsibility, the feeling that allowing myself to slip will cost me my blog friends, my readers, my commenters. So occasionally, when I may not otherwise feel like blogging (like, say, when I’m really depressed), I still feel like I need to put *something* up, just for the sake of putting something up.

Then there’s the content. For all that I am much more of an open book than most other people I know, there are still things that I can’t blog about. Things that aren’t mine to share, that would be a violation to the privacy of others. So when those things are on my mind, I want to vent about them, but I can’t. Combine this with the above issue, and I have a real problem – “I don’t feel like blogging, because X is totally taking up all my concentration, but I have to blog something, or else I’ll lose readers, but I can’t blog what’s actually on my mind, because talking about X would hurt A and B.” Quite the predicament, you see? On those days – which are admittedly rare – I sort of resent the medium of blogs.

All the way on the other side of the spectrum, there are the days I have a TON to say. Maybe there are just a billion different things running through my mind, and I want to talk about them all. Or maybe there’s just one thing on my mind, but I’ve been considering it from a lot of different angles and I want to talk it all out. This has happened with a lot of the Academic Analysis posts. I have an idea I want to think about, to discuss, to get others’ opinions on. So I write about it. But as I write, I begin to realize that to fully explore this issue would take about 15 pages of writing. This, I think to myself, is a research paper in the making. And then the thought hits me – no casual blog reader actually wants to read this much rambling. And then the other thought hits me – I don’t actually want to write a research paper. So instead, I sort of put up half-formed thoughts on really deep topics, and I walk around feeling like I half-assed something that deserved much more attention. Keeping posts a manageable length (still mostly in the pursuit of keeping readers) can also be a big responsibility.

So blogging has its pros and cons, as does almost everything in life. But overall, I love it. LOVE. IT. I can’t believe in six short months, this has become such an important part of my life. I am so excited about moving forward as a blogger, and allowing myself to continue exploring what this medium has to offer me in the way of growth, as a writer and an individual. Maybe I'll even do BlogHer next year - anyone want to join me?

So I put it to you: Why did you start blogging? What do you love about it? What do you wish were different about it? You can answer directly in the comments or just leave a link to a post you write about it, if that’s more up your alley. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Day 19 of LaBloShoeMo: The Cream Boots

This is another new pair, from my recent shopping trip, in the cream theme. They're a little loose on the calves, but I'm okay with that, and I like the cowboy feel of the buckle at the bottom. They need to be worn with nylons, to prevent them from clashing with my pastiness (which J. used to call "alabaster," just because he's sweet like that), but I'm okay with that too.

And because the outfit that went with the previous boots got such acclaim, I include for you an outfit for these as well:

Again, way too cold to actually wear this now. Maybe come summer...


Anonymous said...

Lovely post today, chook.

It's funny how we go from journals, to updating sights, to testing the blogging waters. I think the way that I write has changed a lot, thanks to reading some other amazing bloggers out there.

And I would definately do BlogHer.. if it were in Australia. xD

Love the shoes.. once again, you have great taste!

Dallas Blue said...

oh, mercy. i don't know about that all cream outfit... find some color, girl!

it pleases me to no end that your comments are now entitled hands raised.

i mean, to no end, i am pleased!!!

Anonymous said...

I "blogged" in high school and early college because my friends did. It was totally a social thing, mostly focused on this-is-what-I-did-today type entries.

Then, towards the end of senior year, I started reading "The Tween Years" and Lady M's blog, and also started following some links therein. So I decided to blog again, partially to keep in touch with college friends, and partially out of the inspiration I got from enjoying other blogs so much.

I feel like I'm still making that transition to serious blogger though... possibly because my writing is not up to par. But I keep chugging away!

Mama said...

I see you went with Hands Raised...:) Good choice. And great post. Certainly has me thinking!

Amanda said...

Your blog is beginning to sate my appetite for cute shoes. The reality of my freelancing, working and babyworshipping existence makes shoe shopping fall to the bottom of my to do list. I plan to walk cute vicariously through your posts. Plus, your entries are vastly more fulfilling than small talk at 9West. :)

Caffeinated Librarian said...

I suspect you already know why I started blogging: I had kept a paper journal for years and wanted to see if I had the gonads (so to speak) to write publicly, so that others could read and comment. Plus I wanted to keep in touch with my friends who were scattered all over the country AND, well, of course there was a guy I trying to get over. (Isn't there always a guy?)

I wouldn't stress so much about losing your readership. You're going to lose ppl, it's inevitable and has nothing to do with how often you post or what you write...mostly it has to do with them, their changing interests, how much time they have, etc. Plus, you'll add folks too, so it's all good.

Perfect examples - I've been gone from MSN for months but folks still come by from time to time to leave me comments. And you can't tell me that it has anything to do with my writing, 'cause not everything I write is golden...a lot of it is just housekeeping or news conveying and that's fine. Another example - my bud Chris hasn't posted for months. If he were to post something tomorrow, do you really think that all that time he hasn't posted would matter to me? Let me answer that one for you...uh, no.

And btw, thanks for your recent comments on my site. It's always nice to hear from someone who's been there/done that and lived to tell the tale. :-)

Lara said...

aly - yes, reading other blogs has definitely influenced my writing as well, for the better, IMO. i pick up interesting stylistic nuances, new vocabulary words, etc. i think it's kind of fun that way. i need to find a way to say "cracked the shits" at some point. :-P

sassy - hey, the skirt is a pink and brown plaid. but okay, i'll take it into consideration. and yep, i'm liking the hands raised thing, too. :)

tali - i'm not sure i ever knew that you read "the tween years." that's cool though. and i feel like i'm still making that transition, too, but i do feel i'm making the transition - not just a poser anymore. it's a good feeling.

jo - i really liked sassy's idea, so yep, i went with it. i'm glad you like it, and i'm glad i got you thinking. :)

amanda - i'm glad to sate someone's desires for cute shoes, 'cause i'm not really doing it for mine. i went shopping today and had to force myself away from the shoe section, just to prevent myself from buying even more shoes. also, i'm glad you find me more entertaining than saleslady gossip at a snooty shoe boutique. :-P

CL - i actually didn't know why you started blogging. i shamefully admit that i haven't read your archives, so i'm probably pretty behind the times in knowledge of you and your life. when i started my online journal freshman year of college, it was largely due to the existence of a guy, so yeah, maybe there is always a guy. as for readers, i keep telling myself that i like blogging and a lack of comments or whatever doesn't mean people don't enjoy my writing. but this goes against my lifelong pursuit of popularity and all that other superficial crap that i know rationally doesn't matter but somehow still bugs me. i'm getting better about it, as i become more interested in my own writing. it gets easier to say, "hey, *i* liked it, so if no one else did, oh well."

and you are very welcome for the comments. i hope things are going okay for you these days. you know where to find my email addy if you want to vent about anything.