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Friday, July 11, 2008

The Purpose of Writing a Blog

Jeff Simmermon, one of the authors of And I Am Not Lying wrote this about blogging the other day:

So much of what passes for quality writing online these days is little more than lurid typing, and I’m not into that. I had hoped the blogosphere would be a great literary groundswell, an electronic distillation of art and beauty for the 21st century. Turns out that generation blog just Google-maps the contours of our own navels, and the greatest oversharers get the biggest prize.
And it got me thinking about what the point of a blog is, and whether a blog can be considered art in its own right. (Of course, when you see some of the things people call art these days, you might wonder if this isn't a rhetorical question. I suppose at the end of the day the art question might just be a matter of opinion.)

Anyway, I've heard some bloggers say that they don't write their blogs for their audience, but for themselves. And I think that's utter baloney (therapeutic benefits of blogging aside). If you were really only writing for yourself, you'd be writing in a journal that you keep locked up in your bedside table never to be read by anyone but yourself and maybe your snoopy "concerned" parent or jealous spouse. But by publishing stuff on the internet for everyone and their grandma to see, you gotta know that at least a little tiny part of you is looking for an audience.

But does that mean we bloggers are trying to make our writing a literary groundswell for our audiences? I think not. I think if we were, most of us would fail at the task, but maybe also a lot more of us would actually make a living doing this stuff. But ultimately I think it's unfair to expect blogs to achieve the same literary status as a collection of Keats.

I like to think of blogs as being akin to an undergraduate term paper. I don't know about you, but I did a whole lot of night-before and morning-of paper writing in college. In fact, I got pretty damn good at churning out a good paper at the last minute. Going back and reading some of those papers, it's clear to me that I could have written most of them better. I could have explored the issues more deeply, and achieved better structural organization and clarity of thought. But I feel like overall I achieved the purpose I was setting out to achieve with my work. I'm not necessarily proud of my good-enough accomplishments, but I'm not ashamed of them either.

Same thing with this blog; I do try to be entertaining and provocative, and I try to write well. But I don't hone my posts draft after draft, and I don't expect them to stand as my best work. Most of the time, I write the posts as they come to me, without thought as to organization or really where I plan to go in the end, then I read them through once or twice and change a few things and then publish away. If I happen to notice any glaring grammatical errors following publication, I go back and fix them, but for the most part, once a post is out there, it's there to be read and commented on for a day and then to be forgotten and never thought of or spoken about again.

It's the nature of blogs to be an ephemeral glimpse at the mundanity of every day life.

But more than that, I think it's also an opportunity to connect with other people who vibe with you intellectually, or who can relate to the same types of issues you have dealt with in your life and written about on your blog. Maybe it's just a chance to get inside someone else's head for a change. Have you ever wondered what it might be like to see the world through someone else's eyes? I used to think about that a lot when I was a kid. Well, I think blogs let us do that a little bit, more so at least than novels, films, or even essays, all of which are strongly edited, and some of which are fictional and therefore not necessarily a true view of the human experience.

I'm not trying to say that blogs are the tits-screw and down with novels and artsy films. I'm just saying that blogs serve a purpose, and maybe that purpose is just for us to Google-map our navels, and then show that Google-mapped navel to someone else and say, "Look what I have!" and for them to say, "Hey, that's neat, I've got something like that too, here let me show you."

In short, blogs are just a place for us to be the lovely individuals that we are, and to share that lovely navel fluffiness with others. So feel free to come around here and show me your navel lint any time. I'd love to see it.

I say these things in the name of Jesus riding a T-Rex,


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Kirsten said...

I think this is a great conversation to have. This medium wasn't something I could have even envisioned when I was growing up (well maybe I'm still working on that), and now I'm frequently surprised by how pervasive and popular it is.

I think it's okay for people to use their blogs in different ways. I want a way to share pictures of my baby with my friends and family, and really just talk about him. That's it. Take a look at my navel indeed.

Sra said...

I agree, blogs can be used for a variety of purposes. My blog doesn't really have an overarching purpose. Sometimes I write about personal things, sometimes I philosophize, sometimes I write movie reviews, sometimes I expound upon grammar, often I rant about things that drive me nuts. In the end, most blogs are "personal blogs", and what can we really expect out of those other than a rather casual detailing of our navels?

We be no Shakespeares here.

Claire said...

I like to think of my blog as a steam valve on The Brain. If I leave the brain without a creative outlet for too long, it attempts to devour itself or destroy me, which makes for a long evening, let me assure you.

And, yes, as well as exploring the topography of one's navel, if one tends to write in a manner identical to their speech, blogging can allow one to carry on their lifelong love affair with the sound of their own voice, minus the hateful glares of innocent passersby. Well, unless the passersby are snoopy and read what one has written, in which case they deserve it. I'm looking at you, Custodian Who Thinks I Don't See Him Reading Over My Shoulder.

Of course, if I manage to pull a Sloane Crosley and get a publishing deal, then I meant to create shining examples of literary merit all along. No, really.

Trovan said...

I'm not sure google-mapping my navel is the best suited analogy for what I do on my blog. Its really more of a mental masturbation, to be quite honest.
My blog varies in purpose depending on how I feel that day. Usually its just a way to look busy at work without actually doing any work.

Natalie said...

i wrote my blog for well over a year with very few readers...and i mean like less than 5 most of the time. most posts had no comments. at first i didn't even have a site counter so i wasn't sure who was checking it. it started out as a way for my friends and family to check in on us. later i decided to go public (in november) and that is when i also did quite a bit of blog surfing and commenting on stranger's blogs. that is what became therapeutic for me. finding others who needed encouragement and advice and just someone to listen to them. it was at that point that i felt like i needed the same thing so opening up my blog to strangers was almost healing. i do write for me, and i write to hear from others. i realize that not all of what i write is eloquent or well thought out. that fun stuff helps lighten the mood. sometimes i can get pretty heavy...most of that isn't even shared on the blog! much of it is navel lint for sure!

The Over-Thinker said...

Firstly, let it be known that I really do write for myself.

Secondly, let it be known that I am a comment whore.

Thirdly, if you're at a loss for a post topic in the next few days, I'd suggest a diagram of a navel (done in the style once used for describing where the cyclist was in the road).

Sra said...

Claire: Sov says you write in your own voice, and I agree that it sounds as if you might. And I love it.

Trovan: I totally hear what you're saying. I'm nodding ferociously in agreement (if only they made an emoticon for that).

Natalie: That's exactly what I'm trying to say: that the community aspect is what makes blogging so unique and meaningful!

O-T: I believe that you write for yourself. I believe we all do. But I also believe we write for each other, hence the comment whoredom.

I'll get out my paint program and see what a navel looks like using my shitty photoshop skills. It'll accompany the German post, so that those of you who don't read German can just gawk at my navel instead.

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