Friday, November 7, 2008

Why we blog

image A number of people whose blogs I enjoy reading have stopped writing.  While some have run out of time or things to day, others seem to have reached a point of existential concern about the very nature of their work: has their blog drifted from it’s original purpose, or has it become too personal, too revealing, or too demanding. I’m surprised at how I’ve come to know them through their writing, and that I miss their correspondence once they’ve gone.

Andrew Sullivan recently published a fascinating essay touching on this topic, “Why I Blog”, in the Atlantic Magazine.  In it, he begins by defining blogging as the “spontaneous expression of instant thought”.  He goes on to describe how this drives the main characteristics of blogs: their  impermanence, interactivity, and superficiality.  I found a lot that resonates with my own motivations and experiences writing here, and agree with his tag that blogging is “Writing out loud”.

Returning to issues brought up by my fellow expat bloggers, he counters that this medium is, by it’s nature, personal and demanding.  Blogs are “the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself” because they captures events, emotions, and perceptions without the perspective of time and the cooling of passions.  Blogs are also social acts that generate discussion and connect as conversations, actively engaging both writers and readers.  Unlike personal journals or newspaper columns, the form will invariably tend to become an extension of the writer and their audience, whatever the original intent.

I’ve subscribed to Andrew’s feed for a couple of weeks now to see how this plays out in practice.  Returning to his article again this morning, I find that I still agree with him philosophically, but diverge from him in how this gets implemented as style.

Andrew’s blog is a stream of dozens of brief posts each day, many consisting of short snippets of text, links, and commentary.  They strike me as well-informed Twitterings, aggregated within his overall theme of politics and media.  Reading them, I feel informed, sometimes intrigued, but seldom stirred.  There is no reflection or insight: I feel like volume and superficiality overwhelm the personal and communal aspects that he rightly champions.

In contrast, I blog to reflect on the ideas and experiences that I have in the Netherlands, and to break free of the isolation of living as an expatriate. I tend to write an entry in a single sitting, but never more than once a day and seldom for less than half an hour.  I never revise prior posts except to correct factual or (obvious) grammatical errors.

Thus, I think of my blog (and others) more as personal essays: short narratives that focus on a central idea about the writer, supported by a variety of incidents from the writer's life, and, often, connected to some larger idea.

imageMy style is heavily influenced by essayists who I enjoyed long before: Robert Waller, Robert Benchley, Isaac Asimov, David Sideris, Barbara Kingsolver, and many others who have filled my bookshelf and backpack for years.  “Excavating Rachael’s Room”, in Waller’s Just Beyond the Firelight, is a wonderful example, reflecting on his college daughter’s life while sorting through the childhood things she left behind.

Many of the blogs that I follow take similar time to reflect on their lives and write in ways that connect out to others.  They describe human moments that touched them or larger events that made them aware.  They arrive at insight through analysis or juxtaposition, sometimes just stimulating connections into my own experiences and ideas.

In this sense, I think bloggers best capture the  benefits that Andrew values through a more personal and introspective style than he uses.

It’s interesting that the expat bloggers in the Netherlands seem to have universally arrived at a similar form, adopting an essayists prose.  And so many are natural storytellers who do it well.  I guess that I note this in the hope that some will still see the personal and social value in their writing, and not draw back because it feels too personal.


Textual Healer said...

Oh Dave - if you're referring to me - I'm just too busy at he moment and also taking my bearings.

Dave Hampton said...

Hi, Nick: 'no, I'm glad you're still writing!

I was reflecting on people who've announced decisions to stop writing (e.g.: Huzaifa at Justifying Insanity, Stu at Invading Holland.), not people who are just absent. These folks stopped writing because of life changes, or that they've run out of things to say. I go through similar pauses; I think we all do.

However, I've recently exchanged thoughts with a couple of other writers who decided to stop because they didn't want their blogs to become too personal. It made me think about whether blogs could be impersonal, and Anderew's article crystallized some general thoughts that I wanted to make about blogs as personal essays.