Today, a coworker of mine asked me for advice about blogging for her partner, who was encouraged to start a blog by some of her professors. As I have a reputation for being an experienced blogger, and a relatively popular one as well , I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss some of the lessons that I have distilled from years of experience blogging and dealing, whether successfully or not, with the repercussions that follow from being a public intellectual in the anarchic world of the blogosphere. As might be expected, most of what I have learned as far as lessons are concerned is very personal, but for that I hope that my advice may be of benefit to others. Seeing wider applicability to these thoughts, I wish to make this personal advice somewhat more of general interest, and you who read this may do with it what you will.
First, I would like to comment a bit on my curriculum vitae as a blogger. I began blogging about a decade ago, and my initial blog, which lasted for several years, mostly focused on areas of academic or current events interest. Any sort of personal angle in writing was strongly discouraged by the damaging personal repercussions I received from an entry dealing with sexual abuse written shortly before the death of my father. At this time, for only a couple of years or so, I kept up another blog that was basically a diary of my life, including much more lighthearted fare like concert reviews and less academic thoughts. These blogs became pretty derelict after 2006, when for four years in the midst of the grip of major depression I was working full time and going to graduate school full time, I did not have the time to write, or even much time to eat or sleep as I ran myself into the ground. It was only in the summer of 2010 that I began a book review blog that was supposed to contain all of my book reviews (and nothing else), but this quickly became subsumed in my current blog, which has a staggering scope of writing, ranging from deeply personal diary entries to lengthy and highly technical research writing to journalistic op-ed pieces to book, movie, and music reviews, and everything in between. Depending on your own interests, you may choose a narrow scope to help with focus or a broad scope to allow for fertile and wide-ranging ideas, as best suits your own interests.
While I would not presume to tell anyone about what subject material they should write about, I think it worthwhile to discuss at least some of the choices that must be made. As a writer with radical commitments to both open and transparent personal dealings as well as showing honor and respect to others as best as I am able, my writing exhibits a strong tension between the voyeuristic tendency to be too open and vague and implicit writing that is sometimes so indirect so as to be incomprehensible to someone who does not have an intimate awareness of my personal dealings and whereabouts on a day-to-day or at least week-to-week basis. How you choose to balance between seeking to unburden yourself of personal longings and frustrations and respecting the privacy and dignity of other people who may be far more private in nature is something you will have to struggle with. I struggle with it daily, and not always well. Whatever “beat” you choose to have as a blogger, I do recommend an attitude that would be helpful. In my experience, I have seen several blogs written in response to my own, or influenced strongly by my own, that did not last well at all. The failure of these blogs was largely based on two reasons—the reason for the blog’s existence was to be negative and critical, and it is difficult and unprofitable to write always or even mainly with a negative attitude, and writing a blog that is only about very dark personal material can be deeply draining, and very embarrassing as well, especially if you blog under your real name as I do. I would therefore advise an approach to blogging that is focused on areas of interest and passion, where one can maintain a positive attitude at least a good part of the time, and that one allow for a variation in tone and subject material, being light where a light touch is good, and not being heavy all the time. This blog may not be the best example of a lighthearted blog, but I hope at least that among the serious matters of reflection I write about, there are at least a few blogs that reflect good humor and fun and happiness.
One thing that will help you to determine what it is that you will be writing about is the end to which your blog is directed. As might be expected if you have read my own blog, I have complicated purposes in my writing. One of these purposes is to reduce my own personal stress and frustration and anxiety level so that I may at least pass for someone who is somewhat normal and well-functioning. By necessity, this means writing occasionally about matters of extreme personal delicacy, which demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that my life has been a deeply troubled one. Yet other purposes include sharing the odd and humorous tidbits of daily life, my appreciation of what I experience and observe, reflections on books, music, movies, art, politics, business, science, and history, as well as participating in remote and sometimes indirect conversations with friends and family far away and those who for one reason or another I am unable to speak with as often and as deeply as I would wish. Often, my writing possesses several layers at the same time, some of which are generally accessible to a literate audience, some of which require knowledge of the songs or books that are being referenced, and some of which require an intimate personal knowledge of my life to understand the full meaning of my blog entry. Your writing will likely be less complicated than my own, and probably less verbose as well, but the subject matter your blog deals with will depend largely on who you are writing to and why you are writing in the first place. If this changes over time, that is not a problem , so long as the blog still serves your own personal purposes.
There are some notes I would like to make about the community of writing you will be joining and participating in. There will be days that will be enriched by having your post re-blogged or linked somewhere with an appreciative community. There will be days where people will write critical or even downright nasty personal comments. There will be time wasted eliminating spam messages that inevitably will be attached to your blog entries, and there will be time spent editing posts to say what you were thinking in your head rather than what managed to come out through the keyboard. I recommend strongly that you focus your blog audience and conversation on those who are friendly and encouraging; life is too short to spend it being burdened by haters, and there will always be haters if you are writing about what you are passionate about and interested in. There will be some people who do not agree with your perspective but who appreciate it, and who are useful to provide a sense of balance and counterpoint, and these people are to be treasured and appreciated, even if their voices are sometimes critical. There is no place at all, though, for people only interested in argument and verbal abuse. Write often enough to keep your community at least somewhat satisfied and wanting more.
In order to do this well, it may be necessary to manage your time effectively so as to be able to write at least a reasonable facsimile of what is in your mind. I find for myself that a blog entry requires at least an hour of my time to write, along with a certain amount of time devoted to editing the inevitable typos that are found by some of my diligent and regular readers. Some entries flow fluently and elegantly and without a great deal of effort required except to allow one’s thoughts and feelings to be expressed through one’s fingertips. At other times, blog entries require the loss of blood, sweat, and tears, all of which I have shed at one time or another in the course of my writing. It is a difficult challenge to keep one’s writing at least somewhat consistent in pace given the ups and downs of one’s moods and the technology available, but it is a worthwhile goal to achieve. At times I have fallen asleep writing blogs, which served their purpose a bit too well to allow me to relax and unburden myself from some of the more anxiety-prone moments and interactions my life is full of. At other times, the implications of what I have written and thought have kept me awake in sleepless terror. Whatever occurs, it is worthwhile to keep writing as long as the passion moves you and there is something on your mind and in your heart that you are yearning to express. May you do it better than I do, and more happily also.
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