August 7, 2011 by Marcus Speh
“A grammar has been called a list of what is to be done with it.”
–Gertrude Stein, How To Write (1931)
Blogging is a writerly virtue, not a necessity. It is a journal left on a subway seat but found again, every week. It is an absurd effort for the literary minded. But it can also be a refreshing change from writing that is up its own arse. It can be a complete pain to have to write a weekly post if you’ve either committed to it or started doing it and attracted readers (called ‘subscribers‘). It is not unlike showing up on the page every day. See?
An estimated 150 million people and organisations have blogs today. Readers of your blog might turn into readers of your books. Readers of your books may appreciate hearing your voice via a blog. If these readers are younger than 30, chances are good that these “digital natives” will expect it unless you (or someone) has branded you (based on your haircut, your habit of wearing duffle coats or because your first name is ‘Trevor’) as “a non-blog person”. That’s not sad, it’s a choice. Make it a choice.
Most bloggers aren’t writers but journalists. Let’s not get into details why I make that distinction. Check out their blogs instead. A journalist is someone for whom narrative and/or language are not primary concerns. A writer is in love with language or hates it which comes down to the same thing – passion for words. A journalist wants to tell a story. A writer wants to make up stories. The point here is not the scholarly distinction between the two, but the intention. A blogging writer does not turn into a journalist because he suddenly produces directly, regularly for direct, regular readers. Just as a self-publishing author is not an autistic person who writes only for himself. Quite the opposite actually: cp. the Hocking phenomenon.
Come to think of it: blogging is a form of self-publishing. But it is somehow below the radar, it doesn’t compete with “proper publishing”. Odd that when I think about the time I put into blog posts. How much I think about structuring them, linking them to ideas, to places, to people. In a way, blogging has begun to both revitalise and re-engineer self-publishing. It doesn’t make sense now to see blogging as a thing all by itself because it isn’t. 10 years ago, people had a website and an email account and it was considered still somewhat hip. (Except in San Francisco.) Five years ago, a stand-alone blog was superbly trendy and forward-pointing. Today, there’s a new formula that turns the poor writer into a rich relation of everyone who might want to know him (and, devilishly, vice versa) and that replaces the need for a website: Facebook + Twitter + Blog. Or, in less technical terms: Friends + Chats + Texts. Friends aren’t really friends of course, chats aren’t really chats, and even texts aren’t just texts, they are either dynamical (posts) or static (pages). Yes, it’s confusing.
Blogging can be creative non-fiction writing but it doesn’t have to be. You can post a text (which means: hang it on your public or semi-public or intimately private virtual wall) that is a poem, or a string of words that doesn’t even want to be a poem, or a paragraph that doesn’t want to be prose, or a piece of prose. But that’s not all, because the network is media voracious: it could be a photo or a film or a barely visible trace of both. It could even be a napkin or a picture of your genital [not] covered by a napkin (I only threw this in to wake you up—the idea is from minimalist poet Steve Roggenbuck).
Whatever blogging for writers is, it is as it is with all forms of writing: you have to make of it what it can become in your hands. And it won’t be until you begin to make something of it. Which is where the fun begins, too, because thousands of other writers have done it before you and lots more will, and of those who tried it many keep doing it and are getting better at it as they do when they keep showing up on the page, or the screen, or the desk or wherever you keep your secrets.
There is special power in a blogging group of writers (as in all things collective). Especially when conversation and creativity blossom in the cosiness of a cafe. Groups can turn into communities can turn into tribes. Tribal writing fills caves of wonder. Cave writing comes to life and fills the holes of the global unconscious. Who blogs bakes the bread that makes hunger for more, whatever that may be – perhaps you’ll only find out when you try it for yourself.
When you blog, you’re on your way to developing more of an online profile. It is then more likely that the cousin who hates you, or the mother who loves you but didn’t know that you wrote, will find you. You can, of course, write under a pseudonym. Or you can face those demons that want you to come out to everyone with whatever it is that rubs the cousin the wrong way or that gets mother worried about your sanity, or the memories that you both share. The writer’s blog can be an accidental catalyst of change. Perhaps, once they’ve read why you write, once they’ve listened to you interviewing yourself, the family will understand. The cousin still hates you, the mother still loves you, that won’t change with a blog, of course.
In business, everybody talks about “process“. On your blog, you can now also talk about it if you like. In fact, I often do. Before I start something, I talk about the fear of starting it. When I’m in the thick of it, I like to complain about the thick of it and how I’m looking forward to the end. And when I’m done, I sometimes celebrate publicly, among the strangers and not-so-strangers who read my blog. Writing a blog is like constructing your own support system. Which you want if you mean business (I know you do).
We’re almost done with this, which turned into a set of commandments without my doing. A Strunk & White of blogging? It doesn’t exist. Some people don’t even capitalise when they blog. Others don’t write much at all, they read aloud instead and publish podcasts of their writing. They make little movies in which they talk to a camera and, via the blog, to the world. This is an odd virtual place of contradictions many of which are self-made, but the ones that are most interesting – such as the “I” and “Thou” – also make for the best blog posts, I think. The blog is where you don’t market yourself as much as show yourself from another side, a side that readers may not know unless you blog. In this meta world, blogs are the weapon of choice of the meta warrior, the cyber wo/man, the pixellated belly dancer. If Gertrude Stein was alive today, of course she’d have a blog. Enjoy!
Cheers & thanks 4 listening
[Notes: Published in the view from here magazine, June 2011 (without the links). The comments section contains, next to complimentary material, an entire debate on the spelling of numerals, showing once again that the proof is sometimes deep, deep inside the pudding. Update: British friends tell me that the name "Trevor" is quite en vogue again. What about "Archibald"? — This is my last post before a short Paris vacation. Be prepared for more rants later in August...as an experiment, I've blogged daily for the past five days ... without any literary ambition, only giving away unasked advice on writing and publishing for free. The result has truly surprised me and is a case in point for blogging: 5977 visitors came so far, increasing from a little over 1000 on the first day to over 1600 on the fourth day...of course I have used Facebook, Twitter and Fictionaut to let people know about it, too. The book I quote from - Stein's How To Write - has been a continuous source of pleasure and inspiration since I got it. One of these days, I'm going to turn it into a 24-hour-long podcast...] — [Update 2013: see "Net Worth", on different internet tools in concert.]