09 February 2004

Notes on Blogging

I never paid much attention to Terry Teachout until he started a blog. He was too conservative for my tastes, I seldom agreed with him, and most of his publications were in conservative magazines I seldom read. But his blog is great.

Why? Because he's literate, observant, and has a sense of humor. Even if I don't care for anything he says, at least there are plenty of links to follow.

Some clue as to why Teachout is a great blog writer (sorry, "blogger" sounds too much like "booger" for me) can be gleaned from the fifteen notes on blogging he posted recently. For instance:
4. The blogosphere is a pure market--but one in which no money changes hands. If you can afford the bandwidth and your ego is strong enough, it doesn’t matter whether anybody wants to read what you have to say. But the more you care about how many people are reading your blog, the more your blogging will be shaped by their approval, whether you get paid or not.
(People get paid for blogging?! What a thought!) It's a good rule, and one I keep reminding myself of. Actually, though, some awareness of an audience is a useful thing for a blog writer, because it prevents total self-involvement and reduces the amount of drivel you are likely to put out there. (Of course, a certain amount of drivel will always come through because of the quick and informal nature of the medium. Bad spelling, rotten punctuation, ill-chosen words, and other errors will also creep in, alas.) I put up a comments function on this blog once I started getting an audience, because it both allows this to be a conversation and it reminds me that if I say something too quickly, too stupidly, someone is likely to notice. I'm too stubborn and set in my ways to try to write posts which please everyone.
14. If you want to be noticed, you have to blog every day.
That's scary for me. I try to post at least once every other day, just to keep things fresh, though I tend to manage a substantial post only once or twice a week. Even that is a big task, given that it requires a fair amount of reading, thinking, and typing ... and I do have a lot of other things I should be doing. But I value the conversation, both here and at the many other blogs I read.

Here's one of my favorite of Teachout's notes:
10. Blogs will be to the 21st century what little magazines were to the 20th century. Their influence will be disproportionate to their circulation.
I have no way of judging whether such a statement is or will be true, but it's a pleasant idea for those of us who spend too much time reading and writing around the blogosphere to contemplate.

Meanwhile, the good folks over at s1ngularity:criticism have been trying to figure out what their blog is, could be, should be, might be. A group blog can be a tough act, a kind of "pushme-pullyou" (from Dr. Doolittle), and it's going to take time for the s1ngularity blog to find its voice. There are enough intelligent and passionate people involved, though, that I trust they will, and I've (mostly) enjoyed watching the evolution.

What the s1ngularity blog has caused me to think about is the point of writing about writing. My thoughts are still unformed and contradictory, which is why I recently wrote the Parable of the Reader as a parable and not an essay (well, I was also in the mood for a change of pace, and was feeling ... parabolic...?).

I was going to put some notes of my own here about blogging, but I've decided not to, because I don't like to lay out rules, unless it's to create rules which should be broken. I worry about creating too many "rules" of blogging, because the medium is young and pliable, and we shouldn't be imprisoning our imaginations. Variety and diversity are better than monotony.

I will suggest one thing for s1ngularity or similar group blogs, a plagiarism of an idea from a post at the Brandywine Books Blog, offered originally to the New York Times Book Review: Dueling reviewers. I'd love to see a couple of smart, knowledgeable people with vastly different views of a book or story or poem or essay or anything argue their way through the work. It would make for fascinating reading. The key would be to ground the argument in the concrete elements of the work being discussed, to keep the discussion from becoming an endless diatribe about abstract ideals and ideas, as the "New Weird" discussion has become at so many places. (Speaking of the New Weird, perhaps a work to start with would be M. John Harrison's story "Science and the Arts" from his collection Things That Never Happen. Or even the collection as a whole. Harrison is certainly not a writer who appeals to every taste, and, though I don't tend to associate with people who don't like his writing, I'm sure there are a few people out there who have a passionately negative response to it. The discussion would be valuable because it would illuminate a variety of differences in how and why we read, what we value, our conception of fiction, etc.)