Keep an open ear and an open mind. Be responsive. Don’t assume that you know everything–sometimes listening to other people can be a good thing.
Everyone always makes it seem like those are such simple things, but let’s be honest: that shit is hard to do.
Andrew Sullivan’s “Why I Blog” is something of a new century twist on George Orwell and Joan Didion’s “Why I Write” essays. Sullivan is still speaking to the importance of writing. He’s still fusing his personal ideas and experiences about writing with the greater, societal responsibilities that are incumbent on writers, much like Orwell and Didion do in their pieces. But Sullivan’s essay is set in the digital age, a time when the Internet has greatly affected (though not entirely changed) the way we go about writing.
And the way we go about listening to what people have to say about that writing.
Sullivan makes clear that a blog post is not authored solely by its author. In fact, he says that the audience makes up an entire third of the perspective and content of the piece. Blogging, unlike the forms of writing that Orwell and Didion use, is immediately and directly accountable to the opinions of the public. It is not removed by revisions and publication processes from its audience in the same way that novels or even print journalism are–and it therefore is much more intimately influenced by the ideas of people reading it.
The title of this post is a bit dramatic. I actually like to think of myself as a rather good listener, and saying that I hate doing it is just my little attempt to make myself seem more rebellious than I really am. Like when Alison Hendrix drove her soccer mom van through her perfect suburb, belting out Meredith Brooks (go watch Orphan Black if you haven’t).
But even if I can listen, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I always want to. I’m a stubborn person. I like my worldview, and for better or for worse, I like to stick to it when possible.
Sometimes when I make a piece of writing, I just really love it. I know that it would benefit from being read by someone else and from some constructive criticism, but I’m protective of it. I want to keep it the way it is. Orwell, Didion, and Sullivan all agree that writing involves a certain level of egoism, and this is where that seems to manifest for me. Sometimes, I think my way of saying something is better than anyone else’s way of saying it, and I don’t want to open myself up to outside critiques or criticism. Now before you start judging me for being so narcissistic, take a second to reflect on your own writing process. I feel like most people think this way to some extent. It’s hard to admit that you might be wrong, and that someone else can help make your ideas better. We owe it to ourselves to be frank about that.
So it’s scary to confront the blog, which, as Sullivan says, is one of the most vulnerable forms of writing there is. But it’s also important to blog; it’s important to see the way that our audience responds to our piece, and the way that our work can be made better because of it.
And that proximity to our audience extends, indirectly, into other forms of writing that allow for more development and time. By knowing how our readers respond when we blog, we can better gauge how they will respond when we put out an article, or an essay, or a book. Whether we hear them or not, our audience is there. Readers will have an opinion on our work, even if they don’t aggressively email us about everything we did wrong. Blogging gives us practice in engaging with our readers, in knowing what works with them and what doesn’t.
And it’s something that we should continue throughout our careers. I don’t plan on giving up on blogging when this class is over. I want to keep going, not only to have a place to vent my thoughts and feelings, but also to practice identifying how to listen to voices other than my own.
We will never be perfect writers. There are always ways to improve, and blogging can help us find those ways. So it’s important to push on with blogging even when it seems we’d be okay abandoning it. Blogging makes us better able to see our strengths and weaknesses as writers, and understand how we can address those things. It helps us learn the skills that will improve our prose, our poetry, even the personal reflections we keep to ourselves. It makes us better writers.