Metablogging

Blogging as the digitization of thought.

After rereading Sullivan’s Why I Blog, I once again can lament on my feelings towards blogging, and ironically, express these feelings through blogging itself. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea. When LiveJournal started to become popular in middle school, and with the explosion of music blogs my friends were discovering new music with, I shied away from ever having to record my thoughts onto an online forum for all to read. I occasionally perused the blogosphere and found myself hooked on Perez Hilton‘s celebrity blog during my pop culture obsessive phase. Hilton’s blog read more as a news site with his comments rather than the use of the term we’re getting at in this class as thought-provoking and substantive prose. If I were to read a blog like Sullivan’s, I feel like I would be invading onto his personal space and thus reading something or learning something intimate that I shouldn’t be. The thoughts and ideas of bloggers are instantly transported from their minds to cyber space for anyone to tear them apart, offer suggestions or praise or to even share their words with others. At any moment a stranger can be learning about you through your writing style or what you choose to talk about or link to. The blogger knows this.
Now, I see blogging as our societal move to the digitization of everything, and for me, blogging has come to symbolize the digitization of thought. While Sullivan discusses the phenomenon of being able to say what you want to say in real time and allowing for immediate reader feedback, he does not offer much of a space for voices who see large audiences as dooming, and that the more they say what’s on their mind the less value their work feels. At the moment, that’s what I feel about this new media form of writing.
Perhaps it is my personality that suggests as to why blogging makes me uncomfortable. I don’t rant on social media and if you want to know what’s going on in my life, I’ll talk to you about it, not relate it over texting or a phone call. I value my privacy and feel my stream of consciousness should remain a private affair. Blogging opens up the possibility to extract these thoughts out of my mind and into the open, which I have only done before orally and with close friends. If Anne Lamott compared the writing process to pulling teeth, for me it is laying my personal thoughts out into the world that gives me great pain as of late.
There’s lots of topics I’d like to blog about that permeate my brain and keep me up at night, but if I publish something like that, for who and what am I really writing for? While there is a diary-like quality to a blog because it is most easy to write about yourself, I cringe at the idea of people I don’t know reading about what’s on my mind or what I have to say on a certain subject. They don’t know me and I don’t know them, and why should they even care what I have to say if it’s probably not all that important anyway?
I’d much rather sit at a roundtable and have a face-to-face discussion with someone versus post in an online forum. It’s not old school, it’s my preference for a physical conversation. While Sullivan reminds us that blogging brings out the personality of the blogger and that’s how blogs become successful, this personality emits from a computer screen. It can build a reader-blogger relationship, but I don’t know how that could compare to a best friend or someone you are close with who really knows you and you know them. Perhaps the scale and stage of blogging opens up a new way to form relationships and I’m just shying away because of the grand size of it all is something I’ve never had to deal with before.
I’m still reluctant to see if blogging this semester will allow me to embrace the art more or still see it as a frightening way to reveal something about myself through my writing. But if writing this metapost is any indication, I’m likely on the former track.

Finding the Reward in Writing

Whenever I am engaging in a conversation with someone and they ask what I am pursuing as a career, I simply state, “Well, I love writing.” They look at me for a while, waiting for me to explain further, before they ask, “So do you write novels or something?” I am taken aback when this is the response and I almost feel sorry for those who immediately associate being a writer with being the author of a novel.

While I know that you do not have to be in the same field or be the same type of thinker for a piece to speak to you, it certainly does help. I have never really thought of myself as a creative writer (as in writing fiction or prose) so I cannot relate entirely to George Orwell and Joan Didion’s “Why I Write” pieces respectively. I don’t think I have ever experienced seeing the glimmer, which Didion talks about, nor can I apply all of the motivations Orwell speaks about to my own life as a writer.

All that being said, I think that not identifying with a writer who came before you is truly the beauty of writing. As a writer, you are not confined to one style or format; you can try your hand at anything, as long as you posses some motivation. Of course there were instances when I was on the same page with Didion and Orwell, like Didion’s claim that the reason why writers write is to mull over questions in order to find answers. Likewise, I agreed with one of the motivations to write that Orwell talks about— sheer egoism. As a writer you want to seem clever and have a strong presence, not to mention who doesn’t love getting published?

The catch for me with sheer egoism is that Orwell claims that writers want to be talked about. While being talked about and making a (good) name for yourself as a writer does seem like a promising goal, I feel like if you want to lead readers to a certain conclusion, you have to be in conversation with them. This is why Andrew Sullivan’s essay “Why I blog” sticks with me more than the others; the emphasis isn’t just about getting your own point across, it’s about collaboration.

Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve never been one to sit down and start writing the plot of an original novel; however, I have always kept a journal. While some of the things I write are personal, I sometimes catch myself wondering if people would care to hear what I am writing. This is, as Sullivan states, what blogging is: “[Blogging] transforms this most personal and retrospective of forms into a painfully public and immediate one. It combines the confessional genre with the log form and exposes the author in a manner no author has ever been exposed before.”

It might sound odd, but I love this idea of being exposed and being the truest form of myself. I think that, as a writer, it speaks volumes if you allow yourself to reach the extent of vulnerability that blogging entails. I understand that there is still vulnerability in writing a novel, but you are not presenting yourself and your raw ideas openly for (potential) public ridicule; instead, you can take shelter behind your characters and plot. With blogging, you break down the barricade and welcome the readers into your own personal life. Sullivan summarizes this point well, saying, “To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth.” So rather than thinking of writing as an individual act, blogging transformed writing into a collaborative production. Writers who blog look to others to aid them, provide their own insight, and bring other sources to the table. And in my novice writing eyes, that’s what it’s all about— having a rewarding conversation.

On the resonance of Orwell and Sullivan

Maybe I myself am generalizing out of my own sense of ego — that same ego that drives George Orwell and so many self-reflective writers — but it seems to me that all writers must confront the question: why do I write? More often, I ask myself how the hell am I going to turn writing, I mean writing in its purest, pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keys sense, into a sustainable career? I’m sure we all do.

What Orwell tells us is, like Nike, we’ll just do it. He argues that writing is not motivated by money or a job or even for public service. It is inherently selfish in nature, so selfish that this burning desire can often overwhelm the person itself — the need to write is so much so that it may, after all, hinder more economically fruitful job opportunities that have nothing to do with prose. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness,” he says, warning us that this is not going to be fun. His honesty resonates as both daunting and comforting at the same time. I know now that I am not alone, up at night tossing and turning over my writing.

This is my first blog post ever.

So when Sullivan says, “unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory,” I am immediately drawn to the form. As a sports writer for the Michigan Daily, I have been subjected first and foremost to AP style guides — the Oxford comma, the long dash and the use of “just” to indicate a few and “only” for one. Furthermore each and every article I have written, from a game story to a profile or column, has been put through the meat grinder that is three (four at times) rounds of edits that exceed simple comma and spelling changes. For the ego-driven writer, this process was most painful with my first few articles but still stings each time. Why would I subject myself to that, too? Ask Orwell.

Like Sullivan says, journalism is extremely porous. In sports journalism, specifically I’ve seen a column written as a letter to Denard Robinson, a game preview written as a Christmas song and features that have made me cry. The wiggle room within journalism for creativity is truly what you make it, which is something I am fond of. However, blogs, like Sullivan argues, give the author the power to simply think and say without the rounds of edits that are associated with journalistic writing. He says that blogs still hold their writers to the same responsibility as journalists, by virtue of the internet and the freedom possessed by those commenting. What’s more, blogging allows action and reaction — for a writer to see or hear something and to respond without having to back up a claim with anything more than thoughts and feelings.

I think his most outstanding line is: “No columnist or reporter or novelist will have his minute shifts or constant small contradictions exposed as mercilessly as a blogger’s are.” Well, I guess now I’ll just go cry myself to sleep. He’s right. Journalists are also fact checking and using the politically correct terms to describe scenes without emotion or bias. When I sit atop Yost Ice Arena, I don’t get to write about my clenching fists as the Michigan hockey team skates towards its opponent in overtime.

I hope that blogging will help me to unleash the inner mystery that lies within my writing, for me to be able to write about the penalty shot or the big fight through my eyes and words, and not those of the AP style guide.

On Metawriting: Orwell, Didion and Sullivan

I was required to read Orwell’s essay as a junior in high school in honors English, and I don’t remember much about he said, only that I enjoyed it. Now presented with the opportunity to refresh my memory and through more experienced eyes, I can better understand what Orwell was trying to get at with his piece. As a long-time fan of Orwell’s 1984, I found the fact that he did not consider himself a writer until later in his life even though he participated in “literary activities” quite surprising and uncomfortable. Where does a voice find itself if it does not get to begin developing upon learning of the English language early on in life? I found his honesty with the process as humbling, perhaps because I have put him on a pedestal of whom I consider to be a great writer, but also because it takes much courage to go out and be so self-critical of your own work in the middle of your writing career. Bashedly describing, “every book is a failure” about his own writing seems overcritical to me. How can he consider his books failures when they are praised the world over?

Orwell’s essay really pioneered metawriting, and I really enjoyed his motivations lists all writers possess, although I disagreed that all writing has political purpose. I never had considered my own writing to be tied to a political purpose. I write for classes or for my own personal benefit, not for a political purpose. However, I could see why he chose to put this on his list since much of his writing was very political as well as other writers of the time.

In Didion’s piece, I was confused by how she described herself as unable to think but able to write by saying, “I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer.” Writing takes a tremendous amount of thinking in order to mash words together into coherent sentences. Of course, putting thoughts to paper doesn’t necessarily equate to writing, but ultimately writing is what thinking becomes. Her way of describing this can’t think/can write epiphany didn’t seem right to me.

I absolutely loved the way she described the process of her writing, that the picture determines the arrangement of words. “It tells you, you don’t tell it,” she writes. I resonated with this because it made complete sense to me. I often find myself converting images into words with my writing, and the images help guide me through that process.

Of the three pieces, I found myself least relating to Sullivan’s blog piece. His description of blogging as a “spontaneous expression of instant thought” made the intimacy I experience with the private nature of my own writing invalid. His unique perspective of someone who has been blogging since its origins with the spread of the Internet allows me to understand his point of view and why he finds it so rewarding. Indeed, the personality and human brand that emerges from the art was little accessible before the days of the blog when people had to send manuscripts to editors in hopes of getting their work published. His ability to show how blogging connects voices, sparks debate and creates a space for instant thought and communication resonates well with me. He also is able to value the art of reading words on paper, and how a mix of digital and print media should coexist alongside each other instead of digital media completely destroying whatever writing we have left on paper. Also, I found his dissection of the word blog itself extremely interesting, since I never thought about it myself. It made me wonder of the origins of other words I take for granted, like Twitter and Instagram. Surely, they carry similar origin stories.

Overall, the three pieces shared a similar thread in that they take the voices of passionate writers and a blogger to say why they love what they do and what motivates them. It’s not just enough for them to practice what they do—writing, they need to write about writing too. While I don’t know if I’m at that quite of level of enthusiasm for the art, I can surely appreciate the points these authors so eloquently make.

Response to Sullivan & Brandt

One of the reason why I’ve always thought blogging has become a dominant form of writing is because of the increased connection and decreased distance between writers and their readers. It’s plain to see that the home of the blog, the internet, is the major factor in this coalescence. Brandt expounded upon the phenomena of writers overtaking readers in terms of prevalence, and it’s the blog that’s to thank (or blame) for this fact. Her assertion begs the question, “What will happen when everybody starts to write their own words before they’ve read those of others?” Blogging makes writing so easy and appealing that anyone online can do it, but will writers actually improve or just become more plentiful?

Sullivan points out that a major reason why he blogs is because of the constant connection between bloggers and their readers and their lightning insight, comments, and critique. I think this gives way to a healthy process of discourse, but, as made clear by every comment section ever, it quickly can get messy. So is heavy moderation the key, or are should commenters just duke it out? I think ultimately it comes down to a case-by-case basis, but it should be the people’s say. Sites like Reddit that use a system of upvotes and downvotes have adapted well to this issue, and I think blogs can do it too. This can also be a solution to filter out fluff, and keep writers informed when they go to post their work. By embracing the blog as a form of collaborative writing, authors and readers can abide by the majority, and ultimately continue a practice that is both educational and progressive.

Why I Write (response)

I started by reading Orwell’s piece and immediately identified with his comment on how he initially produced “made-to-order stuff” for people when he wrote. I feel like that is the majority of what I end up writing, especially in the hectic college scene where I am required to churn out dozens of papers in a certain format. However, Orwell goes on to break down the reasons writers have the impulse to write when they are not being forced to. I thought his four reasons were very insightful. One of the only times I currently find myself not writing for class is when I jot down a sentence or two about my day in order to preserve my memories for later reflection. I feel like this tendency is similar to the “historical impulse” Orwell describes – I want to keep these facts/moments about my day for later use.

I found Didion’s piece to be humorous, yet a little hard to follow or relate to. Although I did not really identify with her comment that she writes to answer questions that she does not know the answers to, I found it intriguing and a great look into the mind of a published author.

Sullivan’s piece on why he blogs was refreshing because, until now, I have never blogged. It was fascinating to read his description and interpretation of what blogging is. I think I will try to remember his comment that blogging is “writing out loud” whenever I have to blog over the course of the writing minor. I appreciated the reasons he described for why he blogs and can see why this can be an appealing way to write and garner many readers and instant feedback. However, I sometimes find it hard to hear other’s criticisms, so I think that this could be a rude shock to me if I ever start blogging more religiously!

Word.

…Words are powerful. Language changes lives. The letters of the alphabet give me identity, purpose, dreams and often happiness (or is it happyness?). I wholeheartedly pursue relationships through communication. I love with words. I hurt with words. I remember not with just crinkled images and faded pictures, but with narration to tell the story…

All these thoughts streamed through my head while reading the motives behind why some guy named Big Brother, I mean George Orwell, wrote. He says, “When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words.” Sure, I have lists upon lists of my favorite words: wasps, banana, radii, squash, Trigonometry. But why write? Why continually place yourself in moments of vulnerability and exposure? Well Mr. Orwell, I’m glad you brought this up.

To write is to risk yourself – a broken daughter, a failing sister – for all to see. “And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane,” Orwell says. Telling my perception of the story and entering the conversation is revealing. I feel that writing is as raw of an act that there can be. It’s abstract thought turned into artifacts you can hold in the palm of your hand.

Andrew Sullivan agrees in a different sphere, saying, “To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth.” Truth is raw.

I’m also a collector of so-called “lines” – the phrases or language combinations that are able to be both written and spoken with conviction. It’s as if I want to mental archive all of my Aha! moments with words. But for the first time, I had an Aha! moment by way of disagreement. Sullivan says, “Words, of all sorts, have never seemed so now.” Really, blogger Andrew? Words have never gone out of style. Words have never flown south for the decade. Words will never not be powerful. It’s the people that we have to get to listen to them.

Rethinking reasons for writing

I think it is safe to say that when we think about writers, we are likely to assume that writers are people who are able to articulate their thoughts on paper with ease. Yet, what Orwell and Didion have to say about their writing process seem to share the common message that they don’t always know what exactly to write and how to write it. Orwell admits to being prone to include long-winded descriptions only because he wants to. Didion shares that she finds herself adding unexpected details when she writes, making it seem as though writing leads her to find her own thoughts.

Orwell touches on how the political climate of his time has sparked in him the desire to express his opinions about the turmoil he has seen in his surroundings. This is an aspect that we can see has endured through time. Current events influence writers’ opinions which in turn inform a greater public that may or may not share the same viewpoints. This point is salient in Sullivan’s explanation as to why he blogs. Sullivan feels the urge to not just provide commentary, but also initiate active discussion with his blog readers about what is happening right now. Crucial to his purpose of writing are the relevance of the topics he writes about and the immediacy with which he can address and receive feedback about these topics.

Orwell’s opinion that one of the motivations that push writers to write is “political purpose” is echoed by Joan Didion’s assertion that “writing is the act of … imposing oneself upon other people …” When a person writes for an audience, it is only inevitable that anticipating the audience’s opinions and reactions is as important as relaying the writer’s own opinions and claims. Without keeping in mind the inherent connection between a writer and a reader, a piece of writing will only hold personal significance to the writer. This leans toward what Orwell describes as writing to fulfill a “historical purpose” and an “aesthetic enthusiasm”.

I chose Maus I, the black and white comic book by Art Spiegelman, to represent a work that I found very compelling. This book was written and illustrated to depict the very dark lives that many people lived under the Nazi rule. Yet, Spiegelman managed to make it a fascinating read by weaving together his political and artistic purposes. He effectively used the connection between visual art and words.

He drew symbolically by depicting the Nazi soldiers as cats (which were often colored in with dark, bold lines) and the oppressed people as mice (which were always given white faces). Spiegelman also used the written language to evoke emotional responses in his readers. The dialogues throughout the comic shifted in tone and slang. He showed a contrast between the old man (the narrator) who had witnessed and lived through the dark times and the grandchild who was piecing together his grandfather’s story to create this comic. It was clear the Spiegelman didn’t just want to chronicle his grandfather’s account of his times, but he also wanted to bring life to that story by showing it in an engaging blend of pictures and words. As Orwell would put it, Spiegelman’s work was a result of both historical and political purpose.

The other piece of writing that I have chosen, Mirrorings by Lucy Grealy, brings readers through a turbulent emotional journey that the author experiences as a result of living with a face damaged by surgery. She provides intimate details and vivid descriptions that make her voice come through the pages. At the same time, Grealy isn’t just telling her story. She is also, as Didion may put it, imposing her views on her readers. She is giving them a perspective unlike what most of them hold. She wants them to see the world the way that she does as an adult who has lived a life full of blatant scrutiny and disapproval due to her disfigured face. By using her own life story, she wants her readers to examine the way in which they perceive beauty and perhaps alter their perceptions.

Writing Out Loud

“Blogging is writing out loud.” What a great way to summarize this particular craft. As a 3-year (and counting) blogger, I have always felt that what I write is very consistent with what I’d say. It has a conversational tone and as Sullivan says, “As soon as I began writing this way, I realized that the online form rewarded a colloquial, unfinished tone.”  This is the type of writing I love.

It’s also the instantaneous display of writing to the public world that I like so much. Yes, sometimes people blog about private topics, but they are free to create user names to disguise their true selves–this is the beauty of the virtual world.

“But with one click of the Publish Now button, all these troubles evaporated.” Forget about the complexity of writing, editing, revision and impressing your editors. Blogging is easy and essentially pain-free. All you need is a topic you’re passionate about and a blogging platform. Then it’s up to you to let the writing begin.

Now comes the sometimes scary, revengeful part of blogging–the comments. People in the blogosphere can be quite blunt. They are opinionated and will do whatever it takes to prove you wrong, to disagree with your own views, to humiliate you in front of your audience. I’ve gotten negative reviews (on something silly like a dating blog), but still, the feeling of public ridicule and complete disagreement is not good. Eventually I started breezing past the negative comments. I certainly don’t blog to put myself in a negative mood. I blog to have fun, to be happy, to share my stories with others who can relate to what I’m feeling. So to all of you out there in the blogosphere, if you have something to say, start your own blog. It’s as easy as that! Do not write an entire post in the comments section just to put down the original writer.

“To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny… ” How ever hard this is to admit, this is the truth. With our changing world of technology, almost nothing is private anymore. When you make the decision to blog you make the decision to open yourself up to the world.

Response to Sullivan’s Article

After reading Sullivan’s article, I find myself grappling with two of his ideas.  First, that idea that “the blogger can get away with less…” and second, Sullivan’s experience with blogging on 9/11.  Here are some of my thoughts on both issues:

1.  I am unsure if I agree with Sullivan’s claim that bloggers “get away with less.”  On one hand, blogs are commonly known as being less formal mediums of writing and, to some extent, diary entries.  Taking this into consideration, many people excuse what they believe to be “provocative” ideas, making it so bloggers, in fact, get away with MORE.  Readers allow bloggers to get away with certain comments or ideas that would not be disregarded in the “academic” world.  At the same time, however, when someone blogs their ideas are instantly published on the internet.  Followers and readers of the blog typically have the option of commenting on these blogs, or even blogging about their responses.  Due to the ability to give instant feedback, I see how bloggers would get away with less, because there are constantly people ready to attack or support the blogger.

2.  I found Sullivan’s experience with blogging on 9/11 fascinating.  I myself tend to disregard blogs, thinking of them as public diary entries.  But maybe that is the point of blogs?  Through blogging people are able to track their feelings and responses to different events and unless people carry a diary with them is hard to do this.  Sullivan’s presentation of a blog as a tool to track past emotions at a particular time is fascinating to me, and shows me one of the true values in blogging.

I know that this blog entry is a mix of ideas, but being that blogging is somewhat “diary-like” I hope that this entry gives you some insight into my own feelings on the Sullivan article.