I’ve wondered, over the past decade, why I have been hesitant to start a blog. It’s not a matter of thinking that there aren’t ideas on blogs worth reading. It’s not that I don’t value the interactive nature of blogs. It’s not that I don’t value a collaborative approach to knowledge generation or that I haven’t learned from some of the blogs I have read. You know, some of my best friends write blogs.
Yet I have hesitated writing one myself and I don’t even follow as many as I should. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the course I’m teaching this spring, I wouldn’t be writing this now. But that raises for me the question of why, if I am interested in writing, in popular culture, in digital media, haven’t I joined in with a blog? And I’ve come to several tentative conclusions that this project, this blog will put to the test.
The first question is one of time. Blogs began to emerge when I had two young children at home and was also director of the university composition program. I had priorities. Family came first. After that, depending on the time and the emergencies, I could turn to research, teaching, and administration. The reality, however, was that after family and other professional obligations such as my administrative responsibilities, there was only so much time for writing. And, if there was only a limited time for writing, I was going to spend that time writing in venues that I knew would be peer-reviewed, edited, and possibly even read, such as books and journals (and count toward tenure and promotion). I had to be very disciplined about what I read and wrote in order to get that work done. Exploration and musing time was going to be taken up by my family. There just wasn’t time for any other writing. Even now, as I write this, I find myself wondering what will happen to my words. Will anyone read them or is this just wasted typing? I’m well aware of the t-‘shirt that reads, “More people have read my shirt than your blog.” Even with my sons now in college, I find myself squirming at the possibility that I am engaging in wasted type, in wasting time.
The second question is how I work as a writer. Although some people think I write quickly, thanks to an early background in journalism, the reality is that I both do and don’t. On the one hand, I can bang out words very quickly and am willing to get a piece finished and off to an editor without dithering over it forever. Yet the key to that previous statement is “off to an editor.” If I don’t have a sense that there will be someone to look over my work and offer suggestions and critique, I can still write quickly, but I publish slowly. As a journalist and when I publish in books and in journals there are editors — and now reviewers — to help me, to prod me to new ideas, to save me from sloppy thinking and writing. Without the collaborative relationship I have with editors, I get nervous about my writing. I edit and re-edit and re-edit emails to try to be sure I am communicating what I want to say. I am trying desperately to avoid rewriting this paragraph again and again. I don’t like putting writing out there that is less than my best or that others have not been able to help me improve. I’d rather not say stupid things, poorly written, in public. And, if I have to rewrite and rewrite every blog post, that brings me back to the question of time.
People with blogs, when I tell them how I work as a writer, tell me that I will get that feedback from the comments to my blog (if anyone reads it). The blog can serve as a space in which I try out my ideas and get responses that help me develop those ideas. Which brings me to the third question. Although I rely on digital media, study it, love it too much sometimes, at my core I’m a face-to-face person. As anyone who knows me can attest, I like to talk through ideas. I would choose to meet at the local coffee shop and talk over my latest project with a trusted friend, than try to sort it out through writing (and I always prefer to talk over dissertation chapters with graduate students than provide written comments). I also scribble lots of notes and write ideas down and I keep private journals that are informal and rambling, but in terms of working through ideas with other people, I would always choose to talk in person. Why? Upbringing perhaps, I was raised in a family of talkers (my former sister-in-law said we were an “oral culture”). Or maybe it is that I need the body language and non-verbal communication involved in the conversation, or perhaps the speed with which I can modify and respond to ideas. Or maybe I just like the companionship of corporeal beings. For whatever reasons, I like to talk through ideas. I love teaching in a face-to-face classroom so much and dread the idea of online teaching, not because I think the latter can never be effective, but because of the joys I get from the former. It also explains why my teaching always involves conferences with students. And, as I noted above, when I write for publication of any kind, from books to email, I compose carefully to try to be as precise as possible. (I just rewrote the previous pedestrian sentence about four times. I’m not saying it always makes my writing precise or elegant, just that I try.)
Finally there are the connected questions of permanence and impermanence. On the one hand, I know that any blog post may have a long life online, even if I choose to delete it next week. As someone who has already talked about being careful in what he writes, the idea that the uninspiring blathering of this post will exist out there, attached to my name, for decades, doesn’t comfort me. If I’m going to create texts that will exist for a long time, then I want to be careful of how I write, and that gets me back to problems of how I spend my time as a writer and scholar. The flip side of this coin in impermanence, or the possibility that my writing in this venue may disappear just as easily as I’ve written it, and that the work will have been wasted. And this last point will be the focus of my next post.
So what’s the point? That blogging is not for everyone? Or at least not for me? Or that I need to loosen up and give it a try? I certainly have felt somewhat defensive when talking (face to face, by the way) to friends with blogs. Given my interest in digital media and writing, it has seemed like a weakness in my background. Now, however, as I prepare to teach a graduate seminar in New Media and Composition Pedagogy, it seemed as good a moment as any to try it out for a semester and see if my resistance to the endeavor changes through practice, or if this is a just a one-time experiment.