The blog post is a tricky medium, especially for amateurs. It’s even trickier for people who have resisted it on the basis of its potentially solipsistic nature.
I have come to the medium with such hesitations.
Like all social media, a blog is the child of Web 2.0, in which human interactions have changed from 1 to 1 correspondence to 1 to Group correspondence. We’re still in the broadcast phase, the look at me phase, the carefully groomed Facebook profile or faded Instagram selfie phase. A blog post, especially a personal blog is of similar ilk.
So what does one DO with a blog post? And what form should it take?
The first question is a question of purpose. Do I want to fall into that “Look how awesome I am” category where everything is rose-colored and happy? Even if I am awesome. Is it awesome to unabashedly propound awesomeness all the time? Maybe that’s interesting for the reader or the quick internet skimmer, but it doesn’t seem very human to me. I want the bad along with the good. BUT, if we present the bad—and by that I mean embarrassing or harrowing stories where things don’t end up okay and one has merely conveyed a strong sense of inner turmoil—does that turn the blog into a journal that is better suited for a more private audience: oneself, close friends, a psychologist? Overall, this ambiguity presents a problem. Without knowing the purpose of my blog per se, it is more difficult, I think to answer the second question, what form should it take?
In my view the best form for a blog is one that is post-modern, combining narratives and scenes with lists, asides, etc. (See the stuff on … what’s that obnoxious website called? … oh yeah, McSweeneys.) The general post-modern form is one I despise for its perpetual cleverness and carefully, or dare I say perfectly, crafted presentation. (Give me some good old fashioned narratives or the rough around the edges proto-creative-non-fiction of The Grapes of Wrath or Moby Dick that play with the notion of blending narrative and expository forms). At the same time, I appreciate the openness of post-modern forms. It’s as if literary endeavors have gone from merely using paint to blending mixed media. I hate it, and I love it, as long as it’s messy enough to have raw character.
These issues of purpose and form come to mind because each time I post on my blog, Jena has often posted on her blog as well. A seasoned blogger with fewer qualms about the nature of forms and of art, Jena is able to produce lively, witty descriptions of her experiences. She does so in a candid and honest tone through which the reader knows that the author behind the words is going to be okay. (In fact, this is one of her primary purposes—to tell her loved ones that she is still alive.) While I am jealous of her posts, and of her prolific ability to crank them out, I also wouldn’t like to emulate her style.
I’d rather be rougher around the edges. Have you ever seen the show Twin Peaks? You know in the intro of the show that precedes most episodes when they show that smoothly moving saw sharpener that comes down to the teeth of the brown sawmill blades. Sparks fly, and the saw sharpener lifts. The blade advances one tooth ahead and the sharpener descends again. That’s the kind balance of roughness and smoothness I want in blog posts.
So far I’ve experimented with narratives, but let’s face it; mainly they are rambly, unsophisticated, and boring. The only inertia created within them for the reader is the knowledge that it’s a blog post and as such it will end soon. In other words, they are not turning out the way that I’d like.
Then there are my occasional lists, with which I’ve had limited success. As with most lists in literary or comical genres—post-modern writings, newspapers, humor magazines, the David Letterman Show—a list is only as good as its weakest item (unless the point is to begin with mundanity and to progress to complexity or to the point of excessive mundanity or something like that). While I would like to refine my lists so that they have internal integrity, I find that doing so begins to violate one of my other unspoken rules of blogging, which is one that relates to time.
I have chosen to blog despite all my contentions with the medium because of the pressure it places on me to publish. Without a ticking time limit, I know that my habit is to refuse to lay an egg until I’ve gone over the beauty of its shell a thousand or more times to ensure that it’s as perfect as I can get it. This obsessive mentality has been the unfortunate result of having been in writing groups where it’s ultimately embarrassing to present less than one’s best foot forward. You waste everyone’s time. They give you feedback that you could have given yourself if you only had more time to go over the piece of writing. AND when you do present your best foot forward, it’s not uncommon to receive a lot of praise which increases your sense of autonomy (at the price of a billion hours of behind the scenes work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
Regarding blogging, I think I have reached a few answers here in that I have chosen to exploit this medium to train myself to find a balance between writing carefully and publishing rapidly. It’s hard. And I make a lot of mistakes. Forgiving myself for these mistakes is a purpose in an of itself as well. Knowing this, actually helps me to answer my first question. While Jena’s posts may be more oriented toward conveying that she is okay to the outside world, mine only have that as a tertiary purpose. And that’s acceptable to me. The second question, What form should a blog post take? I’m still not sure. But if I return to my purpose, I’d say that it’s not a bad idea to stick to what I’m doing—to choose a mode (narrative, expository, or so on) and write till the end of the post. If I recognize opportunities to enliven the prose, I can go for it. If I choose to play with a list, maybe I can make it a little shorter to refine the elements until they are all of the quality that I desire. Finally, and importantly, since my purpose is to exploit the medium so that I learn to publish faster, I can be creative. I don’t need to limit myself by expectations of length or narrative arcs or perfectly refined lists (that level of perfection is actually the the stuff I detest). I can throw something on the wall and see if it sticks. Even if I turn away readers, that’s an acceptable outcome because my goal really is really quite solipsistic. And that might just be okay.