Monday, May 29, 2006

Writing style and blogging voice

As I mentioned in my last post at La Lecturess, I've been thinking, in the course of this transition to a new space, about the voice and style of my blog. In particular, I've been thinking about my insistent use of the first person and my reluctance, usually, to build out to more general claims about the nature and state of academia; it's always the personal anecdote or observation around here. I love many blogs that are more journalistic in their ability to move from the personal to the general, and that make larger claims about Big Issues. But I can't write like that, or at least not here.

I also can't use, or am not interested in using, a more scholarly-objective voice to discuss works that I've read or things I've observed or phenomena that I've encountered. Clearly, my blog-self isn't entirely comfortable taking on the role of Authority About Stuff.

What's surprising to me about these facts is that I've tended to think that my scholarly writing voice and my blogging voice are very similar: they employ the same sentence patterns and rhythms, for example, and my scholarly writing is generally rather arch and (I think) fun--or at least more fun than most such writing. So I haven't really accepted that there's a difference in style between my "real" work and my blog work. But in fact, I'm a fairly aggressive personality in my scholarly writing and I have very strong opinions about the things I write on and the work I encounter by other critics. I enjoy shredding bogus claims and I like making a controversial argument and sticking to it.

So. . . why don't I do that in my blog-writing? Why don't I make big claims or tackle bigger subjects? Why am I often uncomfortable when I even think about doing so?

It might be that I perceive the blog to be a more informal and personal genre, and thus not well-suited for formal or even quasi-scholarly writing.

It might be that I'm young and female and very aware that I'm a newcomer to many of these conversations, and I'm nervous about setting myself up as an authority, particularly when much of my audience is older and wiser than I. (I never talked much in my graduate school seminars for much the same reason.)

But I don't think that either of those two explanations is quite right. I think that part of what my blog-writing represents is, in effect, an earlier stage in the writing process. In my scholarship, too, I work bottom-up rather than top-down: I have a very hard time giving a snap synthesis or articulating a working theory at the outset, and I can sound positively incoherent about my ideas when I'm embarking on a new project. Instead, I work with and worry over particular details and fragments for a VERY long time, writing those endless drafts as I try to figure out where the evidence is tending and what I'm really trying to say. Eventually, I do construct a big, aggressive argument that I feel completely comfortable defending. But it's only eventually.

It's also true that I like the personal and the particular, and I'm very attached to the way in which authorial identity is constructed and conveyed through the written word; I've also always been more interested in individuals than abstractions. Maybe I couldn't write any other way, and maybe that's why I never seriously considered a career in journalism: I'm too in love with the sound of my own voice.


Hilaire said...

Such a great post from a lovely writing voice! I identify with your positioning of the blog as a place to work through your ideas. I, like you, use writing to do the labour of thinking. I don't actually think much that's of interest until I can write through it. I do sometimes wonder if that tendency is gendered, or at least is not completely divorced from questions of authority. I don't know. Anyway, when the writing is as good as yours is, such workings-through are eminently readable.


What Now? said...

My first thought was that you don't write the Big Arguments in your blog because it's too much work for this genre; and then you kind of said the same when you talked about your mode of composition. I wouldn't want to write blog posts that I had to write multiple drafts of and work on over time.

And I agree -- your scholarly voice is fun!

Simplicius said...

And let's not forget your award-winning comic voice. Congratulations!

Flavia said...

Aw, Hilaire, you're too sweet! But you've described my own process very well--it's the (more laborious version of the) old "how do I know what I think until I see what I say?" phenomenon, and for me it's really not until I've written something out and stared at it for a while that I decide whether it's actually true and actually what I mean! So perhaps it's a good thing that I don't stake out big positions here, since I might wish to disown them shortly thereafter.

And WN: true confession: sometimes I *DO* work on blog posts over time, although usually that's less about my desire to revise and rewrite (though I certainly do that, too) than it is a practical response to time constraints--I may start a post when I have only a few minutes free, add to it the next day, and finish up on a third.