As of last weekend, I've been blogging for two years--and for one in this particular space. I drafted a post on Saturday to commemorate the event, but then wound up deleting it; it felt too much like those essays that I sometimes get from my smarter and younger students--essays that aren't bad, exactly, but that just seem to be trying too hard, aiming for reflection and insight but winding up with lots of repetition and navel-gazing. (And if there's one thing worse than navel-gazing, it's repeated navel-gazing.)
I've written before about the professional benefits that blogging has brought me, but what I've been thinking about these past few days is how my blog writing relates to my "real" writing. Some academic bloggers say that their blogging serves as a warm-up for their scholarly work because it gets them writing: after dashing off a 15- or 30-minute post they're able to settle into their other writing for the day. I've never found this to be true for me, though. Some posts I do compose in a single sitting, but that single sitting is likely to span two hours. Afterwards, I feel as virtuous and as in need of a break as if I'd just punched out several pages on my manuscript.
At the same time, I don't consider blogging a distraction from my other writing, although I'm hard pressed to articulate the relationship between the two. Maybe it's that my writing process is always and everywhere the same: whether I'm writing a scholarly article, a blog entry, or even an email message, I make deliberate decisions about tone and voice, fret about whether a given phrasing is really what I mean to say, and rework certain sentences compulsively until I'm sure that their rhythm is sufficiently comic, or solemn, or whatever.
Despite the time and effort involved, I think that all my writing, in whatever genre, really does sound like me (those of you who actually know me may feel free to confirm or dispute this belief). As any fiction writer will tell you, though, it's hard to write dialogue that sounds like real dialogue, and we all know people who are compelling speakers who sound flat and somehow unlike themselves on the page. My goal, I guess, for all my writing, has always been to sound like myself--which necessarily involves figuring out who that self is. In making choices about voice and diction and sentence structure, I'm making statements (minor statements, maybe, but statements all the same) about myself and my relationship to my material.
So in that sense, the writing I do here is intimately related to my other writing because I'm making the same kinds of decisions and working equally hard at producing meaning and conveying the-truth-as-I-see-it. But blogging has also freed me to think more holistically about a given piece of writing: when I compose a blog post, I often write disconnected paragraphs or sentences and then move them around, trying out various combinations and seeing what works. I'll start one paragraph, get an idea for a later one, jump down to write that, jump back up to the earlier one, and so on; because blog posts are relatively short, I'm able to keep a sense of the overall structure of the thing in my head even while working on just a corner of it.
In my other writing, I typically haven't started moving things around or imposing structural order until relatively late in the process, after I've spilled onto the page everything I know in exactly the order that it comes to me--just one thing after another after another. Blogging seems to be changing this: I've written a couple of conference papers now where I've been able to say, upon sitting down at the computer, "okay, so this idea will come after this one, but before this other one, which will lead naturally into that other discussion"--and then I'll work on the separate parts as I do with a blog entry, jumping back to an earlier section when I get bored with a later one, but retaining a sense of the argumentative whole. I think that's a significant gain.
The kind of writing that I do on my blog has other rewards, too. I've mentioned before that I used to consider myself a creative writer, believing that I'd eventually and inevitably be publishing stories and novels and essays. But although I had the discipline and the linguistic facility, I started to realize that I just didn't have the imaginative drive. There was a woman in several of my fiction writing classes in college who did, and who bugged the shit out of me: she had more ideas, more plotlines, more amazing scenes and characters than anyone I've ever met, but she had no discipline whatsoever. So her stories, which were so close to being compelling, continually ran aground on awkward dialogue or descriptions or general not-quite-rightness. I liked to feel smug about her weaknesses and the superiority of my own skills in those areas. . . but even then I knew that she had what it took to be a novelist and I didn't.
So although blogging isn't exactly going to bring me fame, fortune, or bylines in fancy magazines, it's allowed me to recover an important part of my writing life. This past fall I got into a conversation with one of my new colleagues, a novelist, and in chatting about his fiction workshops I mentioned that I'd once done a certain amount of creative writing myself. He was pleased and interested, and eventually asked whether I still wrote. "Actually, yeah," I said, realizing with a start that I did. Almost as quickly, I realized that I couldn't tell him about it: "I mean, uh, I guess you'd call them essays. I write essays. Just, um. . . for my own amusement."
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Thanks then, to Blogger, for giving me the space to try this stuff out, and thanks to all the rest of you for reading. (And if you secretly think that I am frittering away valuable research time by blogging? Well, you can just keep that thought to yourself.)