"Blogs and the Writerly Life"

As I mentioned the other day, I have a fairly small speaking role this year at the CCCCs in San Francisco. I’m participating on the Creative Writing SIG and the title of my talk/presentation is “Blogs and the Writerly Life: Publishing, brainstorming, Linking, Talking.” I don’t expect to talk for much more than about five or ten minutes, but as I was putting together my handout (which I link to here), it occurred to me that I might as well write up the thinking that went into my handout and simply post those thoughts here.

It’s funny how these CCCC proposals work. A year or so ago, when I was first proposing a talk about the place of blogging in a “writerly” life, I think it was possible to find people who hadn’t heard of “web logs.” Now, not so much.

In any event, here are my thoughts (as they relate to the handout I have prepared) about how I see blogging fitting into the lives of writers and teachers.

Why Should Writers Blog? Or, perhaps more accurately, why do I blog? There are lots of good reasons, but here are four for the time being:

  • To keep a notebook/journal/easy content organizing tool. The way I see it, this is the most important reason for me to keep a blog. My blog provides me a space to post links and brief commentaries about things I come across in my reading and on the web, and it makes it easy for me to find again later. For example, I put together most of this presentation by sifting through my archives to find things I linked to a while ago.
  • It makes other kinds of writing “easier.” In the language of composition and rhetoric folk, blogging is a “pre-writing” tool. Well-known blogger and all-around good writer Jill Walker wrote about this back in December in an interesting post titled “Blogging makes writing easier.
  • Personally, I like the attention. And I guess I mean “attention” in two closely related ways . First, I know that I reach a lot more readers with my blog than I do with my more traditional academic or non-academic writings. This is not to say that my audience rivals that of Stephen King, but I routinely get 60 or more “hits” a day on this site. The way I figure it, if only a quarter of those visits are by people who actually read what I have to say on my blog, that means 150 or more people are reading my writing every week. That’s certainly more than the number of people who have read my print articles.

    Second, I get feedback from readers of my blog, in the form of comments here, trackback links to other blogs, and even email messages sent directly to me. I rarely get that kind of attention as the result of a piece of my writing that appears in print.

  • It might help get you published in a more traditional sense. For example, see “A New Forum (Blogging) Inspires the Old (Books)” by Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, December 15, 2004, page E1. In this article, Kurlantzick tells several stories of writers who have signed deals for novels and non-fiction books as a result of a popular blog space.

Why Should Writers Not Blog? It’s obviously not a good forum for everyone, even for folks who identify themselves as writers. Here are three reasons to not blog (or at least three things to think about if you want to have a writerly life and a blog at the same time):

  • Not everything is appropriate for a blog. This might just be obvious, but because blogs are such a public forum, they aren’t really the same thing as a more private and personal diary or journal. Yet, as obvious as this might seem, I think a lot of blog writers forget this occasionally.
  • Blogging might get you fired. I covered this territory back in February with this blog entry Is somebody trying to tell me something here?” As I said back then, I think what it boils down to is you need to think before you blog to avoid saying something really really wrong.
  • Blogging is an excellent procrastination tool. I think there is a fine line between “pre-writing/brainstorming” and “procrastination/goofing off,” and too often, I think I cross that line in my own blogging. When a deadline looms, I have to make a conscious effort to leave the blog behind, and that can sometimes be difficult.

Blogs and Writing Pedagogy. This is territory that I cover all the time in this blog, so I won’t dwell on it too much here now, and I’m not sure how much detail I’ll go into during my presentation, either. I can pretty much point to just about everything I link to on my blog as a good resource for information on using blogs in teaching. But here are four links/resources I intend to mention.

“Literary Blogs and Their Influence” This was the title of a C-SPAN BookTV panel discussion about book related blogs and the influence on the publishing industry. Because of the nature of this SIG (“creative writing”), I suspect this will be The panelist were pretty much a “who’s who” of notable literary blogs:

How to get started with a blog Last, but far from least, I’m going to offer these ideas on how to actually start a blog of one’s own. As I’ve written about here many times before, the clear winner to me is blogger. It’s what I use for my own blogging and it’s what I use for my teaching with blogs.

There are several different ways to support blogs. Here are four:

  • Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) Advantages: Free, easy, pretty good looking blogs, good support. The gold standard of blogging software, IMO. Disadvantages: it lacks some features of fancier blogging softwares, the interface is occasionally clunkly.
  • LiveJournal (http://www.livejournal.com) Advantages: Free, reasonably easy, easily customized. Disadvantages: Kind of unattractive blogs, a less serious interface, more popular with teenagers.
  • TypePad (http://www.typepad.com) Advantages: Cool looking blogs, very good support, excellent blog features. Disadvantages: $5-$15 a month, depending on the level of support you want.
  • Do it yourself CMS Products. These include MovableType, WordPress, and Drupal, along with many many others. Advantages: Free, lots of good features, you get to control everything. Disadvantages: Requires a high level of computer expertise, server space, etc.

I doubt I’ll cover all of this Thursday night, but here it is nonetheless. We’ll see how it goes.

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