Some thoughts on blogging

I've been thinking a lot lately about content. Part of this is because we're talking more about Readability at work and where it's headed. (If you don't know or use Readability, check it out… it is uber-useful.) What is good content? What are ads? When, if ever, are ads useful?

I've been thinking about what people like to read. There are certain dramatic life events (pregnancies, weddings, cheating spouses, etc.) that will always attract readers. Hello, the sick marketing genius behind Mommy blogs. Suddenly anyone who has ever considered a baby adorable is a potential reader.

When I think about some of the most popular Mommy bloggers, I think about how famous they've become. We're more interested in following their personal story than we are in how they're communicating. They become celebrities and instead of relishing the words in their posts, it starts to feel like eating junk food when reading new posts. (Is this just a post whining about bands selling out when they get a record deal? Maybe.)

But I think people like to read about those events because they mark keystone moments in a life story. We know how they fit- in fact, we predict a blogger's pregnancy as soon as she's married. Then we predict second kids. There's something comforting in reading those kinds of stories. They're engaged?! Read on to hear more about the wedding… It generates its own marketing: sequels and series that we can look forward to.

So here's the thing. Writing about those kinds of events is not hard writing. You could post a cute photo of a baby and a totally incoherent sentence underneath it and no one's going to mind. They are too distracted by the EVENT that they don't notice the WRITING. And that's fine… unless they confuse the two.

When you're learning to write fiction (a state, incidentally, that I consider myself in), you are tempted to use those kinds of events to move the story forward.

"What's going to happen to Sarah in the story?" my classmates asked me in Iowa.

I had planned on getting her married. But suddenly that felt like a cheap trick, the distracting thing you wear on stage to disguise how terribly you sing.

"She needs to have something to do," my teacher said. And it really got me thinking… what are you suggesting when the best adventure you can think of for a character is finding a man?

This is all really subjective, obviously. And I totally write the easy moments all the time. I post photos of my cat, for Christ's sake. But I want to think longer before I hit publish. I want to publish less and say more with my posts. I don't want to drag you all through my life, record the weekends away and the recipes that I slog through in the kitchen. Because there's no challenge in that... and I don't take pride in it, either.

I guess I mean that I want my blog to be about writing. I want its inspiration to come from translating a moment of life perfectly into words. I want my fiction to be the same. I don't want to take the easy road, to throw a character a husband or a lover to remain interesting. I want to dig deep and find some confidence in telling a more subtle story… and hope that it ends up being just as compelling.


Britt said...

I both agree and disagree with you on this. I do think that big life events can be an easy hook, but I don't necessarily think that makes them easy to write about or that the subject matter forgives poor writing/storytelling skills. I've been suckered into plenty of blogs because, "Oh look, she's getting married!" And then I look closer and realize in about two seconds that the writing is absolute swill and I no longer care how in love she is and how excited she is for her big day. The best writers make it look easy, they suck you in because their words are meaningful and lovely, or their voice is strong and interesting. Expressing things like getting engaged or (I imagine) getting married or having children in words is difficult. It's hard not to be/feel cliche and hard to know what to say publicly about something so personal and yet share-worthy. Blogs are the words and thoughts of the writer, it's the nature of the beast. We fall in love with certain ones because of the people behind them, and it's because they're an interesting persona or have profound things to say, or a combination of those things. I think all these reasons are valid, though. I think all subjects are valid.

In my experience, I don't read blogs to be blown away or awakened every single day. I know some will blow me away occasionally and that's fantastic, but I think I'd get over it quickly if it was constant. It's just not real. Life isn't always profound and sometimes the mundane bits of it all can be as readable or more than the big things. I think fiction is a whole different animal, and I think questions of content for books and blogs are different.

Of course these are my personal thoughts, and it all could really just come down to genre. Some people love to read fiction, some memoir, some biography, how-to, science fiction, or straight-up chick lit. There's an art to writing any of those genres well, and the successful ones are well-written for what they are. Janice Dickinson's autobiography may not have the flowery prose of Nathaniel Hawthorne, but nobody should expect it to--doesn't make it uninteresting. I firmly believe this applies to blogs as well. The cream will rise to the top, regardless of what the vessel holding it looks like.

kck said...

I don't know, I also think that although "mommy bloggers" and the like write about exciting life events and juicy stories, I really do think it has to be good writing in order for it to be enticing. Consider for example, "mimismartypants." Now, she writes about her daughter, Nora, all the time. But it's excellent writing and I don't think it would be half as interesting if she didn't utilize her creativity and wit. So, you can write about dates and weddings and pregnancies all you want, but unless it's written in a way that's compelling, I'm not sure I'd be interested in a stranger's life. It would read like a laundry list of things they're up to, which is pretty boring.

Jen said...

Ha! Good points by you both. Maybe it's a personal problem that I keep reading poorly-written blogs because I'm curious about how some dramatic events are going to turn out? :)

I do see parallels between writing here and writing fiction... if only because of the same feeling I get when I wonder what to write about. This may happen to me more often when I've been away from the blog for a while... instead of writing something when it NATURALLY occurs to me, I feel like I should post SOMETHING. This leads to me feeling like I just put something crappy out into the world, a glorified diary entry.

However. I totally agree with you Britt, that blogs need not be strokes of genius all the time. I guess this is my problem with Facebook too though... I end up knowing so much about people I never see, people I vaguely knew 15 years ago, and I start wondering why I'm taking up space in my brain with this knowledge. Reading cruddy blog posts make me feel the same, they make me feel like I'm tuning into some afternoon soaps out of habit rather than wanting to learn something or appreciate something.

I don't know if that makes sense.

But thanks for the thoughts- this is a slippery issue for me: why I have a blog, how self-indulgent yet connective it can be, how much navel-gazing I can allow myself without feeling like a tool. I think about this a lot. I bet we all do.