Sunday, September 16, 2007

:: Blog Art ::

I teach writing, among other things. From day one of each course I teach, I emphasize that good writing requires, more than anything else, knowing your audience and being as specific and clear as possible. This last bit means using illustrative examples and polished prose. The first bit requires experience, insight, and intuition. If you lack any or all of those and still want to get a good grade, it requires meeting with your professor and asking, “What audience should I be writing for? What kind of language is appropriate? What counts as credible evidence?” Students who lack the intuition and who refuse to approach their professors often end up with mediocre grades that could have, should have, been better ones. These students assume that writing is this baffling room to which they have been barred access. They consider themselves blacklisted.

Blogging, though, is so wonderfully, oddly, even frustratingly different. Because you don’t know your audience. Or, sometimes you know specific people in your audience (I know that my mom, my sister-in-law, my friend from yoga read what I write here) but not others.

When blogging, you’re writing your own audience. Creating it with each word you type, each image you project, each story you carefully (or not so carefully) craft. It’s such a postmodern-seeming concept it’s almost hard to wrap your head around:


Your audience doesn’t exist until you create it. The audience you get is the one you make.

It’s an extremely liberating idea, at first glance. I am allowed to write as if no one’s reading, to adapt a modern-day cliché. I can share things I wouldn’t ever usually share, and hide things I can’t usually hide.

But at the same time, I think very few of us write just for the sake of writing. As a friend of mine who feared that reading my blog was like reading my diary recently wrote, “if you didn't want anyone to read it you wouldn't publish it online.” She is so right. So that leads to the question: if I want an audience, how do I get it?

Sure, in a sense I write my audience, making conscious and unconscious decisions along the way: will I use profanity in my posts? talk about my sex life? my husband? when and how will I use humor? what styles of writing will I use in my posts? will I participate in contests, carnivals, etc.? will my posts usually be long or short? will I use photographs? personal ones? will I link to other blogs and websites, situating myself within a loosely defined community?

But in another real and equally strange sense, I must go find my audience. I have to find the right people – the people who will admire the choices I’ve made along the way, who will like my mix of humor and reflectiveness, who will care what I write – and I have to get them to my blog. Again and again.

My audience doesn’t exist until I create it, and in this case that means not just writing it but going out and finding it. Is this easier or harder than writing through more traditional channels? Is it easier to write a query letter to a major magazine, a local newspaper, or a well-established online zine than to work the web looking for an audience for your work? Maybe yes, maybe no.

But there definitely is something satisfying about going out and getting it yourself. Something very empowering about writing first, addressing audience second. I’m trying to think whether there are parallels and I think there are: painting, poetry, other forms of art whose purpose is expression before economics. I doubt many folks would put bloggers in the same category as they would Picasso, but in a very real way I think that blogging is – or can be – a very high form of personal expression.

Of art.


bubandpie September 16, 2007 at 5:07 PM  

Oh, this is fascinating.

My primary point of reference for blogging was the diary. I have an entire hope chest filled with diaries (which I mine occasionally when I'm stuck for something to blog about), so for me the most startling thing about blogging is the immediacy of the audience.

Even compared to academic writing, the audience presence is so much more palpable. I really don't know if anyone (aside from the editor and peer reviewers) has read the (few) articles I've published an academic publications, but with blogging, the response is immediate.

Early on, I was very much aware of the constraints imposed by my sense of who my audience was - the handful of bloggers I'd befriended in my first days of blogging. I bit the bullet a few times and posted things that I thought might bore/alienate that core audience - and, by and large, those posts were greeted by a deafening silence.

But as you've said here, a blogger gets to MAKE her own audience, and I think that's happened for me - I made a decision early on not to situate myself in the "Christian" corner of the blogosphere, even though that meant I couldn't write comfortably about my faith - but over time I seem to have gathered quite a number of lefty, fringe Christian readers, who are as uncomfortable as I am identifying with the cultural politics associated with our faith.

There's always that sense, too, that one is overestimating the importance of the commenting audience. I will refer casually to stuff going on in the blogosphere, and all my bloggy friends get those references, but I know that I have regular readers who lurk but rarely comment, and they may feel excluded sometimes by that.

Julie Pippert September 16, 2007 at 7:21 PM  


This is the most coherent explanation/discussion.

Can I suggest this for BlogRhet?

Using My Words

Lisa September 16, 2007 at 7:50 PM  

A wise woman I know (who's a legendary blogger here in St.L) has often said, "Write for yourself. If you want a huge audience and are trying to write to attract that audience, it will be obvious and you won't get the "numbers" you're wanting." Which, is true. The writer's voice must simply be strong and true.

Julie September 17, 2007 at 5:38 AM  

(Side note: I find so annoying because it won't let me reply individually to comments that get emailed to me, so I have to reply here and then I'm never sure if the intended recipient ever sees it again. Boo.)

I'm so glad to have gotten this conversation going. I love your point, bubandpie, about the immediacy of the audience. The presence of the audience. It's so true and so different from other media.

And Lisa, I think your friend's advice is excellent. I definitely agree that the voice must be true. But it's hard not to be aware of audience -- especially when that audience can be so present, making comments, asking questions, linking up in conversation with you, etc.

Such interesting stuff. As a relatively new blogger, I'm fascinated by all these idiosyncrasies and uniquenesses.

Tere September 18, 2007 at 6:19 AM  

Great post. Blogging for me is very empowering in that it cuts out the middleman. It reminds me that when I launched my first website in 2000, it was out of frustration with the traditional publishing industry.

The audience part - my feelings vacillate depending on the day. I write just to write, to get my thoughts out, but yes, also to improve my craft and have people read my work and connect to it in some way. On some level, I want to relate to people and want them to relate to me; and I want to move them and make them laugh.