On Blogging

Lydia Schoch has a fantastic post on why she blogs about multiple topics, contrary to the conventional wisdom. This, combined with Audrey Driscoll’s recent blog anniversary post, set me thinking about blogging in general, and why I like blogs.

I am in complete agreement with Lydia’s point: a blog should include the blogger’s observations on multiple topics, not a narrow focus on one thing.

Here’s why I think this: my introduction to the world of blogging was reading Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. While it’s true that the main focus of his blog was political news and commentary, Sullivan would post about other subjects, like his beagles and the show South Park and the band Pet Shop Boys.

The other thing that made Sullivan’s blog great was the community. He would regularly post stuff readers would send in, including the long-running “View from Your Window” series.

Most of the people who discovered The Daily Dish probably did so because they liked politics, but the thing that made it great were its non-political aspects. You didn’t feel like you were going there to get the latest talking points of the day. You felt like Andrew Sullivan had invited you to come in and chat with him and some of his other acquaintances about what was on their minds. It felt sincere.

The best blogs feel like a spontaneously compiled record of what the author thought was interesting at the time. What that is varies from person to person, which is what makes each blog unique. Trying to refine a blog down to just one topic is no more realistic than defining a person by just one characteristic. In fact, in both cases, it seems vaguely sinister.

Now, of course, a good blog will have recurring themes, just as a novel or a piece of music has a leitmotif. But these should come about organically–the results of patterns in how the blogger’s mind interprets the world.

I read once that novels are supposed to capture the totality of life. I’m not sure I believe this. I thought novels were supposed to tell a story. But capturing the “totality of life” is a great description of what the best blogs do.

According to my stats page, over the entirety of its existence, I’ve written 628,932 words on this blog. As any writer knows, that’s a lot of words. As someone who struggles to write stories that surpass a word count of 15,000, I’m pretty confident I could not have written that many if I just focused on one topic.

Blogging is an art, and it’s an art that calls for freedom to improvise. As Andrew Sullivan himself once observed, it’s like jazz in that respect. There is a feeling of spontaneity, and even though the artist may revisit the same material, they never treat it exactly the same way twice. That’s what makes it interesting.

13 Comments

  1. Those are cogent views and make perfect sense. When you think about blogs they should be spontaneous and the writer’s views on all things under the sun.
    I think a substantial number of writers who are seeking to have their work recognised tend to get advised to go to Word Press as a place to be and in all innocence end up there. Then they naturally go seeking out other writing blogs and start to be of the mindset every must should be about writing. And there are other categories of bloggers ploughing their own furrows through a same path. I have made a few good friends whose blogs I would probably describe as ‘political’, although they do step outside with other features.
    You do get ‘pure’ writing blogs, these seem to be mostly fully professional writers, happily most of them are interested in spreading advice rather than telling the world all about them.
    Thanks to WP spam engine’s KGB approach at one stage I was obliged to shut down my blog and start again, resolving to post up nothing up writing subjects, it didn’t stick though.

  2. I so miss the days when I could spend all day visiting the list of fellow bloggers. Michael Manning, Scott Horton, by brother, Woody, Russ Sype, and others. You are the only one left from those heady days. Through you I’ve discovered Audrey and Lydia and through them TTT and WC. It’s kept me going for the past few years. I hate what fb did to communication. Maybe I’ll have to do another post about the good old days of blogging and stop here.

  3. When I started blogging, I read all of the suggestions about finding your niche — the topic you’re going to be an expert in — and that seemed so boring to me. To just write about one topic. Over and over again. That’s not who I am. It’s kind of like with my fiction — writing in the same genre would be mind-numbing.

    And yes, Andrew Sullivan’s blog was a model for what I wanted to do. Maybe a focus on one or two things — politics and fiction — but filling in the gaps with posts about anything I could think of. And sharing my photos and cooking and, well, just whatever it is that hits me in the posting corner of my brain at a given moment.

    Early on, I think it was my second year of blogging, I made an effort to post every day. Many of those days, I posted more than once. It lasted for eight months. Since then, I’ve posted less and less. It just hasn’t turned into the kind of conversation I was hoping for. I don’t do this to spread my wisdom. I do it because I want a conversation with people who are thoughtful and inquisitive. That has rarely happened, so I post less. But maybe it’s time for me to re-visit the daily effort again. I mean, I’m retired, what else do I have to do!!

    I would love to see Sullivan come back to daily blogging, but I can appreciate how wearing it was on him. I loved The View From Your Window feature. A couple of times I was able to pin the location down, but never to the exact spot needed to win — I mean, how did people figure out which hotel room, the picture was taken?

    1. I tried blogging daily for a while too, but it is exhausting. I was sacrificing quality for quantity. It probably becomes easier to get “momentum” going when, like Sullivan did, a blog has a certain critical mass of readership generating discussion.

  4. Daily posting is exhausting (I’ve never done it myself), both for the blogger and their readers, unless those daily posts are really short. And I agree that a variety of topics is more interesting than droning on about writing. I suspect that’s where a lot of dubious writing advice comes from. Writers sharing their own experiences with some aspect of their craft is okay, however.

  5. “The best blogs feel like a spontaneously compiled record of what the author thought was interesting at the time.” Nicely said, I like that.
    I thought about limiting my blogging except I don’t have a niche 🙂 There are too many interesting things out there waiting to be discovered and shared.

  6. Thanks for the shout out!

    This was such a good post. And this line was awesome:

    “Trying to refine a blog down to just one topic is no more realistic than defining a person by just one characteristic. In fact, in both cases, it seems vaguely sinister.”

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