Thursday, January 19, 2006

Riddle me this

Why did I stay out until midnight last night when I knew I was going dancing tonight?

I am completely exhausted after having a thoroughly enjoyable time at last night's all-blog happy hour. I talked to a few people I knew and a few people I didn't. I shamelessly promoted myself to the guy from NBC4.com, but I didn't try to talk to the WaPo Express blog log editor at all. I'm nothing if not inconsistent.

I'm too lazy and snowed under at work to do a full recap, but I-66 does a nice job, so click on over and give him some love. He also links to all other recaps.

The issue of audience came up a few times last night. One fellow said, "But shouldn't you really be writing for yourself?" I just laughed.

"Look," I said, "if I wanted to write for myself, I could keep a paper journal. Why would I need to publish it?"

"That's true." He chuckled.

"There's something about making it public that keeps me accountable. And I want people to read what I write. I like having an audience. That's the whole point."

"I bet you have a loyal group of commenters."

"Yes, I think I do. Though it tends to come in waves. There is a whole different group commenting now than did a couple months ago."

"Do you know how they found you?"

"Not really. I used to know. Of course, there are my friends. Some people found me after I left them comments. But the folks reading now--there's a lot of them I don't know how they found me."

Then he asked me if I liked my job and I said no. "I should like it. It's a good job and it's perfect for me."

"What do you want to do?"

"Write."

"Ah, a frustrated writer." Cause you'd never expect to see one of those at a blogger gathering. "What kind of writing?"

"Non-fiction I think. Features writing, reviews…I have a friend who says I should write a novel…but I don't know what it would be about."

Another fellow and I engaged in a similar discussion. He asked, "About how long do you think your average post is? How many words?"

"I don't know. Some of them are really long--thousands of words. (Note: the epic "Kickball pays off" is a little over 3,000 words.) Most are at least 500 words. Those are the short ones."

"That is pretty short. But the long ones--they're like book chapters!"

"Then there are the lists--they are much shorter. Actually people seem to like the lists, but I feel lazy when that's all I do." I said.

"The lists are great. They're funny."

"Actually, I think they're good because my stuff is usually so long and intense--a list is easier on the reader. It kind of lightens things up. I like reading lists on other people's blogs, so I guess it's ok if I do it occasionally."

I do wonder, sometimes, what readers want. I write what pleases me, but I also want the reader to enjoy it and come back for more. I can't tell which posts will be a 'hit.' And I don't know if the number of comments is a good gauge of the quality of a post. Some of my funniest ones have gotten very few comments. Is that because they're not about dating or there just isn't much to add? The big dating posts generate a lot of comments--of both the encouraging and advising variety.

I don't see why we shouldn't want people to read our blogs. Does a novelist write a book for herself? Is a journalist not trying to be published? A blog is another format, another venue, for writing. Blogs are incredibly flexible--they can be used for political debate, reportage, or tech talk. Or for personal stories, which is my favorite.

I propose that the revolution blogs represent is the public display of thousands of private lives. This is unprecedented. If you ever studied history (or historiography) you know how important the few surviving personal journals of times past are. The ground level view of a society is the thing all historians struggle to grasp. And here are the blogs--telling the stories of thousands of people's lives and in the process documenting all kinds of interesting facts about contemporary society. Admittedly, the blog world is not an accurate representation of everyone--bloggers are probably more privileged than the average person--we have time and money and computer access--but computer access is widespread these days with the exception of the poorest of the poor. Heck, even my Salvadoran "little sister," whose family has been in the US for a little over a year, has a computer, a yahoo account and a cell phone--can a blog be far behind?

Given the potential historical importance of blogs, perhaps I should lift my self-imposed ban on talk of politics and work (they both seep in a little, but I limit myself). I probably won't, though. I've got a good gimmick and even if I don't have any dates to write about, I can always go the introspection route.

So, NBC4 dude, you should totally feature me on air. I am of Great Historical Importance. Who knew?

(Word count: 886)

Grateful for: an audience.

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