Saturday, March 10

Blog, what is it good for?

For a long time I've been of the opinion that two of the most boring things in the world are talking about writing and talking about blogging, yet I just went to a writer's conference at Birmingham-Southern College on Friday, and now I'm about to talk about . . . blogging.

Kathy McMullen over at Birmingham Blues has a better recap of this than I could probably do, but basically it goes like this -- the conference's Friday luncheon speaker was a fairly prominent writer and critic named Richard Schickel, and toward the end of his talk he made some pretty dismissive comments about blogging. I think he was disdainful of blogging more in terms of its value in developing one's talent and making progress toward writing professionally, as opposed to just having contempt for the idea of blogging in general, but nevertheless, his comment didn't go over well with a lot of the people there -- particularly since, as Kathy points out, the conference included a session on blogging.

My immediate reaction was that it probably wasn't especially wise to pass judgment on blogs right after declaring flat-out that he didn't read them. I assume he wouldn't submit a movie review to Time magazine if he'd only walked out after the first 10 minutes.

But anyway. First let me say this: I don't know that I buy into the idea that blogging is revolutionizing anything or turning the world of journalism completely upside-down just yet. Every time someone like Glenn Reynolds or Hugh Hewitt talking about how life-alteringly awesome blogs are and patting themselves on the back for promoting them, the only urge I get is to roll my eyes and make the jerk-off gesture. Some bloggers out there are important, maybe even downright revolutionary, but far more of them aren't -- and a lot of people in the second camp assume they're in the first. (I hope I've managed not to be one of them.)

But I will say this in blogging's favor: It has gone a long way toward leveling the playing field in terms of elite opinion leaders vs. average schmoes. It used to be that if I wanted to get an opinion on, say, a movie, I could only select from a very select group of Richard Schickels, Roger Eberts, or colleagues thereof; now I can get that from any number of people whose taste and/or cinematic "values" might be a lot closer to mine (read: much further down toward my lowbrow level). Sometimes I might even get to be the person who writes those opinions for other people to assess. (I have a feeling that's what bothers Mr. Schickel, a fairly prolific critic in his own right, the most.)

Now then: Has blogging brought me any closer to being a professional writer (in the sense of being a novelist or short-story impresario or Sedaris-style regularly published essayist)? Welllll . . . not really. And in some ways I can see how it might actually bring someone further away: If every writer's dream is to have his/her work read by millions, and possibly even get paid for it, then getting comfortable with thousands or even hundreds might be enough to sap you of your ambition to finish your novel, bite the bullet and put it out there in front of a bunch of editors or literary agents. But if the only way to become a better writer is to just write a lot, blogging can't possibly be a bad thing. And "having a blog that a few hundred people read a day" is definitely closer to "world-famous published writer" than "someone who writes stuff but never lets anybody read it, ever."

For me personally, I think blogging has made me somewhat more disciplined in terms of writing regularly -- I go through the same dead, uninspired periods that everyone else does, but when you know people are at least checking in once in a while to see if you've put something up, it at least makes you feel like you have some kind of responsibility. However, I also think it's made me do a better job of backing up my positions with actual evidence and arguments. Sure, I still drop more than my share of four-letter words as well as epithets such as "douchebag" and "picklewipe" and whatnot, but I at least try to make sure the underlying points I'm trying to make are backed up better when I know I'm going to have readers and commenters challenging me, and if you got a problem with that then guess what, thimblecock, I got an ass you can jump up. Sorry, that was inappropriate, but I stand by it.

But anyway, my point is I think both the "blogging is teh suxx0rz" and the "blogging is the greatest thing since, and maybe prior to, sliced bread" crowds are off base. I think it's too early to call blogs revolutionary, because they've only been around a few years and it's still possible they could turn out to be a fad; plenty of people insist there's no possibility of that happening, they'll be powerful forever, but I'm sure some people said that about Betamax, Limp Bizkit, and the Republican Party at various times in the past. That said, I think a lot of the people already declaring blogging silly and frivelous have a vested interest in doing so.

Anyway. Now I'll drop this boring crap and get to what y'all really want, which is dog pictures.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Doug. I particularly like your point about leveling the playing field for opinion makers -- and I agree that's probably what bothers people like Mr. Schickel, who don't want to give up the prestige. I'll link back to you, as we bloggers tend to do. :)

Universal Remonster said...

This doesn't just happen with writing. The film industry is shaking at the roots because they're terrified that some talented little bastard is going to write/direct/edit the next Casablanca on his ibook. It's so much easier to put something you do out into the world these days, and while bloggers can't always be labeled as "writers" they do represent the voice of the people.

Anyway, Schickel has piss poor tastes and I rarely give a shit about his movie reviews anyway.

Fran / Blue Gal said...

Great post, Doug. One of the dangers with user-generated content is what happens when the users find something else to do? A lot of bloggers disagree with me on this one, but I don't see lefty political blogs being nearly as "vituperative and foul-mouthed", read, "interesting," once Bush is gone, particularly when the Democrat wins.

Take a look at how the left-wing blogosphere deals with Pelosi. Boooring.

Maybe we'll all go get real jobs, or maybe we'll write about something else. But the blogosphere is young, young, young, and still a shiny new penny.

Thanks for a good post.