I've done a few posts recently trying to look at blogs and blogging, and what it means to me. This is partly because of some things coming up in the near future - of which more soon, hopefully - and partly because I just fancied writing them.
I've been a 'blogger' for nearly three years now, which is longer than I've been able to stick out most of the jobs I've had, and I keep coming back to it, almost every day. Then again, I know I could just walk away from it tomorrow if the fancy took me, and leave it behind and never come back, and that would be perfectly OK - except I don't ever do that.
I read Septicisle's post the other week about looking back on his five years of blogging, and it made me think about my own, shorter, blog career. I wanted to think about all the things I love about blogging and all the things I love about the medium of blogs - and the shortcomings, of course, but I wanted to look at it positively and fondly. It's something I find myself almost ridiculously enthused about because, seriously, it's what I love doing - but particularly writing as a blogger rather than in any other medium. And I found there was so much I wanted to say, which is why I split it over so many posts (all the ones called "I'm not an expert, but..." in case you hadn't noticed already). This one, then, is just a way of tying it all up.
Blogs aren't the same as journalism, of course, and they'll never replace journalism as a like-for-like replacement. As newspapers die out, as they probably will, people's appetite for written entertainment will probably remain strong. Blogs are part of that, but certainly not all of it. I hope written journalism survives in some form or other, and I'm pretty sure it will, and blogs can help, and be part of it. Then again, blogs can break news stories and bloggers can be good journalists and write journalistically; and the blogging convention of constantly crediting sources and linking to them so that readers can see for themselves the article you're referring to and quoting from is good practice*.
A lot of the time, blogs are dismissed as 'chatter' or 'babble' but I've never really bought that. Don't get me wrong, there's an awful lot of bollocks out there. There's an awful lot of bollocks on this blog. And there are all kinds of things wrong with it, posts that didn't make much sense, articles I got wrong, pieces where I didn't really do very well, and so on. But then again there are blogs that make me roar with laughter in a way that I find myself doing less and less frequently with written newspapers or even their online articles; there's a spirit about blogs that I find infectious and fun, something anarchic almost. And yes, I know, a lot of bloggers end up being farty talking heads on political programmes and whatnot; as I always say, feel free to slap me round the face if you ever see my potato-like heading mouthing away dreary rehearsed nonsense to Brillo or any of those jokers. But a lot of us aren't in it for those meagre glories; we just love the idea of writing, and publishing, the instant-ness of it - the immediacy of it!
You don't have to be an expert, as well. Or even claim to be an expert. You can just be a punter and give your opinions on whatever you want - politics, the arts, culture, whatever takes your fancy. Blogging is often about an emotional response as much as an intellectual one that's steeped in paragraphs of context - it has a rawness and an honesty that people like. Again, this is why blogging is a lot like journalism - same same, but different - it's something that attempts to take the writer as the conveyor of facts and opinion and a version of the truth; except with blogging, as with a lot of modern journalism, you're never trying to detach yourself from the story - you're always in there, part of it, and writing in your own voice.
It's the voice that comes out the strongest. It took me a long time to get mine right, and perhaps I haven't even done that yet. But I find the words coming out on the screen a lot like the way my thoughts form themselves, rather than seeing myself trying to write a beginning, a middle and an end; or three acts; or trying to force an epiphany into the life of someone I don't want to have one; or trying to do any other kind of writing, except maybe poetry, but believe me, you wouldn't want to read my poetry. I hope my voice comes across nicely, though probably you think I'm a right sweary bastard - well, it doesn't matter, but so long as there's a personality, I think that's important.
I think it's one of the enjoyable things about blogs that they often have personalities, and you may like or dislike them, or think they're hideous or friendly, but they're there, and you can recognise them. I think the best blogs are the ones that you'd be able to tell who wrote it if you just saw the words on a sheet of paper; that means they've done their job in finding a voice. As well as that, your voice can mature over time, or your writing style can change, or evolve, and it all happens in public. Re-reading earlier entries is a bit jarring, but on the other hand, it's still me doing it, so that's fine, and I can't disassociate myself from them. That was me, then. This is me, now.
That's the other thing, honesty. You need to have honesty, I think. When you fuck up, you have to be honest and say you fucked up; and when you feel like shit, I think it's important to say you feel like shit. All of that matters, whereas it doesn't necessarily matter in other media. But this is a place where you're generally one person, regularly updating, in a kind of journal format - whether you want it to come out as some kind of emo stuff or not, it's inevitably going to be shaped by who you are and how you're feeling at a particularl time. I see that as an advantage to be embraced rather than something to be afraid of. Sometimes it involves talking about stuff that's pretty painful, but sometimes that can help, too. Sometimes just writing about some subjects can help.
And you can write about anything you want, for as long as you want, as often as you want. That's the scope you have available to you, and it's a liberating thing. You don't have to have seen 10,000 football matches or be an ex-professional to have an opinion on football; occasionally being detached from the industry you're writing about and not having to keep anyone sweet can mean that blogging content is refreshingly free of pandering to people you'd rather not pander to.
There are no deadlines, either. You can blog once at three in the morning, slightly pissed but with a massive idea in your head you can't get rid of; or you can go a week or a fortnight without putting anything down, and it's just the same, and you haven't damaged your 'brand' at all. The length of an article is the length you'd like it to be; you don't have to flesh it out with meaningless preamble or pointless dilly-dallying up garden paths and down dark alleys. You can just get on with it, straight to the point, or as near as straight to the point as your writing style will let you - which, as you can probably tell with mine, as 'not very straight to the point, I'm afraid, but you'll just have to lump it, mate.'
I see a blog entry as like those things they put in Chekhov's ear in Wrath of Khan. It's there, the idea in your head, growing in your brain, getting bigger and bigger, and all you want to do is just get it out before it drives you insane. People blog, I think, because they can't bear not to - in fact I think someone once said that was exactly why they did it. You have an idea, you want to express it, you need to get it out of you, you consign it to the ether, and there, it's gone, and you can relax a bit - until the comments start popping in, or you think of a follow-up, or someone blogs a rebuttal, and then it all starts again. But it's an intense, fun creative thing to do - just to write, because you feel like you have to, even though there's nothing other than your own mind compelling you.
And then there's someone else we need to talk about, which is you. I don't know who you are, or why you're here, or what your expectations are, or what you like, or whether you're picking your nose and flicking it onto the Anaglypta as we speak, and it doesn't matter. I write this for me, first and foremost, and then there's you as well. We kind of both exist. I'm just an orange monkey and an allonym and you could be anyone, for all I know, anywhere, reading this for any reason, and that's kind of nice and comforting. For some reason, lots of you keep reading, and keep coming back, and keep commenting (which I love) and keep telling your mates about this blog, and so it carries on. I'd do it to three sheep and a man with a funny stare, let alone all the lovely people who do come along. I'm very lucky, and all I can say is thank you for reading. If you managed to get to the end of this self-indulgent bollocks then you're tremendously patient, as well. There'll be funny stuff and all that in the next post, or the one after that. Or not. Who knows?
Anyway, I could have written about a million words on this. I very nearly have done by the looks of this. But, really, this is just a big love letter to blogging. It's something that has given me an enormous amount of enjoyment, and fun, and satisfaction over the years. I didn't realise quite how much I loved it before I wrote this very post, which is kind of what I'm on about - simply by writing, you can discover things about yourself, and about how you feel. Which is a thing that I think blogging does best of all.
* This is a convention I occasionally break in order not to give certain rubbish newspapers very much web traffic, and also because I don't like linking to people like Stormfront or Richard Littlejohn. But most of the rest of the time I do my best to link back to original stuff.