by Marcus Speh

“A grammar has been called a list of what is to be done with it.”
–Gertrude Stein, How To Write (1931)

Blogging is a writerly virtue, not a necessity. It is a journal left on a subway seat but found again, every week. It is an absurd effort for the literary minded. But it can also be a refreshing change from writing that is up its own arse. It can be a complete pain to have to write a weekly post if you've either committed to it or started doing it and attracted readers (called 'subscribers'). It is not unlike showing up on the page every day. See?

An estimated 150 million people and organisations have blogs today. Readers of your blog might turn into readers of your books. Readers of your books may appreciate hearing your voice via a blog. If these readers are younger than 30, chances are good that these “digital natives” will expect it unless you (or someone) has branded you (based on your haircut, your habit of wearing duffle coats or because your first name is 'Trevor') as a “non-blog person”. That's not sad, it's a choice. Make it a choice.

Most bloggers aren't writers but journalists. Let's not get into details why I make that distinction. Check out their blogs instead. A journalist is someone for whom narrative and/or language are not primary concerns. A writer is in love with language or hates it which comes down to the same thing – a passion for words. A journalist wants to tell a story. A writer wants to make up stories. The point here is not the scholarly distinction between the two, but the intention. A blogging writer does not turn into a journalist because he suddenly produces directly, regularly for direct, regular readers. Just as a self-publishing author is not an autistic person who writes only for himself. Quite the opposite actually: see the Amanda Hocking phenomenon.

Come to think of it: blogging is a form of self-publishing. But it is somehow below the radar, it doesn't compete with “proper publishing”. That seems odd considering how much I think about structuring my blog posts, linking them to ideas, to places, to people. In a way, blogging has begun to both revitalise and re-engineer self-publishing. It doesn't make sense now to see blogging as a thing all by itself because it isn't. 10 years ago, people had a website and an email account and it was considered still somewhat hip. Five years ago, a stand-alone blog was still pretty trendy and forward-pointing. Today, there's a new formula that turns the poor writer into a rich relation of everyone who might want to know him (and, devilishly, vice versa) and that replaces the need for a website: Facebook + Twitter + Blog. Or, in less technical terms: Friends + Chats + Texts. Friends aren't really friends of course, chats aren't really chats, and even texts aren't just texts, they are either dynamical (posts) or static (pages). Yes, it's confusing.

Blogging can be creative non-fiction writing but it doesn't have to be. You can post a text (which means: hang it on your public or semi-public or intimately private virtual wall) that is a poem, or a string of words that doesn't even want to be a poem, or a paragraph that doesn't want to be prose, or a piece of prose. But that's not all, because the network is media voracious: it could be a photo or a film or a barely visible trace of both. It could even be a napkin or a picture of your genitals not covered by a napkin (I only threw this in to wake you in case discussing technology put you to sleep).

Whatever blogging for writers is, it is as it is with all forms of writing: you have to make of it what it can become in your hands. And it won't be until you begin to make something of it. Which is where the fun begins, too, because thousands of other writers have done it before you and lots more will, and of those who tried it many keep doing it and are getting better at it as they do when they keep showing up on the page, or the screen, or the desk or wherever you keep your secrets.

There is special power in a blogging group of writers (as in all things collective). Especially when conversation and creativity blossom in the cosiness of a cafe. Groups can turn into communities can turn into tribes. Tribal writing fills caves of wonder. Cave writing comes to life and fills the holes of the global unconscious. Who blogs bakes the bread that makes hunger for more, whatever that may be - perhaps you'll only find out when you try it for yourself.

When you blog, you're on your way to developing more of an online profile. It is then more likely that the cousin who hates you, or the mother who loves you but didn't know that you wrote, will find you. You can, of course, write under a pseudonym. Or you can face those demons that want you to come out to everyone with whatever it is that rubs the cousin the wrong way or that gets mother worried about your sanity, or the memories that you both share. The writer's blog can be an accidental catalyst of change. Perhaps, once they've read why you write, once they've listened to you interviewing yourself, the family will understand. The cousin still hates you, the mother still loves you, that won't change with a blog, of course.

In business, everybody talks about "process". On your blog, you can now also talk about it if you like. In fact, I often do. Before I start something, I talk about the fear of starting it. When I'm in the thick of it, I like to complain about the thick of it and how I'm looking forward to the end. And when I'm done, I sometimes celebrate publicly, among the strangers and not-so-strangers who read my blog. Writing a blog is like constructing your own support system. Which you want if you mean business (I know you do).

We're almost done with this, which turned into a set of commandments without my doing. A Strunk & White of blogging? It doesn't exist. Some people don't even capitalise when they blog. Others don't write much at all, they read aloud instead and publish podcasts of their writing. They make little movies in which they talk to a camera and, via the blog, to the world. This is an odd virtual place of contradictions many of which are self-made, but the ones that are most interesting - such as the "I" and "Thou" - also make for the best blog posts, I think. The blog is where you don't market yourself as much as show yourself from another side, a side that readers may not know unless you blog. In this meta world, blogs are the weapon of choice of the meta warrior, the cyber wo/man, the pixellated belly dancer. If Gertrude Stein was alive today, of course she'd have a blog. Enjoy!

Marcus Speh is a writer, ex-particle physicist, professor, executive coach, web head, father, fictionaut, former fencer and paratrooper, current maitre d' of the kaffe in katmandu and curator of the One Thousand Shipwrecked Penguins project He lives in Berlin, Germany, and blogs at Nothing To Flawnt.

Photos top: Gertrude Stein
Cave painting photograph: Lascaux, France


James Lloyd Davis said...

"If Gertrude Stein was alive today..." A frightening thought. Gertrude texting Alice from Spain: "havng drdfl day wywh"

If anyone can define the blogging phenomenon, it would be Marcus Speh. Fascinating.

Jane Turley said...

I feel amused but somewhat confused:) Blogging as explained by an ex-physicist? I thought blogging was simple but now I'm so muddled I don't know whether I'm a writer, a journalist or neither. However, I do know I've a headache coming on...

I never thought of posting my genitals on my blog. My napkins - yes. Still, food for thought. Although, I might just try the napkins first...

Claire King said...

As one who has been found by the cousin who hates me, who read my fiction as self-pitying truth and then lambasted me for it...I say, amen!

I haven't even got so far as lurking at the kaffe, although it is, like Cuba, somewhere I'd like to visit fairly soon.

I am wondering where to take my blog from here and as always you give me food for thought. Thank you!

Bruce Spear said...

Great fun, thanks Marcus! I've written up a commentary that is longer than the 4096 characters allowed here, so please visit my Yawsa! post! -b

michelle elvy said...

The fan in me loves all about this post -- the blog is what you make of it, it's creative non-fiction, journalism, creativity, all of the above (genitals too). In the hands of writers who know how to write, it has blessedly morphed beyond the narcissistic (not that writers aren't narcissistic, oh no, no one could ever get away with that argument) itemization of "What I did today" as in: "what I ate for breakfast and when I took a shit" (we still have Facebook for that, and yes there are those people out there still!)...

So that's the fan in me saying YES to this, marcus.

But the other side of me thinks you might just be fucking with me, luring me in with a title that includes "A Grammar" and delivering a lesson of things to ponder, but then spicing it up for the sharp-eyed fuddy-duddy editor to note the inconsistencies in the text, as in:

10 years ago, people had a website and an email account and it was considered still somewhat hip. Five years ago, a stand-alone blog was still pretty trendy and forward-pointing.

You begin one sentence with the numeric 10 and then the next with Five? Where the hell is my Strunk & White for blogging? Did you hide it again? Damn, you are clever.

I am always wondering about your intentions, and what lurks between the lines... This is fun.

Mike French said...

Hi Michelle this is your friendly fuddy-duddy editor here on a coffee break.

Intereseting comments on this article and believe me I'm not sure if you're joking or not Michelle! But if you are serious then my understanding was always this on presenting numbers ...

Spell out single-digit whole numbers. Use numerals for numbers greater than nine.

Me thinks Marcus knows his spuds from his potatoes.

Christian Bell said...

Nice, Marcus. This gives me something to think about regarding my own blogging, as I've run out of steam on that front.

Yoo-Hoo Tom said...

I have two blogs, one is for my flash fiction and the other is for role-playing and story-telling. Does this mean I have a dual personality? Love the article! Don't forget to tip the Maitre d'.

Martha said...

Marcus, I have not seen enough of you recently. This is brilliant. Michelle's reply is brilliant. I am going to stalk you both for a week. M

michelle elvy said...

Hi Mike -- You just never know whether a commenter is joking or not...

But I do feel a need to add here: it's a case of Rule #1 vs. Rule #16:

Mostly, it comes down to consistency. The 10 and five stood out to this fuddy-duddy because of that lack of consistency.

Gertrude Stein would be laughing at us all...

This is a terrific place; I will have to visit more often.

Sam Rasnake said...

Enjoyed this, Marcus. Your approach to form - no matter the subject of your writing - is quite singular and exceptional. Always a treat to read your works.

Robert Vaughan said...

This was wonderful, Marcus. As you know, I do blog, but since I started the intention of blogging changed for me, and now I use it more just to post links to where my writing has been published. And as I made that change, I feel like an ostrich with my head in the sand. Your thoughts and writing on blogging gave me more to think about than all of the last years issues of the New Yorker combined.

Mike French said...

Rule #1 vs. Rule #16 ?

Which one is best?
There's only one way to decide.


Jane Turley said...

The first person to post their genitals on their blogs wins!

DCAllen said...

Excellent blog grammar. As you know, my blog is a beast so hairy that it's hard to say what animal it is. It's part photoblog, part travel blog, part publishing news (my own and occasionally others), and lately very much part gluten-free travel advice. I think my blog is, simply put, me.

EKSwitaj said...

Can you imagine the flame wars Stein and Joyce would've gotten into if blogs were around back in their day?