why blogging is hard

A  couple weeks back, Will Richardson mused on the continuing challenges of blogging, even after 3000+ posts and an estimated million words. I'm not there yet (600+ posts and an est. 400,000+ words), but I understand where he's coming from. As you probably know, Will spends a lot of time working with teachers. He visited Cortland a few years back, so I know first hand that he does some great work inspiring folks and showing them the possibilities. But as he notes in this post,

a good number of people still find the thought of publishing to an
audience, even a relatively small, private audience of like-minded
souls, to be too daunting. It’s just way outside their comfort zone,
and they just believe that their contributions would either not be
relevant, interesting or useful. It’s hard to nurture these folks, to
convince them to take small steps, to help them see the potential
upside.

To me this is the fundamental rhetorical challenge and risk of any writing. Of course, before blogs, very few people had to worry about being relevant, interesting, or useful as writers. The opportunities for publication were very small. Now that that technical obstacle has been lifted, one must face those rhetorical challenges directly.

Anyone can have a blog. It's simply a matter of rising to the challenge. I see my students facing these challenges every semester. Right now, students in my online course are engaged in a microblogging project. They've all just joined Twitter. The reactions to Twitter and blogging in general are not surprising, I think. Students tend to wonder what they should write about, who would read it, and why anyone would care. They imagine, as many people do, that blogging is a kind of narcissism, which it certainly can be, if one is narcissistic to begin with. However, I tend to think such critiques are more a reflection on the critic and on a failure of rhetorical imagination.

Think of it this way. Why should anyone care what you think and do with your life? Are you not thinking or doing things that might be relevant, interesting, or useful to others? If an accounting of one's thoughts and actions result in a stream of narcissism, then I would suggest that one has bigger problems than a narcissistic blog: one has a narcissistic life.

Yes, you could read my tweets or facebook status updates and find declarations about going to the gym or heading to campus to teach this or that or taking my kids to soccer practice and so on. Yes these are mundane matters. And they probably mean very little to anyone. But a friend I haven't seen or heard from in 15 years sees that I'm regularly at the gym and takes that as an opportunity to write to me. A former student sees I'm teaching the Phaedrus and uses that as an opportunity to talk about maybe going to grad school. A colleague, who I don't know very well, sees I coach soccer, strikes up a conversation with me at a conference about it, and we become friends. These things may not matter to you, but they do matter to me.

Of course twitter also becomes a way of sharing interesting things discovered online and having quick conversations, so it is not all daily minutiae. But my point is that even that minutiae can become a way of creating a networked identity that becomes a basis for stronger and more productive connections.

But it is hard. I'm not one who writes about personal matters easily. I have never really blogged about my personal life beyond innocuous tweets. Perhaps it is because of the same concerns that Will notes. Perhaps it is because (for good or bad) my life is often here. I interact with the world as a writer/blogger. Part of that is a continual interrogation that asks "so what?" It asks us to look at the world and meet the rhetorical challenges of writing. Doing so will take one's life and thoughts in particular directions.

And maybe this is the thing, in the end, that is so hard. If one can answer the rhetorical questions of genre, audience, and purpose, to be a blogger (or maybe any kind of writer), one must still take up, at least in part, a particular relation to the world, a relation that looks at the world as a spur to composition. I fear I've been in that position for so long now that I've forgotten what it would be like to live otherwise, but I would have to imagine that the transition would be difficult.