Three months ago I wrote about blogging and about the importance of starting from the reality of the present situation. I’d like to follow up on that. In fact, I’d like to revisit some of the things I’ve written there and add some new points.
Starting from what is here and now
Back in April, I wrote:
“What I found is that my best writing came from facing what was there and then, from confronting whatever I happened to be going through. It started from the place I was in. From a place of pain, if pain was what felt most real about me. From a place of serenity and acceptance, if that was the experience unfolding in me. From a place of boredom and greyness, if this is where I happened to be.
My best writing (at least for me) was triggered by the problems, emotions, interests, limits, and passions I had there and then. Not the ones I would have liked to have. Not the ones that would have seemed more interesting or worthy of writing. No. The ones I was stuck with. The ones that just wouldn’t leave. The small pebble in the shoe. The unbearable. The annoying. The morning light at the edge of the forest.”
I still stand by this but I would add some nuance. Starting from the here and now does not mean writing only about what happens to be the focus of attention at one particular moment. It means looking at the present moment through the lens of personal significance. Seeing what happens here in the light of whatever proved meaningful on so many other occasions.
But always looking at something through a lens can be very limiting. There is no way of looking at something without the filters of previous experience because these filters become part of our perception. But there is a way of reducing the bias by trying to remain open to things as they come, without forcing a particular interpretation on them.
Sometimes the starting point for my writing is a recurring theme, an obsession, something that is meaningful precisely because it builds on a succession of past experiences. Some other times the starting point is the freshness and unicity of the current moment. But regardless of where I start from, it needs to have some personal and immediate significance for me to be able to keep on writing.
Metrics of success
There is nothing wrong with trying to achieve success, whatever the meaning of success. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with believing that part of achieving it has to do with the followers, likes, or whatever else provides validation and releases endorphins in our brain.
However, I feel there’s something toxic about the current obsession with numbers and likes. Not because there’s any problem with building a large audience, but because it cultivates a confused notion of what constitutes a measure of success or achievement. I see blogs with thousands of followers but very little engagement on posts. I see bloggers who chase whatever they feel may maximize the number of likes. For me, this defeats the purpose of having a blog or writing in the first place: to communicate ideas, to learn. To engage with readers and writers. To be part of a conversation.
Like pretty much anybody else, I am interested in how others react to my posts. I am interested in why some posts gain traction and generate a lot of reactions, while others remain in the shadow. I am not indifferent to the social validation of my writing or photography. However, at the end of the day, my blog remains an expression of
what I think is worth publishing. Let me correct that: it remains an expression of what has meaning to me. If “worth publishing” would be the standard, I would very rarely, if ever, publish something.
Irrespective of the social validation it may or may not have, I find value in working to improve my writing and photography for their own sake. I find value in being part of a community where things are offered and received. I have a public and I am grateful for it. Right now I focus on simply improving what I do.
Emotions vs ideas
I used to teach and do research. I used to pay a lot of attention to the clarity and soundness of my ideas. My writing was clear but dry and sometimes over-intellectualized. Things have changed. Whatever I have to offer, it is an expression on me as a whole, not just my intellect.
I grew up in an environment in which the expression of emotions was not encouraged. It took me a long time to learn to express them in a way that opens them up to the world and makes them part of a collective experience and conversation. In order to do that, I had to learn to detach myself from the emotional bubble I was living in. I also had learn to to confront that internal voice so bent on putting me down and telling me I screwed up before I even started.
Emotions are the main vehicles for our creative ideas. They carry the creative seeds that we haven’t yet formulated intellectually.
Consistency of output
One of the most frequent pieces of advice about blogging is that you need to post consistently. I think it’s an important point. Blogging platforms are set up to prioritize consistency. It’s also a question of practice: you can only improve if you create and publish with a certain regularity.
That being said, there are many obstacles to perfect consistency. We may be too busy, feeling low, lacking inspiration, and so on. I went through a phase of pushing for consistency even if that meant publishing things that weren’t fully baked. I am out of that. Consistency is still important but not at the expense of what I feel is sufficiently good to be shared with others. “Sufficiently good” is still imperfect, but it’s an imperfection that I’ve worked upon and that I can live with.
I am not writing in my native language, as I think is obvious for any native English speaker who read more than a few lines on my blog. This imposes some limitations on how expressive and nuanced I can be when it comes to writing exactly what I want to write.
I think that most people tend to be rather accepting of the occasional awkward formulation or stylistic clumsiness as long as the text is clear and has something to say. Good proofreading is important.
While the limitations of writing in another language are clear, there may also be some advantages. I pay more attention to the language I use precisely because I cannot assume that I chose the right word or the right formulation right off the bat. I don’t have that implicit understanding of the workings of one’s native language, no matter how much I’ve used English. This means that I need to go over what I’ve written and reconsider not only the language but also the substance of what I want to express.