Ann Althouse's contribution to the Bloggership conference of bloggin' law professors is well worth downloading (.pdf). Even though it's written to coax a specialized audience off its safe shore of stodginess, timidity and pomposity and into the fast-moving waters of blogging, it's one of the best all-round blogging manifesti yet, especially for any blogger who does other kinds of writing for a living and/or calling. If your previously otherwise configured brain has been bloggified, you'll savor observations like these:
I don’t have to connect to the previous post the way one paragraph is connected to the next in an essay. I get my momentum in part from the freedom not to connect every paragraph to the next. In this freedom not to connect things in the conventional way of the written page, I find new connections.
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I love the simple, time-stamped structure of the blog, with each new item posted at the top. How seductive! How like life itself. In life, you can’t skip backwards and forwards in time. You can only live in the present. A blog is like living, living in writing. What fun!
So I will indulge this now-overwhelming preference of mine to live freely in writing.
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I strongly favor blogging for the sake of blogging and mistrust bloggers who are tapping the medium because they have a goal that they want to accomplish. I have to think that the monumental talkfest that is blogdom has got to be having some effect. But I quite love the fact that the effect is far beyond the control of the individuals who take up blogging because they want to make something specific happen.
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I reject both the work and play models. Blogging means much more to me than either concept expresses. Blogging is life -- in writing, in public. It's not a job or a break from a job. It's everything you might think about. Blogging is art.
(If so, it's art like jazz -- not carefully "composed" and structured but created in the moment, real-time, improvisational. Performance is composition. Then you move on, as Ann points out, always living in the present. In that sense the blog harks back, however faintly, to the Beat penchant for jazz and Zen.)
You know what scholarly is, but do you know what bloggy is? Do I? All I know is that it’s bloggy to blog to discover what is bloggy. [ . . . ]
I’m only selling the beautiful power of the blog and saying give yourself a chance to write whatever it is you would write if you didn’t make a plan and didn’t stultify yourself with aims and limitations.
That last part made me really think about how blogging compares to "writing," the kind I've always done both for a living and as a calling.
When I recently wrote a new introduction for the "spiritual nomads" book, it was both agonizing and thrilling in a way that blogging is not. Is the pain the price of the thrill? Is masochism involved? Ann quotes Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi's book Flow about the way you lose all awareness of yourself when immersed in an activity as enthralling (absorbing and pleasurable) as blogging. That's true, but my experience of "writing," as opposed to blogging, is that you don't just lose awareness of yourself; you virtually destroy yourself, or at least deconstruct yourself, and then recreate yourself by creating what you're writing. The resistance to it, besides being ordinary garden-variety laziness, comes from the reluctance to so radically banish your everyday self and from fear that nothing may come of it; your old self smashed, you may not find your way to the new one. You may go out there into chaos and come back empty-handed and defeated instead of revitalized. You feel as if you might die in the dark chrysalis of the writing state. This makes "writing" seriously manic-depressive in a way that blogging is not.
That's not to say that wonderful things don't spontaneously bubble up in blogging. The more this performance art is practiced, the more possible it may be to create blog posts that are as powerful as they are spontaneous. Certainly some people have some posts on their blogs that, however they were actually composed -- flung off, or in slow struggle -- is at least as good as the best "writing" in their respective genres. (I'm thinking of Ali Eteraz and Jack Whelan's essays, Richard Lawrence Cohen's stories and Mr. Gobley's poem-prayer-devotions.) But blogging itself -- as opposed to posting writing on a blog -- does not require you to dig as deep as "writing " does. You could say it's like panning a stream as opposed to mining gold. Little flecks of brightness come along all the time. And nobody dies in a cave-in.
On the other hand, blogging is incredibly good for "writing." It creates a habit of fluency that pours right over the surliest block. And it loosens up your "voice." I read my old proposal; it seemed unbearably ponderous to me. The new one, while still dense (I'm just dense!), is much more engaging and agile.
The aspects of blogging that are hardest to do without in "writing" are a) links (Ann is very discontented with having to substitute footnotes in her piece) and b) the instantaneous feedback of friends, spectators and critics. That conversation, as she calls it, is what writers crave, and in the old forms, we had to wait many months for it -- the gestation-like ordeal of publication, then the sea-mail-speed forwarding of letters addressed to the publisher -- if we ever got it at all. In that way, blogging is quick and "writing" is dead -- another reason we drag ourselves to it so grudgingly. It's as lonely as the tomb. While blogging, in Sippican Cottage's comparison, is as convivial as a tavern.