lessons I have (not) learned after a year of keeping a weblog.
When I started the blog, a year ago, I obviously had no idea where it would lead, or even if I would retain the enthusiasm I started off with. If anything, my enthusiasm has grown, and though a primary factor then was seeing the fun had by others with their blogs, I have since found compelling personal and professional reasons for keeping this one going. I have spent more time on it that I ever expected to, in truth.
A year down the line, about 62,000 words have made it to the web; enough to fill a reasonably small book. By way of comparison, Shakespeare’s Hamlet has only 32,600, Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy clocks up a piddling 47,000, while both Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and George Orwell’s 1984 clock up just over 103,000 each. That being the only visible connection between those two tomes, thank goodness. (The Orwell is nevertheless four percent longer – he used longer words.)
The most important things I’ve learned, through keeping this blog, are about myself. The first surprise is just how opinionated I am, how many things I feel strongly about. The Blog has been incredibly useful in clarifying ideas and opinions, some I didn’t know I had, thanks to the ability to lay them out and edit them into shape. On more than one occasion a whole day’s blog has been scrapped because ideas that started off as discussion fodder led nowhere; on others, the conclusions have been surprising and educational.
I am fortunate to have had about 18 months in a job that wasn’t started as a writing job, but turned into one because we found I had some ability at it. Nearly all the writing I have ever done has been technical in nature, where it pays to be pedantic and literal. (You can’t use much artistic license when providing technical details that people need to make purchasing decisions.) I’m sure it shows here too, and though I have tried to loosen up a little, some people must be saying “you should have been a teacher”. I have considered it, and I give some technical training at work, but… no.
One surprising side-benefit has been an improvement in my real-world conversation skills, partly through the re-emphasized realization that it’s only worth jumping in to a conversation thread if I can take it somewhere, and, if not, to shut up and listen. Not that I was particularly bad in that regard before – I have been called a good listener for years – but I think I now enjoy additional benefits. Such as new skills in kick-starting a stalled conversation, or nudging it away from a ditch before it hits, sometimes using ideas and theories I’ve worked out here.
Keeping a Blog is addictive. Why else would I take the time and make the effort, considering the potential drawbacks? I’m all too aware that I am exposing myself, mentally and emotionally, to hordes of amateur psychoanalysts, and perhaps a professional or two, who may delight in taking people to pieces and poking through the debris. I am acquainted with a few of these people; they know who they are, or should. I don’t claim to know them, or myself, as well as they claim to know me, but I know enough to know that no good can ever come of associating with them, since they take without thought of giving in return.
However, there’s no denying the pleasure I get from thumbing my nose at such pettiness; the failure to see this blog (or even the whole website) for the expressive fun that it is and will continue to be. Of course it isn’t perfect; perfection is a clean slate, or a screen, or sheet of paper, with no life on it. On more than one occasion I’ve called myself pretentious, since there’s always a small part of me watching, bemused, as I go far beyond the requirements of the job. The label has been applied to other art that I enjoy, too.
I won’t go so far as to call this blog Art – that would be really pretentious – but what’s the harm in pretension? In playing a role to extremes when it seems appropriate, in biting off more than one would ever want to chew? In cultivating an overblown online persona, disconnected from the workaday realities of jobs and relationships? In risking ridicule by using more words or playing more notes than strictly demanded by the medium? We each have a daily reality which is not going to go away, and thus have a right to indulge in escapism on any level. The limits are practical; dream while crossing a busy road, and you may soon lose touch with reality on a permanent basis. Rather do it in your mind, or on paper, or on the Internet.
For example: Punk music was partly a reaction to the grand ambitions of bands such as Yes and Led Zeppelin, or Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” artists, who seemed out of touch with reality; so why do we keep returning to that era, in new music as well as archive recordings? Paul Weller grew tired of the minimalist Jam ethic and had some fun with the Style Council, much to the horror of New Wave council tenants. Radiohead claim to hate Progressive music – at least Thom Yorke does – but they should not feel guilty for dreaming big ideas and producing grand sonic landscapes, whatever the inspiration behind them is.
In the film world, Ken Loach and the “socialist realism” school of film-making sneer at Terry Gilliam and his characters that escape their Orwellian humdrum with dreams of Brazil. In literature, however, there are few complaints when Iain Banks or Salman Rushdie release their wordy monographs; even ultra-English Nick Hornby has ideas above his station, and dares to imagine; punk literature, a la Irvine Walsh, is out of fashion, at least temporarily. Thank goodness: “Little England” has long been guilty of snubbing artists with big ideas: how dare they think that way? They should know their place, be Appropriate and Relevant!
Writing is a reward in itself: as numerous writers have said, “a writer writes”. It doesn’t have to be focused, or heading in a particular direction, or even any good; just do it and see where it leads. In my case, a writing project I started over five years ago has come back to my attention, and I can see a lot to do, repairs to make, topics to expand on, directions the story might take.
After a year of Blogging, I feel more prepared than ever to dig in and get things done; that, along with everything else, has made this all worthwhile. So, it’s full steam ahead, and damn the torpedoes. The metaphorical ones, that is.