A few days ago, I received an invitation to participate in a study about why people blog. I deleted it without a reply, partly because I never answer phone or email surveys on the grounds that I always have something better to do. Also, I suspect that, as someone who makes a living through writing, I am not a typical blogger, so my replies wouldn’t help the study much. Still, having recently written my 400th post, the question seems legitimate: Why do I blog?
In many ways, I can more easily explain the reasons that do not motivate me. I do not blog for attention. I get enough attention, positive and negative, from my professional writing, and, like many writers, I have enough of a love/hate relationship with that attention that I feel no need to find more.
For the same reason, I do not need to assert to the world that I am writer. Since 2004, I have written approximately 850 articles that I have been paid for. That makes me a journalist by any reasonable definition, even if one obsessive critic always likes to follow my name with “who calls himself a journalist,” as if to create doubts in people’s minds that I am one.
Say what you like about the purity of amateur writing – or of so-called “indie” publication or what we used to call vanity publishing in a more honest era – there is nothing like having other people pay you and asking you to write for them to make yourself think of yourself as a writer. After the first fifty or sixty publications, the truth starts to seep in. I still get a small thrill at publication, or when a story of mine gets picked up on Slashdot, but not as much as I did six years ago. Largely, I take publication for granted, since in six years I have only had one story rejected, and a couple heavily queried.
Nor do I blog for the ego satisfaction of building an audience. Although my blog sometimes touches on free and open source software (FOSS), the general subject of my professional writing, I usually only blog on FOSS when I have something to say that I could not turn into an article for which I could get paid. I know that I could easily get a couple of thousand visitors a day if I blogged about FOSS, because those are the sorts of numbers that I have when I do. But I don’t mind in the least that this blog lopes alone at one-tenth of those numbers. If anything, I prefer the lower numbers, because I can often tell when friends have logged on.
So why do I blog ? I mean as opposed to writing in general, which is an even more complicated and difficult question to answer.
Partly because I’m writing anyway. Most of my blog posts begin as an entry in the journal that I’ve kept for years. A few journal entries are too private to go out, and remain safely in their password-protected file, but many are transferred directly into the blog.
Those that are transferred to the blog are usually on subjects that I don’t generally get paid to write about – increasingly, on Northwest Coast art. Often, they are warmups at the start of my writing day, or what’s left of my writing energies at the end of the day.
However, there is one great difference in a piece of writing done for a journal and one for eventual blog publication: for a public piece of writing, I am far more concerned with structure. Nobody – I hope – will ever see my journal entries, so they can be unfiltered streams of consciousness, in which I pay little attention to how ideas are arranged. But, when I publish anything that other eyes will see, I feel an obligation – both to myself and to readers – to organize it.
Accordingly, I do not write what most people do in a blog. My blog entries are small personal essays, which is one reason why they are much longer than a typical blog entry. By following this rule, I make a journal entry not just self-expression, but an exercise in structure. By writing blog entries as essays, I force myself to practice the art I follow, and, I hope, become more skilled in it. At the very least, I write more easily because of this rule.
Of course, this orientation sets limits on my subject matter. I rarely write about my partner to preserve her privacy, and there are huge chunks of my life that are unlikely to appear in a blog because I won’t share them.
Yet, even so, I never have any serious problems finding a subject. Writing is one of those things that I do, and this blog, essentially, is for practice.