Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why I blog

After I published my Popularity post (in which I lamented that stupid videos on YouTube can claim a million viewers in a matter of days while this blog had only had 1,200 hits in a year), a Facebook friend wrote me, saying: "Charles Bukowski wrote an entire poem about how you should only write because you HAVE to - I think that is probably a good enough reason, whether or not anyone else reads or likes it." [I think the poem he referenced is So You Want to Be a Writer.] Perhaps my FB friend was trying to console me, but I found his message a little depressing since Bukowski's poem about writing for the pleasure of writing had obviously been published and was enough-known for someone to reference it.

I knew from the outset that a blog about creativity and writing was not going to garner as many hits as blogs about vacuous celebrities (e.g., TMZ, Perez Hilton, et al). And, to be truthful, I’ve never wanted it to be that popular—if I knew that thousands would read each posting it would probably leave me tongue-tied, frightened of a voracious public appetite.

But since I received his message a few weeks ago, I've been thinking about why I write this blog when I could be doing something else with my time. I've come to realize that the blog serves several purposes for me:

  • It’s an electronic journal, of sorts, much like my Facebook status lines.

  • If it didn’t exist, I might not write at all, for days at a time. There is an artificial deadline hovering over me each week; if I haven’t published a new post by Friday I start feeling an antsy obligation to put up something new.

  • It’s easier for me to justify making time for a blog post than it is for more personal kinds of writing. I would never tell someone that I am going to go and write something in my journal—it’s private and, for some people perhaps, the act of journal writing (rather than mowing one’s lawn or cleaning one’s house, when both obviously need to be done) verges on narcissism or a waste of time. But tell that same person you’re writing for a blog and it seems more concrete, justifiable, with an edge of glamour even. And it’s something I can talk about since it’s public: my blog has a URL (which I sometimes put on my business cards); my journal doesn't.

  • It has given me a compilation of essays (or essay embryos) that I otherwise wouldn’t have. There are 80 posts on this blog right now that would not be here if I'd never created the blog. Having to write something every week often gives me a chance to start riffing on whatever is on my mind at a particular time, capturing thoughts that might have evaporated or evolved differently if I hadn’t put them down when I did.

  • And, it often gives me a respite from my otherwise overly to-do-listed weeks. I found this entry in my journal today, written late summer, which is what prompted me to write this post today:
"How simple it is for me, then, to sit down for an hour a week and write a blog post, then to take a few moments to look for a photo I might use for it, convert it to sepia, and load it up on Blogger. It is a moment of solace and peace. I wish I could have it for more than an hour a week."
(Photograph by Beth Blevins)


Eric K. said...

Hey Beth, I certainly didn't mean to bum you out with the Bukowski reference (and yes, you got the right poem, of course).

The question of popularity is a no-win, chicken-and-egg sort of inquiry. But, I think it's fair to say that Bukowski's writing is so good, in part, because he was so very compelled to write. And because he was so dogged in his pursuit, he became a good writer, and then earned critical acclaim.

There's another quote, though, from Donald Hall (that I picked up from The Writer's Almanac) that presents the flip side of this argument:

"I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems. … To desire to write poems that endure — we undertake such a goal certain of two things: that in all likelihood we will fail, and that if we succeed we will never know it."

So, we all begin with great aspirations and the opportunity of the blank page (or screen). And, if we are lucky, we get to do that every day or week, filling those pages with our own persistent optimism.

Beth Blevins said...

See, this is the cool thing about blogs (and the Internet). I could have written this post as a journal entry, or kept the discussion about Bukowski as an email correspondence between Eric and me. But now it's here and available to the world with a click of the "Publish" button. That's why I blog.