>Writing Out Loud: Your Brain on Blog

>The November issue of The Atlantic has an interesting article by Atlantic senior editor, Andrew Sullivan, called “Why I Blog.” A subtitle on the cover of the issue says, “Will blogs kill writing?” I read the article tonight, during commercials as I was watching a new episode of “House.” (And I used to tease my husband for working on his laptop and and his palm pilot while watching two football games at the same time.) Anyway, it’s a good article, and it gave me something to blog about tonight, while I’m putting off a more personal, reflective post about my mother. I’ll still write that one… it’s been percolating for a couple of days now. Actually, I think Mr. Sullivan’s article helped me nail down exactly why I haven’t written it yet. It’s because I care a great deal about the things I want to say about my mom’s situation, and I want to spend some time on it, which I don’t typically do when writing a blog post. As Sullivan says:

“A traditional writer is valued by readers precisely because they trust him to have thought long and hard about a subject, given it time to evolve in his head, and composed a piece of writing that is worth their time to read at length and to ponder. Bloggers don’t do this and cannot do this—and that limits them far more than it does traditional long-form writing.”

That’s it. What I have to say about taking care of my mother seems to be calling out for a more traditional form. Something with permanence. An essay. Or perhaps a chapter of a memoir. I’ve thought about gathering up all my blog posts about Mom and cleaning them up and putting them together as a book of essays at some point. Because even though most of them were written hastily, without much editing, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback from readers who were touched by them. Loving and caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s isn’t unique. Sadly, it’s becoming more universal. And some of what I have to share about it takes some sorting out. Again, Sullivan puts it well:

“A blogger will air a variety of thoughts or facts on any subject in no particular order other than that dictated by the passing of time. A writer will instead use time, synthesizing these thoughts, ordering them, weighing which points count more than others…. The result is almost always more measured, more satisfying, and more enduring than a blizzard of posts.”

Hopefully my essays, and my memoir, when it’s finally finished, will be more enduring and satisfying than my blog posts. Sullivan addresses the issue that has been raised concerning blogging replacing traditional writing, saying it “is as foolish as it is pernicious…. There is, after all, something simply irreplaceable about reading a piece of writing at length on paper, in a chair or on a couch or in bed.”

So, why do we do it? Why do we blog? Why do we read blogs? (I personally keep up with about a dozen or so on a regular basis, and I’m sure that number is nothing compared with people like Sullivan who are in the journalism business.) Honestly, it’s addictive. Again, Mr. Sullivan:

“Blogging—even to an audience of a few hundred in the early days—was intoxicatingly free….Like taking a narcotic….Blogging is to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. Blogging is writing out loud.”

It is exhilarating. Whether the blogger plays the network game—and I only skim the surface of this resource—with hyperlinks and track-backs to expand readership and invite participation, or even if the blogger is happy with her small readership of family and friends, either way it’s a blast.

A few friends (who don’t blog) have asked whether or not I feel exposed, sharing so much personal stuff with “the world.” Maybe that’s part of its appeal, and Sullivan agrees:

“The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete. The wise panic that can paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts…. That’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality…. You feel as if you know bloggers as they go through their lives, experience the same things you are experiencing, and share the moment.”

Virginia Woolf said one shouldn’t write while angry… that anger (or other emotion) destroys the writer’s objectivity. Maybe that’s true of fiction, but some of my best writing has come crashing onto my blog during moments of anger, sorrow, loneliness, confusion, or joy. Like my post about a year ago, when I drove to the beach for two days alone, trying to sort out some anger and hurt feelings. I just let it all out, uncensored, unedited. The responses (emails mainly) I received from readers were gratifying. So I took those rough drafts that were blog posts and turned them into an essay that was a finalist in a literary magazine contest and was eventually published. I still consider that essay some of my best writing, and I’m not sure it would have been so alive if I had taken days and weeks and months to get the first draft down on paper.

It’s encouraging to read that a successful journalist like Andrew Sullivan has embraced blogging and even uses it as a tool to inform and improve his long-form writing:

“Each week, after a few hundred posts, I also write an actual newspaper column. It invariably turns out to be more considered, balanced, and evenhanded than the blog. But the blog will always inform and enrich the column, and often serve as a kind of free-form, free-associative research.”

If I needed approval for the amount of time I spend blogging, when I’ve got twelve more chapters of my memoir to write, Mr. Sullivan just made my day. Joshilyn Jackson wisely told me, when she encouraged me to start this blog back in August of 2007, that it would either be a very good or a very bad thing for my writing. She said that it would either take all my creative energies, leaving me without the time or fuel for my “real writing,” or that it would energize and inspire my writing. She said that I would know, shortly after starting the blog, which way it would go for me. From the beginning it’s fed my writing rather than being a drain on my energy. Good thing, ’cause I’m hooked now. Like Jason Michael Carroll sings, “I can sleep when I’m dead.”

The down side (other than sleep deprivation)? Watch an interview with Mr. Sullivan about how blogging changes your brain, “Your Brain On Blog,” here.

Concerned about your blogging habit? Check out Bloggers Anonymous’ “Mock 10 Signs of Blog Addiction.”

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