writing as conversation
I’m not a widely published writer. In fact, I’m not really published at all except in my various self-publishing venues. (I mean to change that when I get around to it….) But I do write in various forums, and it’s remarkable to me how differently I end up writing from one place to the next. I don’t mean just the experience after the fact, either – the experience of engaging with commenters and so forth – but the actual process of writing changes between writing here at The League and elsewhere (at True/Slant or David Frum’s site or at the assorted other places I’ve guest-posted).
Here at the League when I write a post I have in mind the potential conversation that will ensue. I feel like many of the readers and commenters here know me on a somewhat personal level or at least on as personal a level as is possible online. And I ‘know’ many of the commenters. There is an understanding between us, an ongoing relationship with its incumbent expectations and history. People who have been reading me a long time know that I have flip-flopped on entirely too many issues, and many expect that I will continue to do so. I am changeable. And here at this particular venue, I feel free to explore ideas with that openness to change. I can use my weaknesses to my advantage.
Indeed, I expect to have people in the comments – or in posts written by my co-bloggers, or by other bloggers who interact with this site often – attempt to change my mind or to offer up alternative ideas and angles that perhaps I missed. And sometimes I’m convinced and sometimes I’m not. However it plays out, it’s very much like having a good ongoing debate with friends at a bar. I think Jaybird came up with that analogy a while ago, and I like it. There is something organic about it that I find engaging and revitalizing.
So when I write a post here, often I’m thinking about the conversation that will follow. I enjoy seeing a post with dozens of comments, not because it inflates my ego, but because one of the very best things about this blog is the conversational aspect of it. At my other writing digs this doesn’t happen. And that effects how I write. Somehow, knowing that a post will spark a conversation changes how it’s written. When I’m fairly sure that a post will only garner one or two comments, I write differently. When I know that the conversation will almost certainly include some of the regulars, I write differently than if I knew I was speaking largely to a group of strangers. The conversational nature of the post changes in ways that are hard to quantify. The process adjusts entirely unintentionally.
This is also why it is hard for me to sit down and write pieces that would fit nicely into an actual publication. The kind that pays you for them. I’m so accustomed to writing like this, my instincts have all shifted. And it’s not even about the number of people who might read the piece, either. A while back I noted that Ross Douthat’s columns felt very different than his blog posts, as though he were confined not so much by the word count but by something else, something more psychological in nature. I wonder if this is a symptom to some degree of what I’m talking about here – whether in a column, where that conversational nature of the blog is stripped away almost entirely, something in a piece’s sincerity or something else far less tangible is lost.
Anyways, just thinking out loud here. I know some readers absolutely loathe these sorts of pieces. That’s another thing you learn when you begin attracting a larger audience – you can’t please everyone. In fact, you’re almost guaranteed to bore or piss off people entirely by accident. It just struck me the other day how different it felt writing from one place to the next, and I think this is a result of the changing dynamic of media in general. I think it goes beyond simply “new” and “old” media, and beyond the medium itself and into waters that may in fact be more historically relevant to running a drinking establishment….