Blogging, writing, meaning

I learnt a lot about writing through this blog this summer. But what left me rather awestruck was how meaning travels and takes a life of its own in the blogosphere because the audience is so heterogeneous in every way imaginable.

The general principles of learning how to write well (a) by reading good writing and (b) through practice both held true running the blog. Simple as these two ideas might seem, reading has become the most neglected aspect of teaching and learning how to write as most people posit shortcuts to good writing by publishing expensive handbook after handbook which start straight at freewriting.

Cartoon in IN
Cartoon in IN (Photo credit: akeg) Image via Zemanta

I read a lot of good blogs here which helped me, mostly because true to the nature of blogs, some delineated thoughts that were still in the formative process and some were, for the lack of a better word, writing at my “level” that I could hope to emulate/ follow/reach–writing not by super-geniuses (read people expecting the Nobel prize tomorrow and preferably already dead) or by people who have whole institutional publicity machineries behind them that I couldn’t hope to match in a million years.

A new aspect of writing was revealed to me through blogging that I was not aware of before. Through blogging I was able to experience the inherently interactive nature of the writing process itself in an intimate way that I hadn’t realized earlier.

So the moment I made my blog “public,” my readers were making meaning with me as they read my blog. I couldn’t control what they got out of it, what they understood, what resonated with them, what they knew more about, what they disagreed with, what mood they were in while reading and mostly, what they were expecting for lunch when they were reading. My blog was, in no way, the centre of their lives.

A woman thinking
A woman thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In other mediums, these uncontrollable aspects of my writing would still be a problem except that in the blog, I get a fair idea of what people are thinking though it’s not always accurate. People click, “like” and comment or ignore. So I know what happened to what I meant to an extent.

Through readers’ responses I’ve come to realize the following about blogs and meaning-making:

  • What I’m trying to say only emerges through interaction between me and the reader. Sometimes meaning emerges when two readers comment on each other even when I’m not around.
  • There can be differences between what I want to say and what my words  end up meaning and what the reader understands it as.
  • There can be differences between what people are looking for in the blog and what they end up finding but reversal of expectation is not always a negative thing.
  • How people are reading the blog (what they are clicking on and the sequence of clicks, if it were possible to find that) could tell me what they want and what kind of people they are (focused/ not so attentive/ sustained readers/ browsers)
  • Differentiating between groups of visitors (short blog seekers vs. long blog seekers, humorous vs. serious content seekers etc.) and managing them in the same blog could be a learning process
  • Juxtaposing visuals in the middle of pre-written text could change the meaning significantly and then meaning becomes dependent on what visual is found under practical constraints
  • Managing passive readers who like to have most things explicitly articulated and active readers who like to fill in the gaps can be another learning process
  • Managing readers who read with the grain (agree with most ideas) and readers who read against the grain (not necessarily disagree but think critically) can be challenging
  • Managing universal and particular aspects of writing is possible (such as attracting a fantasy novel writer to my blog on birds would depend on some universal appeal of the blog, not the bird)
  • Audiences can have individual and collective aspects just like in “real” life. If many people like a blog, people gravitate towards it rather than a neglected blog. If many people make positive comments, few will disagree with the majority. As a writer, it’s hard to manage appealing to the individual and collective selves of each reader successfully so they judge for themselves (if that is what one wants).
Mirror
Writing for self? Original caption: Mirror (Photo credit: Chapendra) via Zemanta

If I told myself I was writing just for me I would be kidding myself because writing, ultimately, is a form of communication. Even if I was writing a private journal, I’d still have at least one confirmed audience–me.

That me, unfortunately, is rather fickle. I’m not in the same mindset today as I was yesterday as I will be tomorrow. I have varying levels of patience with my own writing on different days, especially with the length of paragraphs and the jokes. So I read differently. On top of all this, there’s always an imagined audience watching over. How do I get rid of that?

I realized that there is no writing without a reading audience just as there can be no reading without writing.

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54 thoughts on “Blogging, writing, meaning”

  1. Hey Bottleworder,

    A lot of thoughts generated after you visited me and I followed to your site. When I started blogging, I had no idea what it was about. I feel the blogosphere is a generally spongy creature, capable of much metamorphosis. We readers and writers mould and shape its content with each post and each comment, and from what I have viewed, there is plenty for all.

    I’ll soon be posting a blog about ‘the second’ book syndrome. What we write, how and why and where. I think these are imperfectly formed questions that merge and separate with time, effort and intent. As a result of blogging and facebook (I have to limit the number of interfaces I access or I’d not write enough creative words – at the moment I have set the bar at 1,000 new words a day), I have strong recognition of how much WHERE I am writing effects what and how I write. Where referring to in what place I expect the reader to locate it. One must always hope to writing something about which others will give a damn. I live in a relatively remote area of Australia, so my writing community is one with which I rarely meet face to face, and seldom without one travelling to the other. Access to blogs relieves a sense of professional isolation, offers me some notion of where the heads of others are travelling.

    On literature – takes us back to meaning and intent. The human spirit (in all its multi-faceted versions) hasn’t altered much down the ages and so I see it (literature) as being relevant except for those volumes which somehow seem to have been written with an intent NOT to be accessible. But then I personally don’t categorise such work as literary. Because my own work is likely to be labelled thus, I have a tendency to sit with the theory that ‘literary’ is something which suits the booksellers and publishers. It’s a category into which authors fit or nay and for many the category is a disservice – popular writers can be assumed to write less well and literary writers suffer a reputation for being ‘difficult’, ‘boring’ or ‘high brow’. Disappointment all round.

    As for homogeneity, some years ago I begged an anthropological friend to promise me it had its limit. She granted my wish. My experience is there is a limit. As an Australian of Chinese heritage, living in America (some time ago), I discovered that calibrations in world view very much allow for us to remain the same as much as we might change. Which brings us back to writer and reader intent – the former presenting something for interpretation, the latter seeking something to interpret. Somewhere, each reader / writer pairing meets, but never, I suspect, at exactly the same intersection.

    Blog on!
    KMY

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    1. Hello KMY!
      I absolutely agree with you. The blogospere has vast possibilities, if not infinite in terms of metamorphosis. That’s why it excites me. Although it has its limits. Perhaps its limits emerge from the very universalities you mention in your last paragraph. It’s composed of us people, and we have commonalities and those commonalities determine what will be liked and read and what will be rejected both in terms of “good” writing and in terms of popular trends. Also, you’re absolutely right. No matter where one lives, the act of writing can be isolating and the blogosphere provides a way to see where others are going with their thoughts. Yes, the intersections of intent and interpretation can’t be tied down but unfortunately, the driving forces of commerce drive the marketplace which limits what’s read at all. I’m hoping the ‘net will change some of that until a new hierarchy establishes itself. Thank you for your beautifully written thoughts!
      Bottledworder.

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  2. “If I told myself I was writing just for me I would be kidding myself because writing, ultimately, is a form of communication. Even if I was writing a private journal, I’d still have at least one confirmed audience–me.”

    Interesting insight. I always think that my blog is just for me, but in the end there are always expectations that my words may speak to someone else.
    Thanks for the great post.

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  3. Hi. I just wanted to say thank you for liking my blog posts and providing such insightful blogs yourself. I really enjoyed reading this blog, and the one on becoming a better writer!!!

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  4. Excellent summary!

    I started blogging in order to get me back into fiction writing and it has helped me improve my style no end. I now feel I have to write something every day and that is a good thing.

    Keep up the good work.

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  5. Since my audience seems to be mostly myself I know exactly what you mean when you say that writing always has at least one person in mind. However, I do have an advantage over most people… my many personalities often provide me with a large demographic to try to appease! I have so many inner personalities that they formed their own football club… and they placed third in the MLS last year! 🙂

    All kidding aside, it’s hard for me to separate the funny things that pop into my head with the book projects that I am working on… since they are all a part of me. If you figure out how to do this, please, let me know. 🙂

    http://www.senatorbrett.wordpress.com

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  6. Exactly. And I might add that even reading bad writing, is enlightening as a writer. It makes me aware of every word and contrivance of plot, and it also makes the good books absolutely sing for me! Nice post – thanks.

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  7. This was really great, bottledworder! I completely agree with you that reading is one of the most neglected part of teaching in schools and other forms. Parents don’t read to their children anymore, and teachers and pushing their pupils to challenge themselves.

    Also, I want to thank YOU for the things that you write; this blog, among others, really helps me to understand thing that perhaps I don’t understand, and through reading your work it becomes clear. You have helped me help myself to make my blog better. 🙂 Thank you.

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      1. Oh, that’s not what I meant, sorry! What I meant is the majority of parents don’t read to their children anymore, but thank goodness some do – the world would collapse if there weren’t any readers and writers out there! 🙂

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  8. Your post really resonated with me. I was just thinking about this last week – how blog writing is it’s own thing. Articles that make great blog posts might not translate well in a traditional form of media because you can add layers of interaction to blog posts and yes, many of us pair visuals with text. At the same time, the great blog posts still feature one basic item: good writing.

    For me, blogging has helped me generate ideas to write about. It has helped me flesh out snippets of words that I couldn’t formulate before. Not all of my blog posts are winners, and not all of my blog posts are exercises in writing but they all exist to communicate my ideas to an audience.

    The fact that others out there continue to visit my blog and see what I’m doing delights and humbles me at the same time as there are bloggers out there much more polished than I am as a blogger.

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  9. Thought provoking stuff. I’d be interested to understand how this has evolved over time for you. As a relatively new blogger with a small readership it’s challenging to engage with readers and not just write for myself.

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  10. “How people are reading the blog (what they are clicking on and the sequence of clicks, if it were possible to find that) could tell me what they want and what kind of people they are (focused/ not so attentive/ sustained readers/ browsers)”

    I use statcounter.com – their interface is kind of terrible but you’ll get more data than WordPress provides.

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  11. meaning =’s intent =’s perception is an abstract perfect situation that cannot be achieved because our experience levels are largely different. I should note also that the level to which meaning =’s intent =’s perception depends upon the depth of the writer’s meaning. I can write about the richness of royal blue because my intent is to glorify Duke basketball and a fellow fan of Duke would catch my meaning. On the other hand, if I’m talking about responsibility because I wish to point out that people marginalize that for which they do not want responsibility, the perceptions by others might vary widely and hotly. We all start out as a voice in the wilderness – what happens from there is a mystery and why we all keep writing.

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  12. Nice to see that other people think about things that I think about, granted you are a deeper thinker on this subject than I am, which that is why I enjoyed reading this so much.

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  13. Thank you for writing “Blogging, writing, meaning”. It helps me to know what my next step in learning is; I need to read more and read what is correct to be able to write well. I will use this to keep me going. Keep up the great work!

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  14. Thank you for writing “Blogging, writing, meaning”. It helps me to know what my next step in learning what is next. I need to read more and read what is correct to be able to write well. I will use this to keep me going. Keep up the great work!

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  15. “What I want to say” (intent)
    “What my words end up meaning” (intent vs. perception)
    “What the reader understands it as” (perception)

    How can these ideas be assimilated in one’s blog so that “meaning” = “intent” = “perception”? Is this even possible? I suppose through the interaction of commenting there can be a “coming-together” between the author and the reader, but how many people actually take the time to find the true meaning or intent of what the author has written?

    I suppose it’s like the news media these days; few people question the authenticity of the facts or stats or percentages or data or even the information presented to them. For those people, it takes too much time, I suppose, to discover what’s relevant and what isn’t. I suppose the determining factor would be what’s important to them in that 10-30 second span of time.

    Thank you for this insightful post and if you should find yourself having a free moment or tow, I’d like to read your thoughts (your comments) concerning my questions.

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    1. Responding to your point about intent vs. perception would require another blog 🙂 I completely agree with you that any attempt to control meaning would be futile. In fact, it’s perhaps a good thing that that’s not possible. Yet, when we write, we desire to control meaning and sometimes naively think that we can/ have. Your other point about authenticity of (statistical) facts vs. interpretation of them by the reader (and the writer) is also interesting. Some facts are verifiable and hence potentially exist outside of perception but most other facts/ ideas only come into being when written and perceived (read, in this context). Hence, perhaps there is no authentic fact out there. Perhaps, one day I’ll write a blog with concrete examples from some blogs and comments but I was too lazy to include examples today. But thanks for reading so closely and thinking about this. In fact, I didn’t think about this point you made which proves this blog went beyond my intent!

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      1. I wouldn’t be so sure that “any attempt to control meaning would be futile.” Take a look at politic ads these days and you’ll see a lot of “attempts to control meaning” in them regardless of whether they’re true or false. I suppose it depends upon one’s interpretation of the word “meaning” itself. It’s the “underlying purpose” in the definition of that word that concerns me, and it’s what the politicians’ intents are that’s worries me more.

        I tend to be a bit more cynical when it comes to authenticity of so-called “(statistical) facts.” Interpretations run rampant all the time in social media, but now it’s infected the new media too (or so my cynical side would say). My critical thinking is a bit clouded these days, but I like your assessment and your logic behind it.

        Thank you for the breath of fresh air I’ve needed so desperately. I find myself actually joyous about being able to provide you with “intent beyond your own meaning” tonight! 😉

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