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.
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.
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).
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.