One commenter to my essay on the New York Times Motherlode blog last week, in which I told my story of making childbearing decisions in light of having a genetic disorder that my children could inherit, wrote this:
In your article you mention “hard questions about choice, responsibility, and suffering”, but you don’t discuss them, and I’m disappointed that you didn’t…I feel you missed an opportunity to explain your reasoning and decisions.
Anyone notice the glaring flaw in this commenter’s logic? Why might I have failed to discuss “hard questions about choice, responsibility, and suffering” in a blog post?
Answer: Because it was a blog post.
The conventional wisdom is that blog posts should be less than 1,000 words, preferably closer to 500 words or so. I consistently write posts in the 900 to 1,200 word range, which makes me a wordy blogger. This approach works for me and my readers. Nevertheless, even a relatively wordy blog post is short. Too short to exhaustively cover any topic, much less the fraught and complex topic of reproductive decisions. (Lucky for that commenter, I wrote a book! With 65,000 words devoted to his/her very question!)
In honor of this commenter, I’ve dusted off and revised a post from my former blog, naming the six most annoying and ignorant things that people say to and about bloggers.
1. “Bloggers just want attention.” — Well, duh. Anyone who writes anything for public consumption wants people to read it. We spend much time, energy, and angst figuring out how to get more traffic. This is not just ego-stroking. Professional writers and aspiring authors are expected to have an Internet presence, which usually includes a dedicated web site and some kind of blog. People who are (or aspire to be) recognized as experts in their field often blog to share expertise and get the attention of potential customers, clients, fans, supporters, or employers.
So yes, bloggers want attention. That’s the point of blogging.
2. “Bloggers are self-absorbed.” — This criticism is often lobbed at bloggers with memoir-type blogs, particularly women who write about the domestic sphere. “Do these people really think that other people want to read about their unending piles of laundry, anxious kids, and food allergies?” ask the upstanding commenters.
Yes, bloggers do think that other people want to read about those things, which is why we write about them.
Do people want to read all of that? If a blogger has become successful— he or she has a loyal reader following in the hundreds or thousands, and/or makes some money via blogging, and/or has secured paid writing gigs (magazine articles, book contracts) as a result of blogging—then the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
Writers can get away with writing about themselves if in doing so, they are providing something of value to readers. Successful bloggers, even those who focus on their own day-to-day lives, offer something valuable to readers: they have a compelling voice, they reliably make people think hard or laugh out loud, they give good advice, they make readers feel not so alone, they share useful information, they inspire.
3. “Bloggers are lazy/need to get a real job/have too much time on their hands.” — Again, successful bloggers are good at what they do. They are often excellent writers. Or they may just be good-enough writers, but possess an irresistible voice, keen powers of observation, or stores of knowledge about some topic of interest to a niche audience. As is obvious from the dismal state of high school essays, grammatically bankrupt e-mail correspondence, and the tendency for competent adults to break into cold sweats when asked to write something for the boss, writing well is hard work. Many people not only can’t write well, they don’t even want to if they don’t have to.
Bloggers, in contrast, have to write both well and often. Conventional wisdom says that successful bloggers post a minimum of two or three times a week, every week. Conventional wisdom also says that effective blog posts are between 500 and 800 words. Do you know how hard it is to write something worthy in so few words? It’s really, really hard. I often spend much more time paring my posts down than writing them.
As for getting a “real job”: For most of us, blogging is our job. And a real one too! Or at least, it’s part of our job. A journalist might blog as well as write for print media. A writer might blog in addition to publishing books and securing freelance work. Even those much-maligned “mom bloggers” might earn a few (or many) dollars by selling ads on their blog, getting a book contract, writing for other media outlets, or securing speaking engagements.
4. “Bloggers are just in it for the money.” — Snort.
OK, seriously. If we were just in it for the money, that indeed would be worth criticizing, because there’s not much money to be made blogging in and of itself. For many of us, blogging earns a very small bit of money. Patheos pays me based on page views. I occasionally get paid to write something for another blog or web site. Some bloggers sell ad space. When blogging earns little or no income, we’re usually doing it for another reason, whether personal (conversing with like-minded folk about a topic of interest) or professional (to build an author platform, sell books, attract clients, etc.).
A relative few bloggers earn a substantial living via blogging. They work many hours a week to maintain a viable blog that will attract thousands of readers a day. Financially successful bloggers will tell you that the actual blog writing takes up a minority of their (substantial) working hours. The rest of the time, they are vetting ads, reviewing products, writing articles for other publications, or traveling to speaking engagements.
So yes, I suppose you could say that bloggers are in it for the money, seeing as most people are in their jobs for the money.
5. “It is inappropriate/bad form/not nice to publicly criticize another blogger’s writing in your own post.” — Blogs, except for those intended for a small private audience (such as a family blog for sharing news and photos, which should be protected by privacy settings), are part of our public discourse. And to go back to point #1: Bloggers want attention.
It is completely appropriate for a blogger to publicly respond, even critically, to material posted publicly on another blog. Most bloggers will actually welcome the attention, even if it is critical (so long as it’s thoughtful criticism, and not nutty). “There’s no bad publicity” often applies in the blogging world. When a blogger responds to another blogger’s post, it will likely drive more traffic back to the original post, and most bloggers will welcome the new page views.
6. “I wish you had said this, this, and this about your topic.” — No kidding. So do I. But in about 800 words, there’s a lot I can’t say. By all means, use the comment section to ask the writer to clarify or elaborate. Most of us would much rather engage in constructive conversation than defend ourselves against nastiness. But strive to comment on what the blogger actually managed to cram into 800 words, rather than pointing out all of the nuances he or she failed to cover. We are well aware of all that we left out, or had to cut out. All those precious words we lovingly caressed into life are in a heap on our virtual cutting room floor. Believe me when I say it’s more painful for us than it is for you.
There’s much more I could say in defense of bloggers and blogging. Like about how odd it is that all the people who think blogging is such a wasteful, pointless way to spend time so often visit blogs to render these opinions from their lofty perch above the bloggers’ muck.
But my word count long ago became unseemly, and I’ve already wasted too much time today engaging in my money-grubbing non-job.