What’s the Point?

Jonathan Rauch questions the future of blogging (on a blog):

For people who want to read and think, which is still a lot of people, the worldwide web is an incorrigibly hostile environment. Thank goodness, it is already in the process of being displaced by the far more reader-friendly world of apps, which is hospitable to quality writing and focused reading, as opposed to knee-jerk opinionating and attention-deficit-disordered skimming. The blogging format, I believe, was an outgrowth of a particular technological moment, specifically the gap between the decline of paper and the rise of HTML5. Its heyday is over.

So what’s the point? Why have a blog anymore? For that matter, why write in print anymore given “the decline of paper?” It’s all so second millennium. Get with the times, people! Apps are the next big thing.

Well, I’m not ready to give up on blogging just yet—or paper either for that matter. Does blogging have limitations? Of course it does. All media has limitations. A skilled artist—and writing is an art—understands the strengths of each medium and chooses accordingly. Paint or sculpture, string quartet or orchestra, blog or printed magazine: the medium may not be the message, but it certainly shapes the message.

Blog posts tend to be snapshots of a particular idea at a particular time, but what’s wrong with that? Conversation is spontaneous and is a form of communication. Traditional writing is another form of communication. Blogging sits in the middle, as do comment threads and Twitter, but they have very different strengths. Blogging is a little closer to writing—my blog posts tend to be shorter and more spontaneous than my essays, articles, or reviews, but I still edit and revise them before I post them. Twitter is closer to conversation—similar to a well-timed quip but with the advantage of minimal editing. Comment threads are in the middle.

Think of it as a sliding scale of sorts, ranging from maximum craft to maximum spontaneity:

  • Books (as in my manuscript): In my case, over two years to write, and up to another year to workshop and revise. This time frame will grow shorter as I write more, but even with experience each book will take a year or two depending on the subject matter.
  • Articles, essays, and reviews: from 500 to several thousand words, and anywhere from one week to a month to write, revise, workshop, and edit, depending on length and complexity.
  • Blog posts: From 300 to about 800 words, and one to two days to write and polish.
  • Comments: Under 250 words (and usually much shorter), and an hour or less to write, look over, and post.
  • Tweets: Up to 140 characters, and less than five minutes to write, look over and post.
  • Conversation: No word limit, but no chance to revise either. In real time, either in person (preferred) or over cell phone or video.

A writer’s career is no longer about print alone. All of the above are part of a body of work. Or as publishers and agents call it: a platform.

I’ll rant about the unfortunate tendency to separate work and platform another time.

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