Thursday, February 02, 2006


Is blogging good for a writer?

Don Watkins considered this in the last post to his blog, Anger Management:

…blogging has been a blessing and a curse to me as a writer. The blessing has been that it has certainly improved my writing in several aspects. One of the major benefits is that my first drafts often read better than most people's final drafts.

But that came at a price. While my posts have been insightful and lucid, with certain exceptions, they have not been clear in the Objectivist sense. Clear writing doesn't mean that you can grasp some isolated aspect of the writing. It means that the writing forms an integrated whole -- that each element sheds light on your single theme, leaving the reader with a single, proved, convincing idea. Rather, my posts have been -- as I have previously said -- the equivalent of thinking on paper. That has a certain value, but it is not good writing. Good writing requires intensive editing. So while I've been posting almost every day for three years, the most essential writing skill, my ability to edit, has gone undeveloped.

And that has consequences. I recently submitted my forthcoming Axiomatic article on risk and decision-making to several Objectivists for review. I was proud of it, as it contained a plethora of new integrations and insights. But a few days later, one of the editors sent me an email that pointed out that, qua writing, it was a disaster. There was no clear theme uniting the piece, much of the material (more than half) had almost nothing to do with me ostensive subject, I failed to motivate the reader, I left important questions unanswered, and treated important subjects hastily, etc. None of those were thinking problems, but they were huge writing problems. The root of the problem was that while it made for a great blog post, it was not good writing.

I have found blogging to be an informal type of journalism. It’s not essay writing, but more like writing an open letter to a friend.

The last few months of blogging have helped my writing in a few ways. I’ve gotten faster. When I’m unclear or over my head, warning bells go off quicker and louder than they did before I started this blog.

I can see the potential for bad writing habits to develop from banging out these posts every day. Blog writing is not as ambitious as essay writing. Instead of thinking through something deeply and “writing the last word” on a subject, I just try to make one point as clearly and as cleverly as I can. After a few years of writing on this level, I can imagine that a writer would no longer be capable of writing better or deeper.

The opposite of blogstyle would be someone like Northrop Frye. In his literary criticism he wrote long, erudite paragraphs that were sometimes hard to understand. After a few years of blogging, one can probably forget about ever writing like Frye.

As Don Watkins notes, the lack of editing is a real problem. When you let writing sit for a few days, you gain perspective on it; your writing becomes richer and more polished. Blogging, at least the way I do it, is more immediate: write it, post it and move on. I’m lucky if I catch the typos.

The best thing about blogging is that it forces me to write. Before this I was not writing non-fiction at all in any form. Now I’m writing something, which is better than nothing. I have no aspirations to write non-fiction professionally, so this is good enough for me.

1 comment:

EdMcGon said...

I follow Thomas Sowell's advice: "I write only when I have something to say."

On my blog, I have two daily posts during the week("Editorial of the day" and "Quote of the day"). Other than that, I only post when I have something to say (although I find I have more to say than I would have expected).