Am I a Good Writer: Self-Doubt & the Culture of Blogging

writer-300x259To be a writer, an oft sought social title that brings with it a sense of achievement, of accomplishment and of hard won respect for ones ideas.  This is the passion of a great many people in contemporary Western culture, one that I share with those millions of wordsmiths, though I am guilty of harbouring a grudge.  In fact I have been quoted as saying more than once in my past…“writing is perhaps the most useless skill in today’s world, unless the writer has ideas worth reading.”

If I may misquote an historical icon in the genre of pessimistic philosophy, “there are no original ideas, only original people.”  I say misquote because Barbara Grizzuti Harrison meant something wholly more affirmative than I.  In fact, if it would not reduce her words to merely the shell of her intent, I would say that she could have stopped at the notion that original ideas are dead.

According to Hat Trick Associates – a commercial copy writing firm creating content for a wide range of corporate clients, and a group of people who have some very worthy and original ideas to say the least – used data found in Technorati’s annual State of the Blogosphere publication to estimate that at the beginning of 2010 there were somewhere around 400-500 million blogs worldwide[1].  Now to be clear, those numbers are a tad misleading, as is described in the Hat Trick Associates article.  Technorati tabulates blogs creation, not necessarily blog use. Obscured within their numbers are dead blogs, abandoned blogs, terribly written blogs, professional blogs, corporate blogs and blogs that have blurred the distinction between a stand alone weblog and social media.  Not to mention the unavoidable fact that new blogs are created on a scale of several hundred thousand a day worldwide.  When you add in an enumeration of non-English blogs, the number reaches an astounding 2 billion blogs worldwide (approximate).  Put another way, there is one blog for every three people on the planet.

Who’s reading all these posts?

The easy answer, while depressing for the prospects of the aspiring writer, is no one.  It’s not really as bleak as that though, as my story may illustrate.

blog-300x221In mid 2008 I found myself sojourned on my living room sofa for what I have come to describe as an extended (unpaid) sabbatical, otherwise known as unemployment.  I was faced with a choice, one that is faced by altogether too many people on far too regular a basis these days, but, since it was my own doing this time, I found myself to be in a position of illusory empowerment.  I took stock of my experience, training and talents (which are admittedly few and far between), and after a long and, at times, painful period of introspection, I decided that I wanted to embark on a journey of entrepreneurial insight.  I have always been told that I have talent as a wordsmith, though as I’ve mentioned, this is of little use to one who has nothing to say.

Beginning my search for purpose, I started looking for traditional work as a copy writer for local ad agencies, newspapers and magazines.  Though my search was less than successful, as you can imagine; I was neither qualified nor even remotely capable of doing any of those jobs.  And so I soon found myself trolling the want ads on Craig’s List and Kijiji looking for low paying freelance work in the copy writing arena.

Much to my surprise I found lots of work.  There were many people willing to sub-out their own literary responsibilities to anyone else willing to do the work for pennies.  Incidentally, this is how I became, for a time, a pornography copy writing magnate for a local webmaster.  The moral of this particular part of the story, if there is one, would simply be that there are no glamorous get rich quick schemes, at least not in the field of copy writing.

blogger-300x225After a few months of writing smutty copy for a series of semi-popular porn sites – something I am not proud of by-the-way, even though I am fond of saying that I was spit out the bottom end of the porn industry – I decided to take matters into my own hands (get your mind out of the gutter).

For the next few months I embarked on a learning expedition, teaching myself the ins and outs of freelance copywriting through various EBay-style bidding websites that couple writers with editors and webmasters. I learned a lot, though most of my new found knowledge revolved around bidding practises and packaging literary products to maximise earnings, which remained pitiful throughout my experience.  The one valuable tidbit I did glean from this experience was a rudimentary understanding of search engine optimisation (SEO), which is something I had heard of, but like many bloggers, thought was a myth generated by pseudo-intellectuals for the stroking of their own egos.

Soon enough, I got sick of pandering to the grammatical idiosyncrasies of clients who, in most cases, barely spoke English, and in January of 2009, I began researching web development practises.

There probably were easier ways to accomplish my webmaster goals, though in retrospect, I am quite pleased with the path I took in this regard.  The creation of my first website took place in the early part of February 2009, though its success was overshadowed only by its monumental failure.

imagesAside from self directed study of HTML and CSS programming languages, as well as hosting, domains and various publication platforms, I racked my brain trying to come up with an idea for the theme of my intended masterpiece.  My thought process was such that there must be a subject, a genre that is both interesting to many people and is not already well covered by countless other blogs and websites.  I erroneously decided on Parenting, which, as I now know, is well covered around the world by conglomerate corporate blogs, covering subtopics such as psychology, nutrition, technology, products, techniques and virtually everything else under the sun.  Though, the cause of my first failure was only distantly related to my choice of subject.

The next few months had me experimenting with publishing platforms – I ultimately settled on WordPress and have been loyal fan ever since – , hosting companies, structure, style and as always subject.  Even now, I can’t explain how I come up with topics.  With several hundred successful blog posts under my hat, guest posts, and invitations to write elsewhere, I have to say that my muse is…fleeting.

In the end I experimented with seven independent blogs.  Some were variations on a theme, others were completely divergent, and ultimately, my most successful blog is, well, eclectic.  But this is not what this piece is about.

I find myself writing this particular piece, again, out of a profound consternation for my ideas.  What makes a good writer?  The ability to string words together into coherent sentences?  Is it a nuanced instinct to know when to break rules and when to stick to time honoured literary traditions?  Or maybe the mark of a good writer is a highly specialised and technical understanding of internet protocols, cultural memes and modern cynicism?

No, all of these are learned skills (and some aren’t so much skills as features of a bad attitude) and none are inherent to the qualities of a good writer.  So what is it that makes good writers great?

Ideas I tell you!

writing450-300x200Granted, a life changing idea is useless unless it can be articulated to the person whose life it may change, but let’s face it; writing is a means to an end.  It’s a tool, and like any mechanic can tell you, any tool is only as good as the man who wields it.  So now that we’ve come to it, I find myself asking still…am I a good writer?

I’d say that my ability to construct a coherent sentence, with wit and charm and possibly a small amount of wisdom is evident.  But are my ideas worthy of the time and attention of any reader?  My most successful and, at the time of writing, only remaining blog may be a testament to my being an adequate writer, in that my ideas are received with lukewarm enthusiasm.  I measure this in much the same way as any other blogger: page hits, Google PageRank, comment frequency and quality, trackbacks, re-tweets and reciprocal link requests.  But there’s something lacking in these methods, there is some quality left unmeasured, and it feels like this missing link is the answer to the puzzle.

All of this though contributes to a mountain of self doubt, narcissistic as it may sound.  Unless the floodgates open to a pouring of public sentiment in one direction or another regarding a specific piece of writing, how is the author to know the worth of their idea?  If you know the answer…please share your insights.  This of course begs the question, if you don’t know the value of your work, why are you doing it?

There is an age old idea (at least as old as the age of blogging culture); if you have something to say, write it down, because someone, somewhere will want to read it.  Is this a good enough reason to spend hour upon hour littering the internet with ideas that are untested, possibly irrelevant and at the very least unsolicited?  Well, in my view, fostering the creation and articulation of ideas, however mundane, unoriginal and irrelevant they may seem at first, is the only viable path original people have to expounding great ideas eventually.

I am also quoted as saying, far less cynically than most other of my quotes, that “the pursuit of knowledge is the noblest of all endeavours”, and along my own pursuit of knowledge, I quite often stumble upon gems of wisdom that I wish to share.  I have ventured to relay my own ideas in the shadow of much larger and greater concepts than I could possibly muster, and in doing so, I hope, eventually, to be viewed as a purveyor of knowledge; not necessarily my own, but a wise man nonetheless.  I may be wrong, but I suspect that this desire to be counted as a productive stop on the path to enlightenment is the impetus of many a blogger the world over.

On the tip of one’s tongue, those words seem shallow and full of ego, but I ask you…what could be more a picture of a writer’s self-image than the articulation of his ideas in a public venue?


[1] So How Many Blogs Are There, Anyway? (Author not listed) February 1, 2010: http://hattrickassociates.com/professionalbloggingservices/everything-counts/

 

This was originally published on Paranormal People.

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