A Crisis of Content

June 6, 2007 at 5:50 am (Uncategorized)

Recent comments and conversations with people about this blog, including the latest comments Warwick and I traded on the ‘Who Gave You This Number?’ post, have caused me to question the nature of what I’m doing here. People are reading it, that much I know – I had 70 views yesterday, so even if someone checked in multiple times, I can’t believe any one person is responsible for the total – but what is this blog actually about ?

Well, even if I can’t answer that question satisfactorily, I can tell you why I started it, and why I bother to update it. As I emailed Warwick earlier today, for me it’s about the discipline and the writing practice itself. I started a blog because it makes me responsible for its frequently updated content – I update it each weekday, or as close to that as I can reasonably manage. People who do bother to check in can be assured I won’t leave it fallow for long. That’s a good motivator. It makes me write something every day, even when, say, the creative writing isn’t working out, and when the freelance work dries up. I still have to fulfill that commitment to the people who view this blog, and it’s had over 3,500 views since I began last September. Divided by the number of posts, that gives me an average of about 24 views per day. Someone, as I say, is reading it.

The first rule of writing in a professional capacity is ‘know your reader.’ I tutored the Professional Writing course at UNSW a couple of times, and this was the message I relentlessly tried to drum into the students: write for your reader. In order to do that, you have to know who that reader is. For instance, the travel story I wrote for the Sunday Telegraph was very different to the photographic-art-as-investment story I wrote for The Weekend Australian Magazine.Those two publications have vastly different readers. In order for either story to reach its mark, the tone, content, and language must reflect the specifics of each publication’s reader. Elementary, you might say, but I can’t tell you how hard it is to get right. And I can’t tell you the number of students whose work was directed purely at themselves. “I’m writing for someone just like me” is about the oldest line in the book, perhaps just after “Do you come here often?” and “Can I buy you a drink?”

The difficulty with a blog – or with this blog in particular – is that I really don’t know who the reader is, although I suspect I do actually know most, if not all, of the people who check in. I have a lot of friends overseas, and I know some of them read the blog to keep up to date with what’s going on in my life. Hell, some of my Sydney-based friends are compelled to keep up to date with me in much the same way, so little time do any of us seem to have these days. So that’s primarily who I’m writing to: people I know. But there’s a difference between writing to someone and writing for them. If my blog had a specific function – if, for instance, it was a recipe site, or a running site, or a hot-spots-in-Sydney site – then I think I would be better able to say I was writing for a particular reader. Another cook, runner, or restaurant/bar lover. As it is, I don’t really do that. I’m writing to you with every fibre of my being – I really try to engage your interest even when I am not writing about your exact interests – but I’m not writing for a precise reader. Does that make sense?

I think it is a problem for this blog, I do. I think it’s a limitation of the blog that it’s just the result of the random, erratic wanderings of my mind. I believe those of you who bother to read it do so because you know me, and care enough about me to read what I’m thinking about on any given day. Regardless of whether the topic of the day is something you could care less about in the big scheme of things. I’m interested in a lot of things, including philosophy, politics, and art, but equally things like food, booze, mainstream culture, and general silliness (mine and anyone else’s). A lot of the things that interest me have at one level or another found their way into this blog.

But a clear purpose has not yet emerged. I don’t know, beyond keeping in touch with my friends and disciplining myself to produce a piece of writing every day, why I am writing it, or for whom. Maybe it’s time I answered that question. Not just for my own benefit, but, more importantly, for yours.

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