The Republic of Blogs

I can tell it's finally summer: my legs get hot as I'm sitting here with my laptop, chewing over what it is that I want to say. The problem is, what I want to say is something about somebody else's blogpost, and I'm not used to interacting with other bloggers in quite this way. It's like, they have their conversation going and I have mine, and although I often like what they say, it always feels a bit awkward bringing them on stage here because, well, wouldn't it be better just to let you follow the links under "Bear's Favorites" if you want to know what I'm reading?

Mind you, I don't tell you why the links are there. Some are my family's blogs, some are my friends'. Others are bloggers I've "met" through following links from my friends' and followers' blogs. And some I've just stumbled upon in the course of searching the web. But today one of those blogs has a link to yet another blog where the same writer appears as a guest talking about "How to Build Traffic on Your Blog," and the first thing that she suggests is to build links to other blogs. Which I'd be happy to do having found this post on the host site of the guest blogger, except for the fact that trying to say, "I just read this great post about how to get over feeling discouraged about my writing" without simply quoting the post is proving really difficult.

Melancholics have a hard time giving and receiving compliments, or so I'm told. Perhaps it would be easier for me to acknowledge my fellow bloggers if I were more sanguine, used to trying to get everybody together in one big party. But, ironically enough, if there is one thing that I find particularly troubling about blogging, it is the relative absence of footnotes: as an academic, I am used to footnoting nearly everything I say; almost nothing that I write is strictly speaking "mine," particulary when I am talking about my sources. That's the whole point. So why, I'm wondering, should I find it so difficult to incorporate other blogs into my own?

Books are different; books are easy. I'm used to talking about books. Although, come to think of it, I do often struggle here on the blog with how, exactly, to introduce them. Again, it always feels a bit artificial to start a post with, "I've been reading this great book, which has given me such-and-such an idea" (if I weren't writing this post now, I'd be telling you about Dorothy Sayers' brilliant discussion of the way in which the doctrine of the Trinity is founded on an analogy with the way in which human artists make) because it tends to assume that you've read the book, too. Or, if you haven't, that you will need to in order to follow the argument that I want to make. Not that that's stopped me from trying, but it does worry me. How much common ground can I assume?

Which is always the problem, I suppose. As a reader, I am relatively familiar with what books others are more or less likely to have read and can introduce them accordingly. But with blogs, I'm never quite sure. Everybody has heard of LOL cats and PostSecret by now, and I'm pretty sure most of you have come across Fail Blog and The Sartorialist, but much of the original point of blogging, after all, was to put together links of things that you (the blogger) had come across that you thought others might not yet have seen. Being a relative late-comer to the blogging scene, I am more or less certain that everybody out there knows more great blog sites than I do. It seems presumptuous to assume that my blog might be a first stop on anyone's journey through the web. Moreover, the last thing I want to do is to pretend to be an authority on something I am most definitely not. Devotion to the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages? Absolutely! I'd be happy to supply references. On everything else (including fencing!), I'm just a beginner.

As always, it's a question of audience as much as anything: for whom am I writing? Myself? Fellow fencers? Fellow Christians? Fellow medievalists? Fellow middle-aged women? Fellow writers? As per the great blogpost that inspired this meditation, I do seem compelled to write. Quitting (Mr. Case's answer to the frustration of writing--most writers find that they can't) doesn't seem to be an option, so what to do? Obviously, keep writing! As my dissertation advisor once put it, it seems a shame to miss out on the fun! But it does help to have some idea of who might be listening. Or, again, maybe not. Maybe the important thing to do is write without worrying overmuch about whom we might reach (while, of course, at the same time being sensitive to our readers' needs as readers).

Oh ho! how's that for irony? Because, of course, the thing that has been really oppressing me these past couple of weeks is--you guessed it--envy that Jennifer over at Conversion Diary has managed to attract so many readers. Her words of wisdom on this temptation are embarrassingly apt: "If you only remember one thing from this post, make it this: It is a spirit of generosity that brings traffic to a website. As I know from personal experience, having a blog can tempt you to become a black hole of attention. However, the more inwardly-focused you become, the fewer readers you will have. Ironically, it is when you stop asking questions like 'How can I get people to link to me?' or 'Why don't more people comment on my posts?' and start asking questions like 'Who are some other great bloggers I can link to?' and 'How can I better serve readers through my blog?' that your traffic will begin to grow."

There, I did it. Enough navel-gazing. Now, what shall I write about next?


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