on writing

Fidget, type, delete, stand up, sit down, walk aimlessly, sing, talk to myself, stare out the window. Repeat. Sometimes words flow. Other times they stick stubbornly amidst cobwebbed clutter. Writing, though exhausting, is important for me not just because it is the primary means through which I share my work with others, but also because it is a process through which I discover, generate, clarify, and organize ideas. But oh, is it hard. Lynn Hunt has a fabulous essay on this exact subject, an excerpt of which is below. It’s always good to know we are not alone in our self-made battles.

Everyone who has written at any substantial length, whether prose or poetry, knows that the process of writing itself leads to previously unthought thoughts. Or to be more precise, writing crystallizes previously half-formulated or unformulated thoughts, gives them form, and extends chains of thoughts in new directions. Neuroscience has shown that 95 percent of brain activity is unconscious. My guess about what happens is that by physically writing—whether by hand, by computer, or by voice activation (though I have no experience of the latter)—you set a process literally into motion, a kind of shifting series of triangulations between fingers, blank pages or screens, letters and words, eyes, synapses or other “neural instantiations,” not to mention guts and bladders. By writing, in other words, you are literally firing up your brain and therefore stirring up your conscious thoughts and something new emerges. You are not, or at least not always, transcribing something already present in your conscious thoughts. Is it any wonder that your neck gets stiff?

Full essay here. h/t @alleneli

Now, back to writing.

why blog?

Given the many other things that need to get done in a day, why blog? This is a question I have been repeatedly asking myself, especially in deciding what to write here.

There are lots of tips out there on how to blog. A 2008 Slate article featuring Arianna Huffington, Om Malik and others (book available here) gives the following tips:

Set a schedule and blog often

Write casually but clearly

Add something new

Link to other blogs

Be patient

Sounds simple enough. Really, I could have given that advice, and I’m an amateur! There are hundreds of websites dedicated to blogging tips and advice, getting more traffic, blogging for money, and the like. But many don’t answer the question, why blog? — which is the far more difficult question.

Andrew Sullivan, formerly of The Atlantic (now at the Daily Beast), writes why he blogs in a very thoughtful essay:

To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth. A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.

I think my own purpose in writing in this very public (if not terribly widely-read) forum, is both to document for myself the ideas and experiences I encounter and develop (I will surely forget the majority of those that I do not commit to “paper”), and to mold, refine, and even cast aside ideas and arguments with the help of time and those who will share their own ideas, knowledge, and experiences here.

I guess you are not supposed to say in your blog that you sometimes have difficulty writing at all, but there you have it. I have considered, begun writing, and dumped several ideas in just the past week (let’s take the KCCA vendor issue as one example), not to mention many times before that, mostly concerned about posting because I hadn’t fully developed an argument, didn’t have all the facts, or wasn’t entirely confident in my analysis.

But herein lies the difference between an article and a blog (at least mine) — I don’t promise perfectly penned prose, but rather my frank thoughts, open to your ideas, looking for new knowledge, in the hope that we can think through issues together. That is why I blog.

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