I got to thinking this week about what it means to write a blog, and what it means to be a writer. I’ve been sharing some fairly personal things recently, and honestly, that’s a hard thing to do. I worry about what people will think about what I write, and about what I think. Especially when I write something that’s very personal or potentially polarizing.
With the advent of blogging, Facebook, Microblogging, and Twitter, the world of “writing” and sharing has definitely changed. With each new wave, the process of writing has become more personal, more intimate, and more widespread. Now, anyone can be a writer, and they can write about anything. But few people stop to consider where to draw the line, or even whether there should be a line. With something like Facebook, we post personal details and share photos and we take no care to what we put up there because everyone on our Facebook is a “friend”. All of my posts to this blog are automatically mirrored on Facebook, for instance, with links back here. But let’s be honest: I don’t actually know everyone on my Facebook, and I only have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-ish “friends”. From what I’ve seen, that’s a lite-weight number of Facebook friends compared to peers in my age-cohort.
My generation came of age in tandem with this technology. We’re not quite Gen-Xers and we’re not quite Gen-Yers. We remember a time when this technology didn’t exist in the same way that we remember a time when we used to watch Saturday Morning Cartoons (okay, I would still watch Saturday Morning Cartoons if I could, but that’s beside the point). And we tend to fall into two camps (the same as every other generation): those who are Extroverts, and use these tools as extroverts would, and those who are Introverts, and who use these tools with a combined sense of curiosity and apprehension. Me, I’m an Introvert who’s learned and developed many but not all of the skills that come naturally to an extrovert, allowing me to act like an extrovert in certain controlled situations.
But, as an Introvert, I think a lot about how I present myself and how I appear to others. I wonder and worry furiously about whether people will appreciate me for who I am, and respect my opinions and ideas. I think about it at an almost analytical level. All humans – even introverts – have a fundamental, genetically-coded need to feel acceptance and validation from others. It’s inescapable, it’s part of who we are. As a writer – by which I mean, not someone who writes, but someone who writes as a fundamental and inseparable expression of self-identification – that also means I take it to another level. Not only do I think a lot about what someone thinks about me, I am deeply concerned by what someone thinks about what I write. For an introverted writer like me, what I write becomes an extension of myself, the words on the page (or the screen, as the case may be) an extension of my thoughts and of my mind. Because I am a writer by self-identification, I find that I must write, and I must write in a way that is true to myself. And I want people to read it. And to like it, or agree with me.
On the other hand, I realize that if I want to make a career of writing some day – even if just a side career – that how successful I can become depends largely on how many people will regularly read (and like) what I write. Still, I know that not everyone will always agree with me. So, I think about how to hedge my bets, to ensure I can be true to myself, and still maintain the maximum amount of likeability in what I write, so that I can build the largest possible audience.
Case in point: the issues of politics and religion. Both are intensely powerful personal forces in my life, in the sense that I have very strong opinions about both. People, in general, tend to have strong opinions about both. And, as another general rule, they won’t typically agree with mine. When I set out on this path, therefore, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about either of these topics. I wanted to build an audience. I wanted people to like what I write (and by extension to like me enough that they’ll continue reading what I write). Avoiding these topics, I reasoned, was necessary to insulate myself from extraneous criticism and inflammatory comments (criticism that directly concerns the quality of my writing is a different issue; I readily accept and even seek such criticism as that). It was also a thin veil to help protect my privacy, just a little. But not writing about these issues, particularly when I have strong, passionate views on them, was also a little false with myself.
Clearly, I don’t have the answers to these insoluble questions. Ultimately, I chose to separate my thoughts, and to start a second blog where I could discuss politics (but still not religion). But then, this week, I broke both rules in discussing both politics and religion and then linking to it from here. In part, I did so because I wanted to be able to answer to a “discussion” I had inserted myself into on Facebook (having already set up my blog with that cool, behind-the-scenes technologification that posts everything I write to Facebook). I did that, again, because of those strong opinions I mentioned before. But also, because a part of me wanted to share that bit of myself, even at the risk of a negative reaction from my readers.
These are issues I’m still struggling with. Today, they don’t matter so much. I’m a small-time blogger averaging less than a hundred hits a week who’s only been blogging online for a paltry few months. But what effect, if any, will it have on my long-term career development? I mean, both in the business world, and in the writing world? It’s not easy to answer these questions. Mine is the first generation that’s really had to grapple with these particular questions. Norms and customs around these issues are still in their formative stages, even a decade-and-a-half later. It’s a question we’ll answer, in time.