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Opening a Vein

March 26, 2010

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.

Happy writing.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2010 12:49 pm

    I was very deliberate with my old blog how I was going to handle privacy and my public “persona”, especially given the very personal (and controversial) subject matter. For my site, I developed a relatively strict set of guidelines for posts:

    1) Never post immediately.
    I had a pretty regular schedule for posts and therefore usually wrote my posts a day or two before they were scheduled to go up. The thought was that it would prevent me from firing off an angry, less-than-thought-out post that I might regret later. I sometimes even had a backup post drafted in case I decided at the last minute that the post was inappropriate.

    2) Never assume the reader agrees with me.
    I grew tired of other gay mormon blogs after a while because they all seemed to be written for other gay mormons. I knew that if I wanted more than a few readers a week, I was going to have to write for a larger readership: gay, straight, mormon, mainstream Christian, secular. This opened up my readership but it also affected the tone of my writing. By taking other people’s potential opinions into account, I think I was more able to avoid the habit of the blogging echo chamber. This didn’t often change my message, but it usually changed how I presented it.

    3) Never assume your blog won’t be found.
    If it’s on the internet, everyone can see it and I always tried to write with the assumption that my friends, family, complete strangers, even my boss would find it (which he did, actually). If I wasn’t ready for them to hear it, it didn’t go online.

    Anyway, just a few rules that I found helpful. They’re pretty obvious, but I found that by actively considering them for each post, I was able to avoid a lot of the contention that other blogs of my type encountered.

    Sometimes very successful bloggers include personal, unrelated posts on their sites. Screenwriter John August is good about staying on topic, but during the Prop 8 campaign, he did a couple of posts on how the potential law would affect him and his family. He may have lost a few readers (doubtful, though) but he decided it was important to him, so he did it. Some bloggers stay on topic with their blog, but use Twitter or Facebook as their platform for more personal opinions and statements. Facebook, for example, allows you to publish statuses so that only customized lists of people will see it.

    As always, the most important rule is always try to write good content. If your content isn’t good, no one will be reading and it doesn’t matter anyway. 🙂

    • March 26, 2010 1:10 pm

      That’s a nice list of rules, Clint. I already follow your Rule 1, but hadn’t done so for the reason you suggest (it was merely the best way for me to ensure I had content in the pipes for those inevitable days where I’m too busy to write). I hadn’t thought of it as a means of moderating my tone and message.

      That hasn’t been a problem here on this particular blog, where I’ve been trying to stay on-topic (and on some pretty non-controversial topics, at that, with the minor caveat that I’ve allowed myself to write some personal stuff which is also usually non-controversial), but it may have been problematic on the “other blog” I linked earlier this week. Time away from those topics hasn’t changed my opinions on the matters one whit, but if I was anticipating a public response there, I might have moderated my tone slightly. Still, it’s hard not to be passionate about certain topics.

      In the future, it might be nice to incorporate a fuller online persona by combining and segregating what goes on the blog, what goes on twitter, and what goes on Facebook. Right now, with the latter two blocked completely while at work, though, I rather rely on the blog to autopost to them, so they’re all somewhat the same for me, at the moment. But I definitely understand the value in subdividing your online persona in that way.

      Regardless, I imagine it would probably behoove me to treat even the “other” blog with a dose of personal-rules-to-follow. Especially since, regardless of whether I intend to publicize a blog that’s more about me sharing my “opinions” on matters of the day, I still intend to try to develop a readership over time here. I’m still working on that “most important rule” of course.

  2. Marti permalink
    March 26, 2010 1:35 pm

    Hey Stephen,
    Your thoughts are something to ponder and explore. There no easy straight answer. I will share some quick thoughts that occurred to me while I was reading. It seems your writing is very open and true. This are your feelings, perceptions, your reality and belong to you. Many will identify or disagree so these are your and belong to you. It’s very important to own ourselves and not apologized for how we feel, think, our realities. Critical people will always be there, but let’s be honest we are all critical beings. Healing comes when one can be open and have no fear specially if you know all these people who read your things. A while back, I ran into some criticism and annoyances because as a writer I too can express myself freely, thinking I was safe with this group I was not and got in my business without them really knowing me my perception, my reality, my experiences. I learned the hard way not to open to people like that on the other hand so what! It’s so freeing. The most opinionated people sometimes are mostly driven by ego a need to show let me show who is right. “I am right not you” I have learned to know the difference between this people and people who respect me and oppose in views. It is not easy what you do that’s why I have to pen names in two blogs for me to rant and believe people like those better! Crazy! They don’t know who I am but I write with no restriction and is almost addictive as dangerous LOL. For the rest of the world, I really will not discuss much politics and religion with them. Both have murdered in the name of their views which is way too extreme in my opinion and taste. Some LDS are very annoying close minded or too open and I like balance in most things. So, I can’t go there with many funny thing is that with people I known or family I feel free to be me because even if we disagree I know they still care for me and this is a huge difference in my life. Your deepest thoughts and feelings don’t have to share them with the world until you feel truly ready. The whole goal is to not care what people think of oneself just be you and this is so hard for all humans. All humans have the need to feel love, protected, safe, accepted. They are people that have no sense of tactfulness or boundaries. I feel that you wrote about religion and politics because the present issues strikes a chord within yourself and wanted to present your side and persuade some people. Once these fools are close minded to only their views nobody can change them just Jesus, so I don’t even waste my time with these types. What’s amazing to me how dare they say it sometimes to your face and are so strong and passionate as if the receiver is not sure or as passionate. They couldn’t be most wrong. We are all passionate about our views so being open to agree to disagree needs to be there before the discussion starts. Many people are not good in communication, do not have much emotional intelligence, or social intelligence. This is life and it has taken me years to understand most people do not have my IQ not even close, I assume that they don’t have yours either. This is a problem you know why? We are expected to rise above stupidity with much ease but the more intelligent you are the more you suffer in a very stupid world! The more intelligent the more sensitive one is towards others this is a true fact look around listen and observe it will make you smile (sarcasm). When I want to discuss true deep issues I only discuss it with people with my level of intellect otherwise is like casting your pearls to the hogs. I hope somewhere here it makes sense. There is no straight answer at such a complex thoughts and feelings of yours. Above all respects your needs.

    • March 26, 2010 2:33 pm

      I try to take a bit of a humble attitude toward IQ and intelligence. Ultimately, IQ is a human construct designed to sort and classify people based on a fairly narrow interpretation of intellectual capability. When dealing with others, at least in the real world (I’m not sure if this comes through in the written world) I usually operate with the base assumption that I’m dealing with someone of relatively equal intelligence, even if this is imperically untrue. It wouldn’t matter if it weren’t true, because we don’t carry signs on our chests that read “Hi, My name is BOB, and I have an IQ of 114”. (Even if we did that, it would still be subjective; I have it from my one college Psychology class that IQs are periodically recalibrated so the national mean stays somewhere around 100. True or not, I don’t know.)

      Anyway, I don’t begrudge other people their opinions. We’re all human: having opinions comes with the job. Sometimes an opinion can be imperically proven right or wrong, and sometimes the evidence overwhelmingly supports one opinion over another. And sometimes, it’s just human decency that favors one opinion over another. But except where we stray into the realm of science and mathematics, opinions are nothing more than what they are. I believe what I believe about religion and politics because from my perspective the evidence I can see, and my own sense of decency and appropriate human compassion tell me that these are the right beliefs to have. I have no delusions about my ability to translate that experience and perspective to another human being in its entirety, even if I’m right. (I happen to think that I am, but naturally I cannot always prove it; there are a few times when I am wrong, but my wife is usually on hand to let me know about those.) Ultimately what saddens me (and sometimes makes me mad) is that natural human compassion and decency doesn’t figure into the way many other people look at and think about the world. I happen to think that’s the wrong way to go about doing it.

      As for criticism and critical people: I’m not entirely dismissive of them. Arriving at the right place in our journey of life really requires that we deal with and accept criticism. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about being critical. In writing, for instance, an appropriate critique typically starts with something supportive and positive. (This can be hard to do if the writing being critiqued is spectacularly bad, but it’s often a necessary step all the same.) Starting with a positive note can prime the receiver of said criticism with a positive outlook on the remainder of the critique. Then, problematic areas in what is written can be addressed. This ought to be framed as a suggestion for improvement as opposed to pointing out that something is wrong. The former can be accepted in the spirit in which it is meant, the latter may instead be summarily rejected.

      As a person who seeks criticism, I find that it is in the challenge I receive from others, or that I force upon myself, that I find improvement – whether that is in writing or in some other aspect of myself. When I am wrong, or when I am misguided, or where my writing is weak, I need to be challenged on it, or I cannot discover this weakness, overcome it, and improve upon it. I find the same is true of my political opinions, or my religious beliefs. I hold to the religion I do precisely because I challenged my beliefs, and because my beliefs were challenged by others, and that forced me to think more deeply about what it was I really believed. My political opinions likewise have changed much over the past four or five years for many of the same reasons. In the meantime, when I send something I’ve written to someone to review what I’ve written, I’m typically not interested so much in platitudes of “this was nice” or “I liked it” – although if those sentiments were true, I’d certainly want to know that, too. But I’m far more interested in what parts didn’t work for you, what did you think was the weakest link, where do you see room for improvement? It’s hard to accept that criticism sometimes, but it’s only in doing so that my writing can improve. Just so the criticism is done in the proper way (see above).

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! The positive outlook you share is certainly refreshing.

  3. Marti permalink
    March 26, 2010 3:19 pm

    Thanks for saying is refreshing. I do not like to have too many rules specially for expressing myself. For some reason, your reply made me smile, I thought is what’s very well said. IQ things is super debatable indeed however, intelligent people should let their light shine and not hide it. I treated everyone as they were intelligent, mind you not only intellectually, emotionally, and socially. The emotional was delusional on my part due that too many people behave like children react like kids because they are in their child , some in their critical parent and few in the adult mode. You are in your adult mode I can tell 🙂 . This is great! Your writing is terrific! Make it controversial let your anger even out! I bet it will burn…the minds….it worked for me? Could it work for you? Who knows, but it is a scary thing once you dig deep and find how many things pisses one off! So maybe, I don’t recommend it 100% approach…but is more fun than always agreeing just to keep the peace. I am actually quite impressed with your style of writing is deep, honest, complex. I have seen so many blogs and are so superficial or not of any interest of mine too. So, you caught my eye with your writing due to being so open which that is scary thing to do! My husband told me this and I keep telling it to myself , “Opinions are like butts everyone has one!” What I preach that people should be kind with their criticism as much as they can. Why? it is simple, we humans are our worst enemy and worst critics to ourselves. I believe most of us know our weaknesses and for people to always keep pointing them out, as one might not have a clue, it gets heavy in the spirit and the spirit gets rebellious and doesn’t want to change. I know, I suck in some things and I can do, write, and/ or say idiotic things. The point is nobody is perfect at everything and a person just feeling supported can thrive and become their best potential.

    mmm the little devil advocate in you want criticism that isn’t necessarily” nice.” OK, I want more of your anger out and expressed even if it’s not too gentleman like. EX: “I am pissed off with the fools who think they are always so right and are one sided brain which seems impossible for their pea brain to be able to see the entire picture!” This is a poor example obviously. I am holding a little back and these are my expressions. I have no idea if this is a good suggestion I think it serves freedom of the soul so needed specially for introverted folks. Just get another blog and hide your real name and rant, oh it is so refreshing. This would be my honest suggestion I bet you did not want it it’s almost too radical! 🙂 Oh, well you asked for it.

    I want to share this scripture with you, Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 “I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice and to do good in his life. And to also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God”

    • March 26, 2010 3:36 pm

      Fair enough.

      But angry isn’t really my style, and I think I’m learning the real truth of that. To quote a science fiction example: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”* In reality, of course, it’s that I don’t like myself when I’m angry.

      And I don’t have statistically valid evidence of this, but I think people like to read the writings of someone who doesn’t always sound angry. Perhaps a little indignant wrath doesn’t hurt too much, if used sparingly, and a little passion may add a flavorful spice to writing. But I try to remain a pretty even-keeled guy, whenever possible. I imagine that every time I get mad, I lose a little bit of that time off the end of my life. Or at least, that’s what Dear Wife told me the other day when I was complaining about some ignorant things some people were saying.

      *I refer, of course, to Bill Bixby as David Banner in TV’s The Incredible Hulk, based on the comic book of the same name.

  4. March 26, 2010 4:09 pm

    I’ve been wrestling with this lately and it almost stopped me from blogging completely.

    On the one hand, I find that blogs without anything personal seem also seem to lack personality, or heart. On the other hand, personal topics can come back to hurt you (I’ve experienced this before) even when no ill will was ever intended.

    The problem is where do you draw the line? I have no answers to this one. I’m still trying to find a balance.

    • March 26, 2010 4:26 pm

      Indeed, that’s the very question I’m finding difficult to answer. And though I haven’t been blogging long enough for something personal I write to come back and hurt me, I’m quite cognizant of the potential for exactly that to happen. So I try to be somewhat elusive in the way I discuss personal topics. But, you can’t really do that if you’re sharing your opinion on the news topic du jour, politics or otherwise.

      The best any of us can do is try to find that balance. And thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I just checked your site. Nice design, I like it. I don’t imagine you’ll mind if I add you to my list of “Travelers on the Journey” links – the sites of fellow writers on the road to publication.

      • March 26, 2010 4:37 pm

        Thank you! I’d be happy to be listed! I just started my writing blog and don’t even have a blogroll up yet. I hope you don’t mind if I start one off with a link to your blog? 🙂

      • March 26, 2010 4:41 pm

        I certainly don’t mind at all.

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