Tuesday, 11 May 2010
When I first set up my blog and published my first post, I only really thought about the possibility of people reading it in quite specific, personal terms. As in: am I sure I can live with the fall-out if for some reason Naked Boss discovers it and recognises himself, which of course is never going to happen because no-one who knows me knows I'm writing it and I never use anybodies real name so stop being so paranoid and just write the flipping thing will you.... It didn't occur to me in any sort of concrete way that real people who didn't know me might end up reading it on a regular basis. Of course I realise now how naive that was, but in my defence at the time I had only just got connected to the internet and I didn't have any understanding at all of how the blogosphere worked. In fact I posted for a good month or so just happily oblivious in my own little bloggy bubble, assuming that I was just writing for myself and that because nobody had left a comment, nobody was reading it. I had not yet become acquainted with anything like Stat-counter or Twitter and my blog just felt like my own little private domain. My secret. A clandestine and solitary pursuit, that no-one else was in on.
My first comments came via Noble Savage. She discovered my blog - in particular a post that I had written about the sugar coating of motherhood - liked what she saw and not only left a comment herself, but also put out a link to the post on Twitter, which then had the effect of attracting many more comments and also my first readers. I was terribly excited. Blogging had now been instantly transformed into something else entirely - a mode of communication - rather than simply of self-expression.
I sent NS an e-mail to thank her. I seem to remember gushing all over the place - which no doubt embarrassed her somewhat - before explaining that I was new and wasn't really sure what I was doing and did she have any tips? She sent back a very kind reply explaining (amongst other things) that it was generally considered good form to go and check out the blogs of those people that had left a comment on yours and perhaps also to leave a comment yourself if you felt so inclined.
Almost five months later - although no less of a technical dunderhead - I do have a slightly better idea of how things work. But I still find the whole area around blogging etiquette a complete mine-field. I have, in the main, stuck to NS's advice in the sense that I will always have a look at someones blog if they have bothered to comment on mine. I feel it is only courteous and besides it's a good way to discover interesting new things to read. I am already finding however that when one is time poor it can be a difficult policy to keep up with. For bloggers who receive many comments per post I can imagine that it becomes almost impossible. I find myself worrying at times that I may have unintentionally snubbed someone, only to then feel frustrated because blogging for me is supposed to be about writing. It's supposed to be fun and cathartic, not an exercise in social climbing.
The blogosphere is in some ways a social space though, and it's here that it can become tricky to navigate. Because ultimately - and here's the rub - I am not prepared to read and comment on blogs that I'm not interested in or that I don't think are good, just to be polite. It's a waste of time. There, I've said it.
Now... I know that my feelings and opinions are not objective facts. I only get to say what is good and what is not from my own point of view. Different strokes for different folks and all that. I think Catherine Cooksons books are crap for example, but she was an extremely successful author whose works sold more than 100 million copies. And everybody in the whole world seems to love the film The Shawshank Redemption, but I think it's mawkish and trite. There we are - I'm happy to accept that it's just me. By the same token I'm more than happy to accept that not everybody is going to think my blog is good. I can be quite opinionated, perhaps I can take myself a little seriously at times, and my posts tend to be far too long - all things that I know can put readers off. I certainly don't expect anyone to read and comment on my blog simply because I read and comment on theirs. In fact I'm mortified by the idea that someone might comment on my space simply to be polite - I'd much rather they didn't to be honest.
One of my favourite bloggers of all is Black Hockey Jesus (or BHJ.) He's a talented, funny, brutally honest and clever man who is also capable of writing that is so delicate, subtle and beautiful, it can take your breath away. I was re-reading this post of his last night (which by the way is neither delicate, subtle nor beautiful) and the comments that followed it, and really thinking about the questions it posed - one of which was this, which actually began life as a question on formspring:
“Would you concede that you ‘used’ certain bloggers you don’t respect and never did in order to get more attention early on?”
Now I'm proud to say that I haven't ever done that. I have courted some bloggers unashamedly, leaving them lots of comments and hoping that they would notice, read my blog, and like my stuff too. BUT the crucial difference is that I have only done this with bloggers that I genuinely really admire. I have left them lots of comments because their writing has inspired me to do so. I have wanted to make a connection with them because I have found them interesting and truly liked what they have to say and the way they say it.
Ultimately I think that being authentic is more important than being scrupulously polite. There is nothing appealing in falsity. I like to think that I'm courteous and friendly, but I'm not going to comment unless I mean it. On the other side of the coin you can know that if I do sometimes comment on your posts then that is because I have felt honestly inspired to do so and because I truly rate your writing.
I am interested to know what other bloggers feel about this. Do you ever feel under pressure when it comes to reading and commenting?