Friday, April 30, 2004

An introduction

I started a blog once.

It was going to be a sandbox for myself alone. It would be therapeutic: every time I read something in the paper, or saw something on the news, that I didn't like, instead of ranting about it to whoever I know who would listen, I'd blog it. Or if I did like something, instead of recommending it to anyone who'd listen, I'd blog that too. I'd write something every day, invite my friends to visit, slowly build an audience, maybe even make it onto the links list of one of the big blogs.

I lasted two weeks.

The initial impetus for my interest in blogging was the Iraq war. I'd read blogs before, but the Iraq war was a huge event for weblogs. They are, at their very best, a terrific way of compiling information. The big bloggers provide much more information, better presented, than any newspaper could. They dig up nuggets of information you'd otherwise never hear about. I quickly became a devoted reader of the blogs.

I was inspired to become a blogger myself though feeling need to respond to things I read. I think many bloggers get into it this way: you read something on the web you really want to respond to. Sure, you can often post a comment. But who reads comments? It feels like you're shooting in the dark. Try blogging it instead.

But there a colossal drawbacks to blogging. Many I knew about before I started writing. Blogs are insular and wonkish. Blogs are stuffed with vast amounts of trivia and ephemera along with interesting stuff. There are arcane exchanges and bunfights that only the participants seem to understand. Some blogs have beautifully incongruous trivia on the bloggers personal life intermixed with major matters of the news of the day. Blogs are shockingly badly written, for the simple reason that they are fired off at high speed. A headline, a link, and a "you must read this", is far easier to code than anything that might be readable. If I was to write a blog, I resolved, it would have focus. It would be well written and interesting. It would be something I could be proud of as an advertisement for my writing skills.

What I quickly realised is the sheer time it requires to keep up a blog. The difficulty in doing it well, the drudgery of doing it every day, the challenge of organising and keeping up with all the potential sources of information, is phenomenal. I gained newfound respect for those who do it. And a certain feeling of creeping bemusement. Certain people, I realise, must absolutely be obsessed to write so much. It's harmful to be that obsessed with blogs, I think. Even the most popular blog, for example, is only a very small drop in a very large sea.

For me, however, obsession didn't happen. Instead, life intervened. I realised I couldn't spend the time on blogging that I wanted to. And I decided that, really, I didn't have anything to say. I looked back on the posts I wrote then, and realised that while they're not mortifying, they also couldn't be said to be very good. I thought: I'm not a policy wonk; I'm just a guy. There's nothing I could say that other people aren't saying, and better too.

True, I could have given up the warblogging and just write a diary blog, but that's not what I'm into. I don't want to share the details of my personal life with a bunch of anonymous strangers; they're just too boring.

But here I am, back, after a year's break. Why? Because I think I know how to do this now. A bit of discipline and a bit of time management, and this will work. I want to be a writer. A blog is excellent practice for this. What will I write about? I still haven't quite decided, but certainly the things I'm interested in. Politics, culture, philosophy, psychology, the news. But mostly, I fear, politics.

Which brings me to my basic reason. Truth is, some things have been making me pretty angry for a while now. You may know about me, dear reader, that my politics are roughly left-wing. Liberal. Not conservative. Whatever label you like; none of them are especially apposite, but they give you rough idea. For a long time, though, I was a burnt out liberal. Dismayed by the state of the radical left, cowed by the seemingly unstoppable momentum of the right wing, it seemed that the easiest thing to do was to tune out to the whole discussion. Talking politics on the net is just no fun under those circumstances.

But of course there are lots of centrist liberals on the net. There is a middle ground. Why not carve it out? As for qualifications, what other qualifications do you need to talk politics except to read the news, and think about it? The news, today, as I write this piece, is pretty shocking. It frequently is these days. I mentioned I want to be a writer. And there are certain things that are going on that need to be written about. It think now it's a mistake to think you aren't important enough to be heard. Time to build an audience, and be heard.