[…to follow on from my post about Two Types of Blogs… here is a post related to some of the processes involved in what I, in that post, called “type 2 blogging”…]
Last November, after I attended a permaculture course run by Kirsten and Nick, Kirsten asked me some questions about the nuts and bolts of blogging.
She asked, “In your blogs, how do you find your voice?”
This is an interesting question. What does it even mean, “voice”?
Finding your voice
Blogging is a communicative medium. It is not controlled by academic conventions, there are no fixed rules as to how you should write. You could write in a very dense prose, or you could write with loads of spelling mistakes and slang, or you could write in a very “conversational” style, or complete and utter gobbledegook.
In attempting to find an answer for Kirsten, I began by talking about the Bon Scott Blog. Finding one’s voice depends, I said, on who is your perceived audience. If I think that the people who are going to be reading the blog are die-hard heavy rock fans, then the voice I develop will be influenced by that. If I think I am writing for mainly art world people (who are not fans but who are peering in on what I am doing â€œfrom outside the subcultureâ€, because they see what I am doing as a work of art) it’s going to be a different kind of voice which grows through the blog.
One difference is the degree of specificity required in describing things – there’s no need to explain things in great detail, from first principals, if my readership already knows the basic facts, right? On the other hand, a readership who does not know much about the subject will needs to have things explained in more detail, from the ground up. So from the very beginning, my imagining of who is “tuning in” to my blog is going to affect the voice I write with.
The interesting thing for me about blogging-as-art projects is that I engage in a process of finding things out as I go along. To be more precise – I do ZERO research BEFORE starting the blog. Day one of the project is a declaration of my ignorance. The research process, if you can call it that, is all embodied and visible in the blog itself.
In the case of the Bon Scott Blog, this meant that I was able to bridge the gap between the fans and the non-fans. Because, at any one moment, I was the gap between these two readership groups – I was in the process of becoming a fan – moving from non-fan to fan. So my voice was able to reflect this – my own wonder produced by my rapid rate of transformation. And this wonder was the thing which bridged the two readership groups.
In the Bon Scott Blog, non-fans could identify with the novice-fan blogger. They identify with the unfamiliarity, the slightly threatening nature of the shock of the new, even the voyeuristic thrill when a new culture is entered. When I blog, I am describing my encounter, and trying to reflect on it, and I allow these readers to come along with me on this process. The die hard fans, in turn, can also identify with my process, because every single one of them, at some point in the past, had to go through a similar process themselves – none of them were born as fans (or if they were, putting aside the logical impossibility of this, they find my experiences, as a new migrant venturing into their native land, fascinating or repulsive). The difference is that, in most cases, the fans didn’t write down their experiences, or articulate them at the moment of first, fresh encounter. There is thus something satisfying to these people, to see this being done by someone else. My process, described in detail, mirrors their process, validating it perhaps.
The Wave of Learning
But I don’t know if I have made this point specific enough – I want to describe its process. I visualise a moving line – the progression of time – or maybe it’s like a constantly progressing wave. This wave is my â€œwave of learningâ€. The wave of learning continuously moves forward, whether I blog or not. It exists just because I exist, and as a result of my participation in the activities of the world around me.
This wave of learning exists for everyone when they are beginning to immerse themselves in a culture or practice which is new to them. To create a template for this: let’s say there was a time, a few weeks ago, when I knew less about some cultural phenomenon than I do now. I had a sense of possibility, I had a sense of wonderment. Perhaps I heard a song for the first time, or I opened the first page of a book, or I met someone new. The event made an impact on me, good or bad, exciting or depressing, hopeful or full of dread – these were my “first impressions”.
At this moment, there was a fresh interface between me and the material. “Me” consisted of everything I had consumed and experienced up until that point – the accumulated wealth of my life. The new material had not been a part of my life up until that point.
But that was a few weeks ago. Now, the newly encountered material has been incorporated into my accumulated experience. It has become a part of me. I no longer have that fresh moment of first impression. Perhaps my understanding of the material has deepened, perhaps the material has led to further encounters. Whatever the case, I am now at the threshold of encountering, for the first time, other material, which is possibly related to this material – perhaps building on what I learned from my encounter with the first material. For example, listening to that song for the tenth time, or reading the final chapter of the book. The new encounter is a fresh encounter, between a changed me and a changed thing (since I have changed, therefore, so too has the encountered thing). This interactive process is always happening: the accumulated me is always transforming itself, expanding whether I want it to or not. That’s just life.
Anyway, my point is this: the first encounter between my accumulated-self and the fresh material is a pretty exciting moment. It is a moment of interaction and mutual transformation, where everything I know up ’til now, is brought to bear in my attempt to accommodate something I don’t yet know. There is curiosity, there is wonder, there is fear, there is excitement, it can be daunting, it could change who I am.
This is a special moment for a blogger like me. This is the moment which is able to bridge gaps between readerships. Why? Because as that blogger, I myself am poised in the moment of transformation from one thing to another.
The interval between experience and narrative
Now I want to talk a bit about the interval between the experience encountered, and the writing about that experience. As I said above, my wave of learning moves inexorably forward all the time. The material freshly encountered is rapidly incorporated into the learning self, and becomes part of the system which then encounters new material. But if I wait a week between writing blog entries, I make a huge leap over all the incremental moments of learning. An opportunity is lost to transmit these small increments in learning which are so fascinating to each of the readership groups.
If I have waited a long time between blog entries, left a big gap, my tendency will be to instead summarise, cull and retrospectively describe the “main points” of my experience, rather than describing the craggy variegations of my experience richly and deeply in the moment of encounter. If I wait, it’s too late – the blogger has already become knowledgeable. Waiting results in a loss of the knowledge-in-the-making wonderment offered by the day-to-day blogger. [Here is a blog post in Bilateral Petersham where I talk about this very problem].
Naturally, various rhythms of blogging regularity can work just as well as each other – depending on the pace of the particular project. But with projects like mine, where I create for myself a full-time job so I can fully immerse in the subject at hand, so much new learning goes on each day, that a daily rhythm is required.
Blogging Without Knowing the End of the Story
So what does this mean about my writing voice? It means it gives me the licence to write without really knowing the “upshot” of what I am doing. It means I can describe in detail (indulging in the pleasure of the tale) without worrying about summarising or coming up with a moral to the overall story. In short, it means I can just relax and tell stories each day, instead of teaching or preaching or instructing. The experiences flow through me quickly, I share them with you straight away, and you come along with me for the ride – rather than waiting for me to come up with my conclusions and present them to you later.
So my voice is the voice of a storyteller, whose main character is himself. The voice has to be humble and self-deprecating, so as to innoculate a story about myself from pompous self-aggrandisement or boredom. The blogger’s voice has to reflect on his own character and how he might be viewed from the outside, how he might, precisely, appear “as a character” to others. But also, like method acting, that voice has to seem to be â€œmyâ€ authentic voice in the moment of writing. In fact, not just “seem” to be – it IS my authentic voice, being shaped by all the forces of the task at hand.
The subject matter of the blog – whether it is my own suburb, Petersham, or the cultural phenomenon of Bon Scott, is a kind of territory. Writing a blog, immersing in this subject matter, is like taking a long slow walk through this territory, reporting my discoveries en route. There is tension and drama in hearing the stories of an ignorant narrator who is navigating his way through unknown territory. There is the possibility for failure and faltering. The walker, and the speaker, can both falter. This faltering is on display. And when the faltering walker-speaker gets up and regains strength, and learns something from the stumble, it is a moment of dramatic joy.