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Writing for an audience

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I want to begin by thanking Rob and Scott for the idea here, and for including me. It’s nice to not only have a ‘home’ on the internet, but to have one populated by the many ¬†thoughtful and challenging people who live here. That we’re still going after 10 years is remarkable, especially given the typical lifespan of a blog.

The truly long time readers of LGM may remember that in the early days–the first couple of years, roughly, if memory serves me correctly–Rob, Scott and I posted roughly similar quantities of material. For a couple of years, I was a daily (or, at least, several substantive posts weekly) blogger. It didn’t seem hard to do. Then, one day, it did seem hard. I didn’t really understand why–I didn’t feel ‘burnt out’ particularly, or bored with or tired of blogging or the blog, or anything like that. While perhaps part of the story is that I was getting busier elsewhere in my life (I was just entering my “full time adjunct” stage while also trying to get more serious about writing the damn dissertation), I don’t think that’s the whole story. I think, although I didn’t recognize it at the time, that I found my greater awareness of a ‘real’ audience intimidating, if not paralyzing. Prior to this blog I’d never really attempted to write for any sort of public, beyond the narrow academic community I was hoped my scholarly work would eventually be read by. When I started blogging, I didn’t really write for a public either, at least not self-consciously. I didn’t really internalize the possibility that other people–beyond my co-bloggers and a handful of friends from graduate school who I knew read the blog–were really there. I gave little thought to audience, and wrote about whatever I liked, in whatever way struck me at the moment.

Awareness of audience was great in one way–my posts could become not just a record of whatever was on my mind at the moment, but the start of a conversation. But as our readership grew from double to triple to (unfathomably) quadruple digits and beyond, I became a much more self-conscious writer. Am I sure I’m right about this? Do I actually know enough about this to hit publish? Is this actually an interesting insight or repackaged banality? Is the idea I think I’m expressing too half-baked for public consumption? Does anyone reading this actually care about this topic? As Rob has pointed out to me on multiple occasions, these are strange questions to obsess over in light of the fact that we built this blog and its audience by writing about whatever the hell we felt like writing about. But these questions are hard to shake; and many an idea for a blog post has been scuttled because of them. It’s led me to conclude that part of being a writer–a real and successful one, who writes significant for large audiences regularly–must surely be an ability to manage one’s awareness of audience. To be able to turn it on and off as necessary to guide one’s writing without impeding it is a skill I wish I had. I think I’ve made a some progress in that area, but I still find it a real challenge. At any rate, it’s a small price to pay for having an not just any audience but a responsive and impressive one we’ve got.

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