Why I Blog

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Monday, we marked LWON’s second anniversary. I was not one of the original contributors to this blog, but a year ago this week, Tom Hayden invited me to contribute my first post. Since becoming an official LWON contributor last June, I’ve written almost 30 posts, about one every 12 days. For this work, I’ve received exactly zero dollars, zero prizes and zero resume-worthy rewards.

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago whether I’d ever blog without compensation, I’d have scoffed. I have a strict policy of never writing for free. Writers who give their work away to commercial outlets piss me off, because they cheapen our profession and train publishers to expect writers to work without pay.

LWON is a worthy exception to my rule, because this labor of love exists solely on the voluntary efforts of LaWonians. None of us make any money from this site, and we are not beholden to commercial interests or outside influences. This place belongs to us.

And I can honestly say that LWON is the best thing that’s happened in my writing life during the past year. When I ponder why that’s so, I think of something Kurt Vonnegut said at a reading I attended many years ago. Go home and write a poem on a scrap of paper, he said. Then tear it into pieces and scatter it where no one will find it. It took me a while to fully understand his point.

I left science to pursue writing, because I loved transforming ideas into story. I’ve been a professional writer for nearly 15 years now. It’s how I pay my mortgage and my phone bill and my health insurance premiums and all those other expensive necessities of adulthood. The unglamorous truth about writing for a living is that it often requires stifling your own voice to accommodate the will of the market. It’s possible to lose touch with the joy of creation.

The antidote to that loss is to write freely and often. I’m reminded of a story I once read in Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. A ceramics instructor divided his class in half. He told one group they’d be graded only on quantity. At the end of the semester, the total weight of their pottery would determine their grade—50 pounds of pots equated to an A. The other half of the class would submit a single piece, which would be graded on its merits. According to Art and Fear,

At grading time, a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

This anecdote may be apocryphal for all I know, but it captures something true. My best writing comes when I give myself over to the process and say to hell with the outcome. Because when it’s all said and done, the process is the point. It’s really all there is. You must love the process more than the product, because the process is what you have to live with day to day. Regardless of how successful you become, eventually you have to return to the blinking cursor.

Blogging here at LWON is my commitment to the act of creation. At times, it feels like a guilty pleasure. I write most of my posts late at night, with my self-imposed deadline bearing down. I have no illusions that my posts here are especially literary, and I’ll be the first to admit that they rarely represent my very best work. But that’s beside the point.

My posts are my pots. They’re the dedicated practice that make me a better writer. At LWON I can take chances. I can follow my follies and explore ideas that no one else cares about. (Or ideas I assume no one else cares about, until LWON readers inform me otherwise.) I can ask questions, tell the world what I really think, critique the media’s handling of one of my beats or wonder aloud about the limits of science.

The data crunchers at LWON have doodads installed that tell us how many visits a given post receives. If one of mine collects an especially large number of hits, someone will usually tell me and, yes, this makes me exceedingly happy. But I can’t bear to track the numbers myself. It surprises me to feel this way, but I’ve discovered that I’d rather not know. For a short while, we had a plug-in installed that showed the hit counter in the blog’s administrative dashboard. The first time I noticed the counter it said that my most recent post had received only three hits. I was pretty sure I was one of them. Another was probably my mom. Which left only one other reader. I can’t say that I was thrilled about this, but I found myself unable to drum up any feelings of despair. It was at that moment that I realized LWON had become something so much more to me than just a place to showcase my byline.

It had become my outlet for those poems Kurt Vonnegut had advised me to write. Which is why it’s so thrilling to discover that my posts really do have readers, and I adore you all. (That climate change post of mine didn’t really go unread, a bug in the plug-in just made it appear so.) Engaging feedback never fails to make my day.

Here at LWON, we have a saying that we share with one another when our software gets buggy or we’re feeling mortified by a glaring typo we just discovered in a post. IJAB—it’s just a blog. I think it’s that attitude, that permission to not be perfect, that makes LWON so good.

I’m continuously awed at the quality of my fellow contributors’ work, and every one of their glorious posts motivates me to rise to their level. So on my one year anniversary, I extend my warmest thanks to the people of LWON for inviting me in to this incredible community and to you, our readers, for joining us here.

 

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Chalkboard photo by Christie Aschwanden, Christie scribbling in her notebook by Patitucci Photo.

 

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17 thoughts on “Why I Blog

  1. The anecdote and your words on process were so exactly what I needed to hear today that if were religious, I’d think an angel sent you. But I’m not, so I think it’s just a really lovely coincidence. Thank you so much!

  2. This post is so refreshing. When the entire Internet is screaming, “I could monetize that shit!” and a reader can almost watch the soul trickle out of the “content,” I’m so glad to read LWON, where it’s absolutely clear the writing and questioning and investigating is a labor of love. Thanks!

  3. God Christie you’re making me weep. I’ve always wanted to be part of something like this — no political/social/professional/financial gain, just do your best and have fun and see what happens.

  4. I”m convinced that this is the way us readers get the best work. I am, at best, a casual science fan, and yet I find myself reading almost every post. And it’s in no small part because the content comes from personal interests and is presented in such a way that I feel that I could meet any of you at a dinner party and have an interesting and un-intimidating conversation about sciencey things.

    I’d say this is true across disciplines. As a designer, I often get the best response from my own work.

    Also, I’m not just saying this because I received Best Comment From the Last Year from Ann.

  5. I came to this site following Heather, as I discovered her books while obtaining my archaeology degree. I am so impressed by all of the writers on this site. I have it bookmarked on my computer at work and never fail to find out what I can learn every morning. You all inspire me to do further research into the topics you choose and I am never disappointed. Thank you for helping me enjoy new ideas, scientific topics I would never have thought to look up and a joy in the written word. Keep up your “fun”. It’s weel worth it from a reader’s perspective.

  6. Christie: You’ve just brought tears to my eyes. I loved the story about the ceramics class and I think the analogy to LWON is perfect. There are many days when I dread the thought of writing another post here, but as soon as I get started I tend to forget that and just think about what I’m trying to say and how to say it so someone will read it. I love this site, and I particularly love how much I learn each day from each of the writers who post here.

    And Kaeli, thanks so much for telling us about how you first found this site and why you are sticking with us. That made me feel wonderful

  7. Good grief. I theorize about perfection a lot.

    Wonderful food for thought, Christie. Thank you.

  8. Yes! Blogs are the best yet avenue the internet has come up with for creative dialogue, and even, sometimes, Hegelian dialectic, because they encourage advancement of ideas without external influences, via the ‘comment’ function. Ideas get thrown up, or out, without the weight of professionalism, and hey, even if just one thought gets more rigorously pursued, we’ve had ninety-nine laughs to compensate. (I say this as a total non-scientist.) Encourage comments!

  9. Thank you Sarah, Erin, Ann, Spence, Kaeli, Heather, Jill and Tim. I’m so happy you’re here.

  10. Yes, thanks to all! I just discovered this blog a few months ago and it’s pretty much my favorite of all time. The writing is beautiful. The stories are fascinating and thought-provoking. It’s such a rare jewel.

  11. So Christie, here is why I read your blog: It’s like having a conversation with you. A well-thought-out one.

    Your posts (and so many of the others here, from folks I know and those I don’t) really make me think. Sometimes hard. And I love that.

    And I also really like that it makes me feel like I am out in Colorado, with you. I miss seeing you for real! This is the closest I’ll get to our conversations in class, with kickboards in the pool, over oatmeal, on a hike.

    Miss you, Christie!

  12. Just this morning I was pondering what makes people good at whatever it is they become good at. I was, frankly, thinking about my son and wondering when he might actually want to stick with something — practice the drum, or put a lot of effort into his lacrosse practice, or whatever, since he doesn’t have much stick-to-itiveness. And then I realized that, for the most part, I didn’t have much of it either as a kid (hence the lack of athletic ability!) But for as long as I can remember, I’ve soaked up all of the lessons on writing (and more recently, radio producing) that I can find. My bookshelf is crammed with books about writing and editing. And I’ve written, written, written — often for quantity’s sake, just like the pots. It’s the enthusiasm that generates the practice, and the practice that generates success. You put that so eloquently, Christie. I’m glad I’ve found this blog.

  13. Like the above comments, I loved reading this. It’s nice to have someone praise quantity! Ceramics is a better illustration than the military one I’ve had in my head for the past 15 years (Grant vs. Lee). I think I’ll start using it. Thank you. And I love reading LWON!

  14. Thanks so much, Christie. I, too, resented blogging at first, circa 2005, when I began to receive by e-mail “opportunities to contribute to my blog,” which turned out to be requests to work for free. Then I started my own blog when I ventured from writing textbooks to narrative non-fiction, and my agent deemed it a necessity. It took about a year, but I began to love the freedom to write exactly what I wanted to. My blog (Genetic Linkage) evolved to connect ideas and write about things too weird to interest editors, or inappropriate for textbooks. I also love the immediacy yet absence of deadlines. So now I view my textbook royalties as supporting my blogging. Thanks for a great, inspiring post!

  15. Found your blog via Oprah magazine. As I ponder dipping my toes into the blogging arena and all that it entails, this gives me courage. There are no accidents.

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