Thursday, October 16, 2008

Writing Out Loud

Andrew Sullivan is a blogger who, though I have very little in common with in any obvious way, may be more responsible for the form of this blog than anyone else. Like me, he goes it alone. Like me, he updates a lot. Like me, he doesn't get too hung up on reversing himself because, hey, people change their minds about things, right? I'm nowhere near as excitable as he is, and he probably couldn't give a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys about baseball, but we probably have more in common than we don't when it comes to sitting down and blogging about our respective worlds.

So if you're the kind of person who cares about the meta-bloggy stuff (and I realize most of you don't, so feel free to skip on if you wish) you may be interested in reading Sullivan's long-form piece about what it means to blog in the latest Atlantic Monthly. There's a portion of it in which he describes finding his blogging voice, which he did with the help of Michael Kinsley:

As soon as I began writing this way, I realized that the online form rewarded a colloquial, unfinished tone. In one of my early Kinsley-­guided experiments, he urged me not to think too hard before writing. So I wrote as I’d write an e-mail—with only a mite more circumspection. This is hazardous, of course, as anyone who has ever clicked Send in a fit of anger or hurt will testify. But blogging requires an embrace of such hazards, a willingness to fall off the trapeze rather than fail to make the leap.
That really hits home for me because, more than anything else, my blogging has its roots in the almost insanely high volume of emails I send to my friends. Indeed, the first post I ever wrote for the old Bull Magazine -- which, for all intents and purposes was a blog, even if I didn't realize it at the time -- started out as an email to a friend of mine. Even now, when I find myself writing some 150-160 posts a month, almost every single one starts out with me thinking the same thought I get whenever I email someone: "hey, I bet someone else would want to hear about this." It's all internal motivation and inspiration. To the contrary, I think the bloggers who burn out quickly are the ones who think "hmm, I suppose I have to write about this," which is all external motivation and a sense of obligation. The former lasts, while the latter often doesn't.

Sullivan's piece hits all of the big points about why I like blogging so much. The immediacy of publication and response. The self-correcting nature of the work (if you screw up in a magazine you may or may not have to run a correction next month; in a blog, you had better fix your errors quickly lest you get a reputation for being unreliable). The sense that, because you are constantly posting, constantly updating, and constantly developing your thoughts, beliefs, and prejudices, you are engaged in something closer to a stumbling search for the truth as opposed to an omniscient pronouncement of it. Such a dynamic is much more satisfying to me because I don't believe any of us knows all that much for certain to begin with. Life is about learning our way through it, not knowing it all to begin with. For our purposes, baseball is how the season plays out, not the preseason predictions. Saying "And That Happened" tells us something useful. Saying "This Will Happen" is a parlor game.

Sullivan has one final observation that I think is worth thinking about for a bit:

The pioneers of online journalism—Slate and Salon—are still very popular, and successful. But the more memorable stars of the Internet—even within those two sites—are all personally branded. Daily Kos, for example, is written by hundreds of bloggers, and amended by thousands of commenters. But it is named after Markos Moulitsas, who started it, and his own prose still provides a backbone to the front-page blog. The biggest news-aggregator site in the world, the Drudge Report, is named after its founder, Matt Drudge, who somehow conveys a unified sensibility through his selection of links, images, and stories. The vast, expanding universe of The Huffington Post still finds some semblance of coherence in the Cambridge-Greek twang of Arianna; the entire world of online celebrity gossip circles the drain of Perez Hilton; and the investigative journalism, reviewing, and commentary of Talking Points Memo is still tied together by the tone of Josh Marshall. Even Slate is unimaginable without Mickey Kaus’s voice.

What endures is a human brand. Readers have encountered this phenomenon before—I.F. Stone’s Weekly comes to mind—but not to this extent. It stems, I think, from the conversational style that blogging rewards. What you want in a conversationalist is as much character as authority. And if you think of blogging as more like talk radio or cable news than opinion magazines or daily newspapers, then this personalized emphasis is less surprising. People have a voice for radio and a face for television. For blogging, they have a sensibility.
This is why I have, for the most part anyway, resisted joining various blogging collectives that have been generous enough to ask me to join them. It is also why -- and I apologize Prez -- I have had a hell of a time getting into the flow over at FanHouse, despite the fact that those guys are better than any blogging collective out there. Simply put, I have very little confidence that any one post I write, in isolation, says anything worthwhile. Over the past 18 months, however, I feel like I've been able to say, oh, ten really good things, developed over the course of 2000 posts and a lot of back and forth with my readers. Blogging truly is a conversational medium, and a collective -- despite all of its good points -- is more like a cocktail party than deep discourse with a good friend over brandy and cigars.

Like I said, I know most of you don't care about this crap. But I do, because while the stated purpose of this blog is to talk about baseball, the larger purpose has been to help me figure out some basic things about my life. Like, what I want to do with it. How I feel about the world. How I relate to what, if I'm being honest, is kind of a silly little pastime, no matter how much I love it.

And if you don't like it, well, get your own blog.


Jason @ IIATMS said...

I do like it, and Shysterball's one of the main reasons why I have my own blog, too. And to your credit, CC, you make it look a heckuvalot easier than it really is. No matter how much I enjoy the writing, there are days when you just can't, don't want to, are fed up with things, etc... but you do it anyways.

I much prefer the conversational nature of it than the hyper-editing of actual writing, ya know.

And yes, it is therapeutic.

Levi Stahl said...

Your experience with blogging, and your approach, sounds similar to mine. When I started my book blog three years ago, I was worried about the pressure of posting regularly; I've been pleasantly surprised to find that there's always something I come across that seems interesting enough to share. I've yet to find myself writing to fulfill an obligation rather then explore an interest, and that's a great feeling.

The casualness and mutability of the form really is freeing if a blogger will let it be, and you have. The freshness that your approach ensures shine through in everything you write. Keep up the great work.

Crowhop said...

It's funny, when I read your blog, which I have done pretty much since the start of this baseball season, I hear your 'voice'. It's the same as reading any book, I guess, but it very conversational and relational. Much more than a standard text. I don't read any other blogs regularly, so I can't really compare, but the mix of baseball and life have me hooked in.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Glad it hasn't turned you off, Crowhop.

But really, that's the thing I take away from any good blog I read: A voice. A presence. A sensibility. Something that tells me on some level that I am getting a person's thoughts and opionion as opposed to some official word from an entity.

This is true even on the blogs big media sites. Neyer has a voice. Olney has a voice. Posnanski, whether he's writing for SI, the KC Star, or his own blog has a voice. Deadspin used to have a voice when it was basically just Leitch, but now that has morphed into a "Deadspin voice" that all of the writers basically adhere to, which it makes it less personal.

Anyway, I appreciate the kind words from all of you, and I'm glad everyone still comes around to "hear" me, as it were.

Pete Toms said...

I think you and Sullivan are correct. It isn't like newspaper writing. I never really " got it ", my stuff was ersatz reporting and not what blogging is - the conversation, the revealing of oneself. Craig, you have it, whatever the blogger sensibility is.

And don't forget, I don't like this navel gazing blogger stuff!

Statistics Born said...

It's funny, about four years ago somebody asked Neyer in a chat what non-baseball blogs he read and he said Sullivan. I skipped over there and haven't missed a day of the Daily Dish since.

A few years later somebody asked Neyer in a chat what baseball blogs he read and he said Shysterball. I skipped over there and haven't missed a day since.

Craig Calcaterra said...

I have a confession to make, SB: I am actually Andrew Sullivan. The fact that I'm straight, married, don't think Madonna is the best thing ever, and am more or less liberal is just a big smoke screen.

Ted Spradlin said...


If you're really Andrew Sullivan, then this is really big news. It's like when Higgins finally spilled the beans to Thomas Magnum on the final episode of Magnum P.I. that he was actually Robin Masters.

The double life finally came to an end.

Craig Calcaterra said...

It's more like that than you know, for I too have had a Vietnam Vet using my Ferrari and staying in my guest house in recent years. He wears a Tigers hat, though, so I'm OK with it.

Levi Stahl said...

But does he have one of the world's greatest moustaches?

Craig Calcaterra said...

He makes Sal Fasano look like he has alopecia.

Ted Spradlin said...

One must wonder how such a ridiculous show like Magnum PI ever get onto TV, then became a hit?

Or, where my former girlfriend found the Box Set of DVD's for my Christmas present 2 years ago? What store stocks that on their shelves?

Mystery man ShysterCraig would probably know if anyone would know.