Friday, January 21, 2011

Blog Commenting and Awareness of Audience

I have been a writer my entire life, and for most of that time I was blissfully unaware of the concept of audience. I wrote for me. I loved the stories I made up, and so did my friends and family.

When I took Honors and Advanced Placement English classes in high school and even more so when I was getting my undergraduate degree in English, I studied at length the idea of audience. It never transferred into my own writing, hard as that is to believe.

What probably sounds even stranger is that, as a teacher, I have been instructing students on the significance of audience as part of an author's craft for nine years now ... and it wasn't until the past year that it's started to hit home in terms of my own writing.

What taught me that lesson? Blogging.

I don't even remember why I started this blog, to be completely honest with you. It had something to do with how cerebral I was feeling, how I thought I'd reached a place where I found tremendous philosophical opportunities in everyday events and wanted to write them down so I'd remember them.

And then ... then, suddenly, I had followers. It was heady indeed to know that there were people that actually were interested in what little old me had to say. It got really heady, though, when people started leaving comments on my blog. Not only were they following me, not only did they read what I had to say, they were interacting with my text. I had made them think. Eureka!

Since blogging is just another form of writing when you get right down to it--and because most of my "followers" were aspiring writers like myself)--it seemed only natural to gently steer my blog into a "writer's blog". I tried that for a bit, although I realized pretty quickly that there are blogs out there that do the whole "help aspiring writers" thing far better than I.

This realization came at about the same time that my life fell apart, that I learned that my husband was a raging alcohol when I dragged him into the emergency room convinced he'd had a brain embolism or something and learned that what he had was a blood alcohol content of .39. I gave everything I had into saving our marriage, but the end of the road was the day he hit me when I was holding Belle (both Belle and I still have nightmares about that night). Anyway, the girls and I moved in with my mother, and we've been here for almost two years now.

The woman I am today and the wife and mother that wrote the first entries in this blog bear only passing similarities.

What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that this blog has evolved into a very public record of my very private life. There are very few things I have kept off-limits, other than the real names of my children and the events in my life that I wouldn't want to be common knowledge (there are some things ...).

I am very proud of The Philosophy of KLo, and as I sit and think about its long, strange life, what I remember most fondly are the comments. Even after I started writing about the stress of impending divorce instead of how my students analyzed a given quote, people were commenting, sharing their thoughts and ideas, and the fact that my original goal--that of getting conversations to happen on thought-provoking topics--was being met just came to me like a bolt of lightning.

You see, commentors on The Philosophy of KLo are kind. Some of them--Martin of From Sand to Glass, Marvin the Martian from An Alien Mind, J.J. from The World According to J.J. in L.A, to name a few--have been with me for a while now, and they'll give me gentle advice when I need it but also provide their own input and experiences. One in particular does not let me get away with pity parties, and sent me a very kind and supportive e-mail when I was vacillating about going back to my now ex-husband (I still have that e-mail, Marvin the Martian ... it did more good than you will ever know). Essentially, it's been a peaceful, safe, kind, and caring experience for me here.

And then, through the basis of a friendship I made with the inimitable (and incredibly gifted) Sarah Taylor-Spangenberg on this very blog back when she was still on blogger, I got the opportunity to write for a much larger blog than this, a women's issues site called Zelda Lily.

I love everything about writing for Zelda Lily, but the best part by far, as with my own blog, is the comments section.

But it's a different world out there.

When I wrote about rape here, I received unbending support. When I wrote about rape on Zelda Lily, it led to a conversation among commentors about why so many women get away with lying about being rape victims.

When I write about my kids here, it is with a mother's eternal love. The first mention of my older daughter on Zelda Lily was her unexpected existence when I was only seventeen.

When I write about politics here, commentors are respectful even if they disagree with what I'm saying. Over at Zelda Lily, the commentors give me a lot of grief for hating on Sarah Palin.

I could go on, but you probably get where I'm going. I was honestly really upset by some of the Zelda Lily comments at first ... sometimes the commentors really draw blood over there, although they have been much kinder to me lately.

At first I thought it was just because they've gotten used to me, or maybe it's that they don't want to hurt my feelings, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks that it was all in the writing--I had gained an understanding of what my audience was, and so I'd nuanced my writing to meet their needs. And, voila, significantly fewer tears (this is why my book isn't published yet, by the way ... I cry at any serious, negative criticism of my writing--but that's a story for another day).

I don't make (and never have made) any attempt to "find" the audience for this blog, and perhaps that's why it's so much easier to write here. Still, living in the blogging world has really tightened my grasp on audience, an awareness that I'm proud to say is really showing up in my current WIP (work in progress, for you non-writers here).

Yup, it took something as simple as reading blog comments to hone my focus on audience in my own writing. It's crazy, but it's true : ) And please know, I read every comment, I reflect on every comment, and I learn from every comment--both here in my safe zone and at Zelda Lily, where I've had to figure out how to make it safer for myself.