Creative Blogging

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, January 7, 2018

Events in my life are leading to a perfect storm for writing about blogging. I’ve been discussing blogging with my friend Laurie who is a professor of reading. She plans to include blogging in a course she’ll teach this spring. Laurie introduced me to the idea of multi-genre research papers, which is an alternative to the five-paragraph essay used in high schools. She was asking me about blogging because she wanted her students to use a blog for their progress reports. When I heard the concept of multi-genre writing I immediately thought of blogging because blogging is at heart multi-genre, or at least in the way these academics are defining the term. Blogging is both multi-media and multi-genre. I’ve been trying to convince Laurie that her students’ multi-genre research papers should be blogged.


Concurrent with this I’m reading for my nonfiction book club How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell. Michel de Montaigne is legendary for developing the personal essay, and he has inspired countless readers and writers for centuries. Montaigne should be considered the Patron Saint of Bloggers. Montaigne retired early and became a contemplative, developing a personal philosophy by writing about his experiences. [Here’s an excellent essay, “Translating Montaigne” to help you find a copy of his work to read.]

And I just got The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker. Pinker is a cognitive scientist and approaches writing and grammar through studying how the brain works at communication. Pinker realizes that we all read and write differently since we’ve all moved online. I’m anxious to dive into this book because I want to scientifically and systematically improve my blog writing.

Then there’s the book I read last year, The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. She combines teaching writing with understanding memory. Writing the personal essay is all about recalling details when our brains are very poor at remembering. We constantly trick, lie, and delude ourselves, and learning why is both psychologically rewarding and artistically challenging. Contemplating the limits of memory is a fantastic tool for understanding how to write.

I’ve written two essays recently about blogging, “Blogging in the Classroom” and “Using Blogging to Accelerate Learning.” What I’m advocating is we start requiring children to blog their school work to teach them about reading, writing, memory, thinking, and history. Essentially what I’m asking is everyone become a Michel de Montaigne to write their personal history. I also expect them to be historians, teachers, preachers, scientists, philosophers, naturalists, and so on, to write about the world at large too. For example, here is Peter Webscott’s “Reading the world – visiting Montaigne’s Tower.” It is an example of a multi-genre essay about visiting Montaigne’s house. This kind of writing is how we should explore our personal experiences and thoughts, and blogging is how we can save those insights for a lifetime.

Creative blogging should be our tool to write our autobiography, one that is preserved, even after we die. Creative blogging is how we should communicate our deepest thoughts to our family and friends. Only the closest people to you will ever take the time to read your blog. Learning who they are is revealing. Blogging has the beautiful side-effect of showing which of our interests bores other people. That will probably scare you. Learning to know what you care about most and how much your friends and family care about what’s important to you is quite enlightening. It teaches how you are unique. It also teaches you how you overlap with other people, and that’s the key to friendships.

I also wrote this a couple years ago, “77 Things I Learned From Writing 1,000 Blog Essays.” Strangely, painful truths are wonderfully educational. I could probably come up with 177 things I’ve learned from blogging today. It keeps growing.


8 thoughts on “Creative Blogging”

  1. I’ve read both Screech and Frame’s translations. There is no perfect translation so I enjoy the strengths of each. I prefer Frame because of his control over the language. Screech is looser and more modern. You really can’t go wrong with either translation.

    1. I’m glad you endorse Frame because I decided to the complete essays on Audible and they’re translated by Frame. The complete essays translated by Screech is expensive in book form. Penguin has a paperback of his translation of selected essays.

  2. Good entry, Jim. Much food for thought. I kept journals for years but they were for my eyes only. I started my blog thinking it was really for my own purposes so I cold keep track of the books I’d read. But I got some subscribers anyway. But even when it’s just for my own purposes I enjoy reading my own stuff when it’s written fairly well. 🙂

  3. At the risk of bringing a pot of haggis to the party, I would humbly offer a few thoughts…

    First, it is my own opinion that people who are interested in creating a dialogue do so by preparing an idea, concept, or theme upon which they wish to have discourse with both like-minded authors/scribes, and other folks of interest, as well as to stir up a dialogue among the cognoscenti. At least that is what I believe that bloggers do. I am not a blogger, nor am I someone who spends much time looking for blogs/essays/story lines outside of a few distinct interests of mine. Science Fiction and Fantasy being one of them.
    I’m 65, have no children but have “uncled” a dozen or more young people from 6 to 36 years of age. I have and would love to spend more time with them discussing the why’s and hows of communicative discourse in this new digital age. I would love to show them the same things that opened my eyes to the “wonder” of new ideas, possible futures, and hopes that I enjoyed when I was reading “speculative fiction” along with histories, biographies, and other stories that our recent past has lent us. And I have spent time and energy doing so, with the proper approval of their parents (so far, none of them have banned me from speaking to their children).
    I fear that there is a disconnect created sometime in the last 20+ years regarding the difference between Disney and History. Between Hollywood’s drive to make money and our culture’s need to remember the past. If in fact our cultural memory is going to be based on Hollywood’s version, then all of the things I learned and hoped to pass on are not really relevant. And I am not ignorant of the declining quality of school-based information: prepping for the new digital age has not allowed much history, much less actual understanding of the work and effort that went into creating the United States of America (and much of current Western Civilization) to actually be learned and understood.

    JWH, your blogs, articles, and stories are wonderful. You expose me to ideas that I missed (or managed to dodge during my college days) and I enjoy reading them and following your links for further enlightenment.

    But I wonder; if enlightenment is something that comes from the outside that connects with something from the inside to create understanding and an opening of the mind to new ideas…
    What happens when there is no effective reference, no connection between ideas and thoughts (whether of the past or the present) with the current thoughts and memes?

    Those kids I mentioned (20-30 somethings now) are wonderful and “interesting” people, and somehow they seem to be going through the same ups and downs that we all did when we were that age. Maybe a “classical” education doesn’t mean what we thought when we were being drubbed through it. Maybe the changing world has left that behind. And then just maybe this now nearly-past next generation is busy bridging our ancient world into their new and way too exciting New World.

    I really don’t know. But I do know that if you all keep blogging, and keep putting ideas out there that sooner or later, somebody besides us old folks is liable to see it. And maybe learn just a little bit of something new.

    1. The way history is treated fictionally in films, books, and television bothers me too, Jim. Right now it’s popular for novelists and movie makers to create fictionalized history. I worry that people will assume that’s the way things actually happened. It’s impossible to know what actually happened even by reading many scholarly books on any given event. But at least with nonfiction, we can try to weed out the falsehoods.

      For example, will young people see The Greatest Showman and think that’s how P. T. Barnum was as a person, or how his shows appeared?

      Have any of your nephews and nieces taken up reading science fiction? Do any of your nephews and nieces blog so you can see how they think?

      By the way, I think of blogging as writing for one’s self, but other people can read if they want. You always have something to say, Jim, so you might like blogging. And, who knows, maybe the children of your nephews and nieces might want to read about you when you’re gone.

      1. Alas, most of the next generation seems to be much more interested in getting a job that sticks, followed by a job that they can depend on on for more than a year or two. None of my current “flock” seem to have the time to do anything else but make enough bucks to pay for a place to live.

        Outside of the latest Star Wars iteration, most of our younkers are still loving the latest version and it’s following details.
        That includes those Next Gen kids with MBAs and other professional certifications, and then those who have chosen to engage in business. And somewhere in that background is the family that supports them during the times that the shit hits the fan.

        And then there are the next generation of human beings that seem to follow right after their parents get a good job. I can’t argue with a process that led to my birth. You all would be listening to an entirely different rant, if I was unborn.
        Or if despite that, I managed to still be here and therefore I am.

        JW, I wish that I had the urge /need to post my thoughts in this current voluminous galaxy of data that really may not mean a single actual effort/interest.
        And your suggestion is one that I’ve considered, and argued with myself. I’m not a person who is willing to let the world know who I am, without some limits. I am comfortable with letting my attitudes/Ideas/Opinions be available on certain forums, such as yours. And all of my extended Family know me only too well.

        But I thank you for the idea and the opportunity. Maybe Someday…

  4. Jeez, now I have a much bigger headache to consider. I find blogging, that official flagging/flaying of information to be a daunting effort and more so, a load of work I don’t really want to consider. Then again if I can get some younkers to read this stuff, or even better read the source of both history and biography of our days, then I will have done a world of education that the schools could never have done.

    And I rest assuming that the world will be better for it. Maybe.

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