Monday, October 27, 2008

Push the Button: Blog Commenting for Dummies

It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others. --Virginia Woolf

The advent of blogging has upended the private nature of writing. A couple of minutes spent perusing the e-world provides a tonnage of people who reveal slices of life, vignettes of surpassing intrigue, some that actually surprise the writer in me. Of course, there are the "vomit pages" -- the ones where someone, without thought or intention or purpose, vomits out every (in)coherent thought floating within his primordial swamp. But the point is the same: this brave new world has created an audience for every wallflower, prima donna, or aspiring writer out there.

It has also spawned a whole new generation of readers, kind and otherwise, who see the comment button as a personal calling. I've always fancied the comment button as a verification of sorts: by commenting, I am acknowledging this person's point or turn of phrase or delightful tale. Since the writer in me pleads for acknowledgement in my own writing, I should in turn point out the best in others. I also see the comment button as a way to engage in dialogue, to discuss the finer points of writing, to disagree or expand or tweak a thought.

For the most part, as I linger among the posts of fellow-writers, I am touched and impressed by the kinds of comments left for the blogger. Certainly, the commenters of this blog have been full of warmth, compassion, and kindness. The dissenting voices have always added a flavor or depth to the conversation that was previously missing, and it has always been done in good taste. It surprises me then, when -- in reading through the many blogs I comb through each day -- I find that one comment or observation that seems mean-spirited or perplexing. I have to wonder: has this commenter never read Virginia Woolf?

So, as writers, are we evolving a tougher skin as we spend time posting our thoughts for a broader audience? Or do we still "mind beyond reason" and nurse those bruises privately?


Anthony said...

Because there are so many many blogs and so many many places competing for attention, commentary to me seems a true reflective nature of the world we live in.

In other words, a general readership is a community, and in a community there is always a bad apple. Either one that is tolerated, or one that shows up with the blog equivalent of a drive-by, ignored, and moves on.

These comments can indeed hurt feelings, but just like in life, there are others supporting you, and one's skin becomes thicker.

One advantage of the blogsphere is once one fool is not suffered gladly, the rest of the community rallies around a standard. Outside of the blogsphere, this is difficult.

Good post!

stu said...

In some ways the comment combines the worst elements of the conversation and the letter. It takes only a few moments, which allows for things to slip out before you've really thought them through, but those things are hard to forget when they're up there in writing.

Alex Moore said...

@anthony: thanks, man. and i love the commentary thing. one thing we are constantly struggling to teach our students is the whole "claims and evidence" piece. one you claim something, back it up with evidence! i would love to see that carry over to the blog world...i think x because of y. or is that too much to ask?!

@stu: don't they say something to the effect that bloopers on tv last a moment, but in the newspaper last forever? you're right: being able to push a button without the benefit of an editor, internal or otherwise, definitely opens the door for some real "worsts"!