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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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The Audience Is the Filter

Some nights when I’m out in the yard with my dogs, I hear freight trains screeching at a depot about a mile away. The combination of sounds creates chords so intensely dissonant that they are beyond noise. I want someone to make music with these sounds, but I know it would seem forced. Even Brian Eno couldn’t recreate the spontaneity of metal sliding across metal until it comes to a stop. It’s a brief, gorgeous bit of chaos. I hear music. The dogs pee. Then it’s over.

This scene came to mind after I read the 21 July post on “Jewels and Binoculars,” a terrific blog written by Jimmy Guterman (husband of my friend and writing partner Jane, who also has a terrific blog). Jimmy considers the popularity of blogs, wondering if there’s not enough “signal” among the “noise.” He writes,

“Blogs, I believe, are supposed to be about unvetted expression, capturing a moment, embracing the amateur and enthusiast in you even if you’re a professional writer in your real life.”

Yes. I agree, absolutely. Maybe because I don’t make my living as a writer, and I may never, but have become bold enough to share short pieces (some not short enough) that I write quickly and enthusiastically because I can’t resist the urge to write them. It’s the kind of regular, sometimes daily, writing I did in my angry young man phase, a horrible time of my life in which the only wonderful moments I experienced happened when I wrote lyrics to songs that still have no music. (Three chords and the truth only got me so far.)

The great thing about blogging is that the audience is the filter. I say that for selfish, not-so-selfish, and downright altruistic reasons: as a barely published writer, as an educator, as someone who believes in free speech. The amount of content is overwhelming, I agree. But there’s a lot to discover in blogs. In professionally published work, the writing is professionally filtered, which probably improves raw material more often than it flattens it, and I’m sure I’m more grateful than I realize for the consistency in the quality of published work.

But I like having access to writing that reflects what the writer has decided to share, pieces of writing that no external or internal editor has dissuaded out of existence. I don’t mean to suggest there’s a mother lode of great art hidden in plain sight. Some of it deserves my attention, so I play along. Reading blogs is like shopping the clearance racks. You look through stuff, maybe find something you like or not. You can spend all day or go for an hour or so. Whatever you find, it’s a bonus. Meanwhile, the person who made it was probably grossly underpaid.

The search process is difficult to control. You may have the ideal keywords in mind and you may have your favorite blogs fed into your RSS reader. But whatever you’ve enjoyed reading for the past few days may lose its resonance. On to something else, if you’re lucky, deserving, diligent.

The same is true of the writing process. Keep writing. Develop your audience. But don’t assume you can completely control the quantity or quality of either. Consider, though: Do you enjoy reading what you write? It’s okay if you like the noise you’re making. You may be picking up a signal.


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