Sunday 8 November 2009

A confession

Today, between segments of a very long bicycle ride and a delicious greasy brunch with my dear hubby, I finished Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone. It was action-packed, full of confusion and misdirection and red herrings, and it was well-written to boot. Most enjoyable. But I want to write about something else right now. Please bear with me.

I've mentioned before that I began this blog simply to discover how many books I read on average per year. It quickly turned into something I enjoyed for its own sake, primarily because it gave me an opportunity to write about books in an entirely casual, and therefore pleasurable, way in direct contradistinction to the "professional" writing I was doing for my dissertation.

Blogging about books was a vacation, a relief, but also a reminder of what got me so far in the study of literature to begin with. Not that anything I've ever written here would have ever functioned as even a good undergraduate essay, of course; it was simply that writing about books in this way reminded me of a simpler time during which I had a much simpler relationship with literature - and it helped sustain me until it was all over.

Now, I've been done with school for almost a year. For some time after completing what I hope will be my final university degree, I think my blogging became, overall, quite a lot better than it had been. I had more time and brain for engaging with what I was reading and for considering what I might say about it. I've even, in the last 6+ months, had some Thoughts along the way. Things were looking good.

And things continue to improve, in one sense. I feel fantastic. I feel free of any lingering anxieties, fatigues, etc associated with my unhappy times in academe. I feel recovered from it. I feel like a normal person (!!), and many people I know who have been done with grad school much longer than I have unfortunately cannot say the same. I feel lucky and blessed and given to playing in the fall leaves like someone either very spiritually free or a bit slow. I feel good.

The thing is, the better I feel, the harder I'm finding it to blog. I struggle more with every post and am less satisfied with the results every time (except maybe for my Curious/Creepy posts, but I am the kind of hopeless nerd who laughs at her own jokes). I'm certainly not finding it difficult to read; indeed, all I want to do is read incredibly long novels (hence the Victorian novels of late, gawd luv 'em); yet, when it comes time to post about them, I find myself longing simply to start another novel, immediately.

So, what I'm hoping for with this confession, I suppose, is some perspective and advice. If you blog, how do you maintain your interest and energy in the activity? If you've felt like this, how have you gotten past it? I like my blog. I worked hard to make it this darned purrty. But I'm losing stamina right now. So please, share. I'm all ears - interweb-ally speaking.


Unknown said...

It's not easy. I know there are some people who have been doing it for years, but I'm not sure that I will really be able to keep this up for ever (or even for a few years). It has been good to be challenged to analyse what I'm reading, but it does create a certain stress and expectation too. I haven't found myself not wanting to comment on a book yet, but I've definitely had a few posts which I wasn't really satisfied with (but wasn't prepared to go back and tamper with).

I also feel that those bloggers who read more slowly and, consequently, post more on peripheral issues rather than just reviews find it easier. Just saying what's on your mind can sometimes be simpler (and more rewarding) than composing an 800-word review. When I'm reading a 1000+-page book, I often post something to let people know I'm still there, and that can be fun for a change.

Finally, what makes it interesting and worthwhile are the comments from other bloggers all around the world. If no-one at all commented on your work, I suspect that it would be extremely demoralising, and it would be very difficult to find the motivation to keep going. However, that means that you have to: a) attract people to your blog and b) read and post on the kind of books which people like. I think I've read about 10-12 books in German this year, and I'd be surprised if I had more than one comment on them in total - even though some of them have been amongst my favourite posts.

Oh wait, I was supposed to be cheering you up...

Celine said...

Colleen, I think one of the reasons school saps the shit from people is that it is ( in general) no fun. In school you rarely write an essay for the love of the subject and you rarely work hard for the sheer joy of it. Up til now you've been working on the blog for precisely the opposite of those reasons. You’ve been blogging for the sheer joy of it. It was yours all yours and the results were a source of pride to you.
Then, perhaps, you realised that folks were reading your output, perhaps judging it. and also they were expecting more Perhaps you’ve begun to feel that are letting these readers down if you discontinue/write less/put less effort into it. Your blog is not a pure joy anymore, because it is now tempered with responsibility and with the weight of other people’s expectations. It’s the exact same thing that happens once you’ve been published. Everything you write from then on is ever so slightly darkened for you by the knowledge of people’s expectations.

You know what though? This IS YOUR BLOG!!! It should be fun! You should approach it every single time with joy. If you want to just read a book a day for the next ten years and do nothing but copy pumpkin pie recipes into your blog, then do it! If you want to write reviews on the level of ‘I liked dis buk lots’ or ‘This stucked’ then do so! You are allowed to have fun!

It’s taken me a while to realise this about my writing. Life too damned short. Don’t let the (possibly imaginary) expectations of others poison the thing that gives you joy!

As ever, apologies for spelling and punctuation etc

Stacy said...

I was kind of in the same place as far as thinking about my blog and where I want to to go with it. When I was first contemplating a blog I wanted it to be more of a reading journal but joining challenges gave me a stepping off place and I wrote in a book review format instead. Now that I have wrapped up the challenges and will only be joining a few next year, I plan to just write whatever and whenever. So the last book I read, I wrote my thoughts on it and I was only a third of the way through and when I finished it, I didn't feel like writing anything else but just wanted to pick up the next book...and that's what I did. This has been freeing and the dread I felt before writing a review is gone. I agree with Tony, "Just saying what's on your mind can sometimes be simpler (and more rewarding) than composing an 800-word review." I don't know if this is at all helpful and I said a lot just to say, I hope you are able to work it all out and no matter what direction you decide to take, I will still be here to read Bookphilia.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Hmm, my answer is a bit different than the others so far.

How do I maintain interest and energy? Discipline. When I started, I decided I was going to post every non-holiday, non-vacation weekday, and I have.

Since I have to post, I do. I plan ahead for it, and am free to change my mind. But I do it.

Thinking in terms of projects helps a lot. And thinking about what one can do in a blog post that would not be possible elsewhere. Frankly, to me the review format is death, a guarantee that I'll botch whatever I'm trying to do.

Tony - you've had a few blog posts you weren't satisfied with? That's impressive. I've had - just a second - 510. Today, I'll add another.

The Curious \ Creepy posts are excellent. And you're doing a fine public service by letting people know how painful grad school is. Many people seem to think that it's just more school. It's not. It's not, not, not.

Kevin said...

1. Take a break. Unannounced.

2. Blog only when the spirit moves you - at heart you're a good Quaker so this should be easy.

3. Give yourself permission to end the whole she-bang, say, in 6 months. Only after you've submitted a hand-written 2-month notice to me. I'll miss your musings.

4. Blog in harried 10-minute spurts with a stiff drink at hand. Nothing better. Purer.

5. Read.

6. Read.

7. Then write, only if you want.

8. I have spoken.

Celine said...

*applause for Kevin*

Heidenkind said...

Aw, I hope you don't stop blogging, Colleen. That would give me a sad. :( Well, you can either push yourself to write "better" (but what do you mean by this? more academic? more insightful?) posts or just read and enjoy that--whichever is up to you (but I of course hope you choose the former ^_^).

Ah, grad school. It took me over a year to feel "normal" after my MA, and I still get all twitchy when I see a movie with art in it. *shudder*

Bookphilia said...

You're all lovely, and for different reasons. Thank you!

I think Amateur Reader has tipped me off to one big problem I'm having - the review format. I really don't know how else to approach discussing a book, but I *am* getting bored with the format I've unwittingly assigned myself. And it's books I really do want to discuss, not (very) many side issues (except, of course, when they're hilarious).

So, what I need to figure out is some way or ways to review books without writing book reviews. Is this the bloggish equivalent of Schrodinger's cat? I think I hear, somewhere in the ether, a philosopher laughing at me.

Well, I'll think more about this. In the meantime, I've got a fat book or two to read.

Unknown said...

Reviewing without reviewing...

See my posts on Kafka's 'The Trial', Woolf's 'Mrs Dalloway' and Dostoyevsky's 'The Brothers Karamazov' for my attempt to deal with that particular conundrum ;)

Rebecca Reid said...

I think lots of people are getting burned out right now. And that's understandable. I too prefer the reading!

I think it's right to take breaks when ever you want. although I still intend to mention every book I read, I'm finding that writing mini-reviews or joint posts where I discuss what I'm reading rather than "reviewing" has been much more satisfying lately.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy your reading and that you can find the plan that works for you!

Anonymous said...

I wish I had advice. All I know is that this blog I've started is something I'm compelled to do. I get frustrated, sure, but it's so wonderful to share ideas with people in the book blogging world whom I never meet in my real life. I think you must do all you can to take the pressure off yourself, though, whether you adjust the format or your review, or review less often. It is, afterall, supposed to be fun. I think.

Bookphilia said...

Rebecca and bellezza: I may take a break but am still turning ideas over in my mind (although, admittedly, with less energy than I began with...)