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About Writing

For an interview tomorrow I must produce two writing samples, so tonight I have been reading through things I have written, debating what best to use to represent me in word. The task is pretty difficult: in choosing I must assume that my prospects of getting a job depends on my choice. Unfortunately, I do not know the reason I have been asked to produce writing samples. Do my interviewers in fact want to study my style, or do they want to skim my writing as simple assurance that I look as good— or as bad —on paper as I do in person? Second, I do not know whether I ought to produce length (in order to show that I can write consistently over a number of pages) or should I produce breadth (in order to demonstrate that I can do more than write an academic essay). It doesn’t help that I do not know what kind of writing I might be asked to produce in the job itself. So I am left to guess what my interviewers, as my readers, want to see. (And FYI, I’m leaning toward breadth and a stark contrast in length.)

Of course, guessing what our readers want or expect is part of what writing is about. Writers will choose to fulfill, challenge but confirm, or reject outright readers’ expectations for what they produce. What they choose will please some readers and it will alienate others, and that is one of the few certainties there is about writing.

But sometimes writers forget that this is the case. I wondered today if something of the sort is happening to Greg Kendall-Ball, whose blog has this year attracted a pretty remarkable readership among wired a capella-ist Christians. To be sure, that he is a graduate student doesn’t help his focus as a blogger, but I wonder if perhaps he hasn’t met an angst that is at root writerly: where Greg wishes to be a voice of conciliation, he nevertheless found himself cast as a polemicist too often to be comfortable. He’s discovered another certainty about writing: there is no such thing as nuance in polemics, and while not naturally a polemicist himself, many of his newfound readers (or “readers,” with apropos scare quotes, as the peanut gallery may be) couldn’t discover subtlety even with a map, a compass, and a good New England fisherman sitting shotgun saying, “Yawp. It’s just around dat bend over dere.”

Of course, I could be wrong about Kendall-Ball. But online writing has its challenges. For some time I have wondered why polemicists seem to thrive so heartily in blogs and other online fora. I have theories, of course: one of my favorites is that, online, the distance between reading and writing is less than in any other medium. But because writing carefully takes more time than even reading carefully, those readers who are most successful are those who are most likely to believe their world is most always divided in half. Interpretation is easy when the options are limited, and so too is it easy to write about such a divided world. Another theory is that an online name represents to many people a functional anonymity. While my name is indeed “Greg,” I can make the online “greg” be anyone I want him to be—and in the past, I have done so. Those who might not be so bold to speak in person may find their voices twofold in “Comments.” This seemed to me the best reason, when I was a teacher, to have a class Web site. Give students the opportunity to participate in alternative ways, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll take advantage of it. They never did, but that’s another story.

Anyway, at some point I intend to continue this thinking. I’d love to see both statistical and qualitative studies of online behavior to test my own theories. But for now, I have other readers to discover how to please.

 

Comments

I guess that is why I am drawn to this site…you guys seem to have mastered the art of writing for yourselves, not necessarily for your readers. I may be reading too much into it, but it seems like in many of your posts, you don’t give a crap what people think, and you don’t even give a crap if people read your site (cf. the “I Like having no readers” post!)

I think the management of KB2.0 will try to incorporate much more of that attitude when they return!

Don’t flatter us. Jeremy gets a big head for it. :) Actually, everybody but me is too busy to spend much time at it.

All I can really say is that it’s difficult, but it’s also necessary to remember what it is you’re doing. Good writers are more valuable than their weight gold. So too are the people they piss off, but personally, I like the writers better.

Frankly, those people who might be happiest curling up with the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate also are most prone to hunting “change agents” even if they have no idea hunting change agents is what they do.

For KB 2, it might be worthwhile to remember that magazine writers rarely get the chance (unless they write for The Nation) to respond to their critics in the magazine’s pages.

there are two things that i find extremely frustrating about on-line writing… 1) people pursposefully misunderstanding, or seeming to misunderstand, what you are writing; and 2) people who will disagree with what you have written yet never put forth an argument as to why they disagree with you.

related to the second point, it seems to me that one of the downfalls of commenting on on-line writing is (and hermit greg has said this, i think) is that often people are reacting and not reflecting…and so a whole host of assumptions are at play in their comments that they don’t explain…and things quickly devolve

so much on-line writing is exhibitionist in nature…and commenting on posts is no exception…and does this have to do with anything…except me trying to show off my big head?

Here’s a nice summary and discussion of what happens in online discussion, in the context of education. (The link is to a PDF file of an article by Lorraine Sherry in the _International Journal of Educational Telecommunications_. The article is also available here.

it’s too easy for writers to attract readers online. just start by making comments on other people’s blogs that pick at other commentators or the blogger. then, at your own site just say a bunch of extreme crap designed to push people’s buttons.

that’s emotionally fatiguing, though—at least it is for me. (maybe it’s not as tiring for people who mislead themselves into thinking that they are changing hearts and minds for their cause, whatever that cause might be.)

sincerity (i.e., no caustic-ness, no sarcasm, and no gratuitous button-pushing) is a goal for me when communicating here. (of course, i’m not sure we necessarily pull that off.) it’s why i don’t say anything about the miers nomination, even though i am thinking about it: there’s nothing to be gained-except site traffic-for anyone by my wringing my hands about it online.

and chris has brought another aspect…as we sit here and preach to the choir and to eachother…

it is mho…that much of blogging, especially political blogging, there are some exceptions (this blog seems to be one), are mainly preaching to the choir and perpetuate the balkanization and stereotypification of those whom one does not agree with.

generous orthodoxy, escapes this, somewhat (though it is still very much by and for orthodox christian intellectuals) becaue it has a large contributor base and, i assume, rather strict posting guidelines that foster dialogue and conversation…

this seems important, because the lone blogger will quickly burnout and/or be dragged down into the quagmire of not just dissenting voices but patently offensive attacks…

my other point, i think agrees with chris, i don’t think anyone is going to be “changed” by what i write…either because i won’t have expressed myself well, they won’t have read me well, they will already agree with me, or they will think my an idiot…in regards to this last point. a key element in all this is a relationship with your inter-keyboarders.

but, i’m just avoiding preparing my class for today, which i need to do.

and all of the sudden i;m writting for others…please, please disregard all the blather.

it’s all self-righteous nonsense

greg, what is the job you’re interviewing for? good luck!

and what are you taking in?

but, mary’s q is the one we (i) are dying to know…plus, audience does matter in terms of of what you are taking in.

did you knwo kai ryssdal, the host of marketplace…had no training in journalism…at the age of 34 he went to do an internship with his station and worked his way up

now that you mention it…i’m quite curious about what you think about the miers debachal

The job I interviewed for is as a test development associate at ACT. I took samples, but then they didn’t ask me for them. Fuller report later.

how totally lame of them. (royal) we eagerly anticipate your report.

Actually, given what happened, I’d mark it as a good sign that they forgot to ask for the samples. The interview went from 1:00 to 5:30. I met with the program director, a vice president, five current TDAs, the director of the scoring center (part of this job is in running some scoring projects), and then the program director again. In the last interview I had I afterwards had the sinking suspicion that I hadn’t impressed anyone, least of all myself. I walked out of it regretting a lot of my responses. That wasn’t the case this time. I believe I was articulate and persuasive. I was most careful to stop myself from rambling (to which I’m prone). I remember only one response to a question which I think I dragged too long, but even it was a structured, argumentative response that made what sounded to me like a good point. Best of all (besides feeling positive about it afterwards), I did not forget to compliment the organization or to show how intrigued I was at the position. (Which is no lie. It sounds like a fun job. So too did the last one I interviewed for, but I forgot to say anything about being eager, which shows that I forgot why I was spending so much time talking. I didn’t forget myself this time.)

The samples didn’t get given because so much of the interview was spent in conversation that it went long. I’ve emailed the director to ask if she still wants them. I took 1) an essay from my M.A. portfolio, a very early version of which I put online some years ago. (The essay online is about the engravings. The essay in my sample is about the travel accounts.) and 2) a set of writing assignments I gave several years ago.

Unfortunately, it’ll be a while before I hear anything further. I was the first person they interviewed, with two to go next week. Still, that’s better odds than last time. Then, I was 1/8 of the interviewed! This time, I’m 1/3. I’ll definitely let y’all know one way or the other.

well, well, well

crossed fingers and toes

I think that the writer has to have credibility if he wants to have people to continually read his works. i think that this is easier to accomplish when you actually know the person, when he’s not just a by-line in a blog entry. I guess when it comes to online writing, this credibility is hard to establish since people are only going to base it on your writing.

Which is why many of the most-read blogs are written by people who have gained followings in other areas (e.g. journalism, academia) with some notable exceptions (wonkette comes to mind)

None of which applies to any of us, I might add.

hey i have a following…a groupie even…she’s nine months but now that she’s crawling she follows me everywhere…except, of course, when her mother is home. it seems that mom trumps dad…so maybe i don’t have a following.

Methinks that’s not a following—it’s a follower.