What I’ve been thinking about when thinking about blogging (and only thinking about it)

When I look over my dayplanners and scraggy little notebooks for the past couple of years there are probably a hundred notes to myself to write a blog post. Or to write “three blog posts this month” if I was engaging in a particularly ambitious spree of planning and self-improvement at the time. It’s not just that I think I should do it; I’ve missed the writing. So what’s been the holdup? It’s just a goddamn blog. What have I been thinking about while studiously not writing anything?

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the backlash against personal essay collections and the notion of “confessional” writing and whether it is self-indulgent. I’ve been reading a lot of personal essays lately, in collections by Roxane Gay, Meghan Daum, Lena Dunham, Anne Fadiman, and others, and putting aside the question of why the confessional or the personal should be pereceived as problematic in the first place, I’m reading them because I’ve found in them writing that is eloquent and honest. This is something I think is an accomplishment, fundamentally artful, and what I read for, in all genres. There’s nothing easy or particularly indulgent about it.

This week the presence of the “I” in book reviewing is being debated over at The Walrus magazine. So I’ve been thinking about that and how the expectation that you begin a piece of writing at a distance from yourself on the day you are writing, like getting the cab to drop you off a few blocks from the party, can be mighty stifling. Specific to book reviewing, what is this idea that we not speak about what informs our reading? This is not, to my mind, quite in the same league as the problem of the interviewer who won’t stop talking about themselves.

I’ve also been thinking about well-respected authors I know who are incredibly uncomfortable about and even disdainful of the idea of sharing anything of their private lives in their published work, let alone on the internet. Their voices are in my head whenever I begin to write something that reveals even the most salient details of my life. What I’m belatedly coming to realize, though, is that it’s important to be selective in what you take as life lessons from people who aren’t willing to reveal anything about their lives.

Then I’ve been thinking about other bloggers. The bookish blogs I like best are the ones that combine readings and thinking about literature with something of the writer’s daily life. Kerry Clare at Pickle Me This and Mary Beard at A Don’s Life are two of my favourites. Both are very open about using blogging to hash out their ideas along the way and are not shy about doubling back, changing their minds, revising their positions on things, or, you know, occasionally talking about bathing suits if that’s what happens to be top of mind that day.

I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ve talked myself out of writing anything about because I wanted to appear focused and on topic. The other day I went through the entire archive of my blog before I stopped writing it in the fall of 2014. Granted, this was not an especially arduous task since between announcements about getting poems published and reviews of books I’d edited and so on, I had really only ever written maybe twenty-five thoughtful posts that had taken me any length of time. It’s not nothing, but it’s not much. Right away, though, I became very annoyed by the tone in these posts. Who was this chipper camp counsellor type? It took me a while to grasp that the effort of not saying too much about myself and not tackling any of the broader issues swarming around my reading (mostly for fear about being out of my depth) was making me annoying, even to myself.

On saying too much: While I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been in a long in-between time–in the soup, as I like to think of it. A couple of years ago the relationship I’d been in since my early twenties ended and even though I’d always been adamant about it not being a marriage, when you live with another person for a decade it will tend to take on almost all of the trappings of a marriage. In short, it’s been weird. I’ve also moved six times since then, and if you don’t have a solid writing practice going, moving is a sure way to not establish one, in my experience.

On a less strictly logistical level, one of the things that changed after this breakup was the direction of my reading, which I didn’t quite know how to talk about because I was very determined not to be confessional. Just as an example, did you know that in the world of mystery/crime writing, the majority (I think I can safely say this) of sleuth-protagonists are single? The female cohort has interested me most. Some of them are what you might expect if you have a poor impression of “cozy” mysteries with self-described plucky, headstrong female sleuths (whose adventures are usually financed by hefty inheritance funds). But then there are protagonists like Claire deWitt (Sara Gran) and V.I. Warshawski (Sara Paretsky). They are smart, often cranky, and running their own show–albeit sometimes badly. Being a single person who is self-employed, I am a walking, talking sole proprietorship. And in mysteries, lately, I have found a reliably inspiring vein of reading that speaks to this experience.

What I’m going to be blogging about for the next while:

My reading and what informs it. Maybe I’ll get out of my depth and one of the voices in my head will manifest as a real live person on the internet telling me I’m wrong. Anything’s possible.

Book editing. I’ve been editing books for thirteen years, but save email conversations with other editors and notes to authors on how to improve their work, have not written (or presented or anythinged) much on the subject that occupies my brain most of every day.

Genre fiction. As I’ve tried to articulate here before, I find the perceived divide between genre and literary fiction problematic and would like to pick away at that more.

Physical books. I’m not going to chastise anyone who prefers e-readers (I would have once!), but I do continue to find the physicality of paper books interesting, in terms of the coincidences that happen when books are in the same room together, borrowing other people’s books, marginalia, the random things that fall out.

And, you know, there’s going to be some personal minutiae along the way, so settle in or shuffle off, as you wish.

11 Responses to “What I’ve been thinking about when thinking about blogging (and only thinking about it)”
  1. 04.20.2016

    Hi Kate,
    Think I’ll be settling in for some of your wit and honesty and authenticity. Loved the unfurling thought process in this blog. I’m intrigued by the directions you want to explore. And your consideration of the “holdup” resonates. So glad you wrote a blog again.

    • kate

      Thanks, Paula. You will appreciate what it took for me to NOT cruise through it 18 more times after I posted, looking for typos. Part of letting it be in progress, but entirely against my nature!

  2. Beth Crosby

    Being a very uncomplicated person ( perhaps some, including my children, may disagree) I am always impressed by those who are more detailed oriented and obviously much more erudite than myself. However, I think that it is important to put yourself out there. So, go Kate go. I enjoyed your blog. Beth

    • kate

      Thanks, Beth. Nice to be in touch again!

  3. Penelope

    This new direction will pad my dossier about you very nicely, thank you.

    • kate


  4. Aube

    Oh Kate, I love this and can relate on so many levels, as you might guess… the trickiness of those in-between places etc… And I had a really good laugh at “Who was this chipper camp counsellor type?” because that’s precisely how I feel whenever I go back to my own past blogposts. I have found myself capable of speaking in a truly open and personal voice that doesn’t make me groan on only a few rare occasions. I love reading you because I feel like you’re right there talking to me with a glass of wine in hand… in front of the old woodstove. More please.

    • kate

      Thanks, Aubie. There will be some farm-y posts coming. (Skulking through other people’s libraries.)

  5. Alison Smith

    I always enjoy reading your posts, Kate!

  6. Hillary

    Love this Kate! Excited to read more.
    And I really like your ‘to do’ list. Did I ever tell you about finding my book of to do lists from the winter we spent together. There were several days in a row where they looked like this:
    photo shoot


    • kate

      Thanks, Hilly! Basically this whole return to blogging is a ploy to re-use those photos somehow. (This plot twist reminds me of the time Hillary managed to fit her long johns underneath her bathing suit … and made it look so easy.)

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