Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rant? Ramble? Blogging: It's about voice

I hang around on a forum about blogging. It's partly a forum about making money through blogging, so there's a fair bit of discussion about moneymaking, rather than pure blogging, strategies. (Moneymaking, as you can no doubt guess, is not part of the agenda for my blogs.) Some of these discussions make me a little crazy.

The most crazymaking are the posts about getting "content for your blog". There are cheerful discussions about where you can get "free content!" and how you can find the "best article directories" and other ways to solve that pesky, pesky problem of having, you know, posts in your blog.

When I read these discussions, I find myself shaking my head and moaning, no, no, you don't get it.

But I've been a little puzzled about exactly how to phrase what they "don't get". I know that it has to do with writing your own blog and producing your own content, but that doesn't seem like enough of an explanation. Because how does the reader know that you lovingly wrote and polished every word in your blog, as opposed to briskly selecting those words from an article directory and writing a check?

I've also been doing a lot of reading about writing, and that's where I finally found a way to express the idea:

It's about voice.

"Voice", in writing, is about the way that the writer translates his personality to the page. It's about word choices, and phrases, and mood, and structure. It's how you can distinguish a paragraph written by your very favorite author from one written by the person who wrote the history textbook that you passionately hated in eleventh grade, even if the two writers are writing about precisely the same thing.

Voice is what makes you chuckle and drive your companions mad by your insistence on reading the good parts aloud. Voice is what makes you buy the whole series and put yourself on the waiting list for the next book. And voice is what makes you come back to a website or blog, over and over.

I read writers for their voice.

I don't read the garden books of the late Henry Mitchell, long-time gardening columnist for the Washington Post, because he knows about, say, tulips. I read them because I want to "hear" Henry Mitchell talk about tulips.  I want to read Henry Mitchell's musing about how tulips are "reminiscent of brisk terriers, except better behaved" and his discussion of "the high delight of examining the bulbs" of species tulips. Anyone can tell me about tulip varieties, and how to plant the things, and how to keep them alive. But only Henry Mitchell can be Henry Mitchell.

I don't read Calvin Trillin because he knows where to eat; I read to hear, in his words, what he thinks about the food. I read to hear him dismiss rotating restaurants with "I never eat in a restaurant that's over a hundred feet off the ground and won't stand still." I read him because every moment of reading his work is a moment of sheer enjoyment.

In the same way, I read websites and blogs not for information, not for facts, not for statistics, not for how-tos, but for voice. And when I find a voice that I love, I want to return to that voice again and again.

Information is cheap. Voice is priceless. And that's what people crying "buy content for your blog heeeeeere!" just don't get.

Image: By Glide. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. This post is so right on the money. Spot on. I know that blogging forum. It's a place where people wonder how to create links, not realizing if you create the content, links will happen. It's all cart before the horse stuff. And as always, you've picked the perfect photo to go with your article.

  2. When will they figure out that what I want to read is not 'content' but words that tumble from the fingers of a person who tells me about her garden?

    I don't need an expert. Information is abundant. I just want to see how someone else put together a border and hear how it got to the point where we are looking. That is not to be found at a free content site; priceless but not saleable.

  3. Thanks, Melody! Yep; I get so frustrated with the "Oh, yeah, and you have to have content, too." attitude. There's nothing inherently wrong with making money from a blog, but it seems that when that's the initial goal, it so very often leads to failure - or at least to so much work for so little reward that the blogger would be much better off if they'd just focused on the joy and not the pennies.

    Hey, NellJean! Yes! I want people's stories and voices and plans and accomplishments and crazy thoughts. Even when I _am_ looking for flat-out information, I skim right past the Google hits with the bare naked facts and go for the ones where those facts have the author's personality. I just did that tonight, looking for a risotto recipe - I got my recipe and bookmarked a new cooking blog with lots of personality.

  4. Found your blog on The Idiot Gardener's Reading List, as I find so much of interest. Now there's a blog with a voice I enjoy, and so are you. Thank you.

  5. Thanks, Wiz! Howdy do! Yes, The Idiot Gardener is great. And thanks!

  6. The funny thing about "voice" in writing is that it doesn't necessarily represent the way someone talks orally, especially when the writer is conscious of (not self-conscious about) style. This is Pete, so you know I'm very familiar with your (literal) voice! I don't "hear" it in your writing here at all. Writing shapes thought differently, and context of presentation shapes further. Which is pretty neat, actually.

    You need to write more about all the old R&B and jazz reissues you buy. I assume you do buy them. Doesn't everybody?

  7. Pete! Hey hey howdy do!

    That's interesting that you don't hear my voice-voice in my writing. When I re-read my blog posts more than a couple of weeks after I wrote them, _I_ don't so much recognize myself either. Which is also interesting. I guess my writing also doesn't sound like my thoughts.

    Re the R&B and jazz, um, er, well, not so much. Not exactly. Not precisely. Y'know, not very often. I'm busy buying perfume, see. And peonies. You! You music-blog!