A reflection on blogging: or, yearning for an audience beyond myself

I have been blogging with considerable consistency since the spring of 2018. I started with a desire to scratch this itch I’ve had to share my ideas in some public manner. Purposing the blog as a semi-professional space to muse on language, teaching, and learning gave me the constraints that are required for creativity and productivity.

The fact that the blog is not widely read is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I’m free to explore with some freedom my own observations as a teacher, aspiring linguaphile, and participant in life. I can blend the genres and topics I dip into. I have no publisher to please, no deadlines to meet, and only the accountability that comes from knowing that anything I publish online will become a permanent record.

But then there is the curse. Steve Jobs famously said, “Real artists ship!”, meaning the potential for creative expression and delivery is infinite. However, at the end of the day, the proof’s in the pudding, so to speak. We have to close off on this infinite potential, fight the demons of perfectionism, and just do it.

And so because I’m not a servant to a particular audience, I have considerable freedom. But for a blog to be successful, as defined by the number of views, follows, and audience engagement, there does need to be some consideration of audience. Especially for a professional blog. There are some who can write regularly and engagingly on a broad variety of topics, but most successful writers need a focus. This is where audience and purpose come into the equation.

A lot of teachers use the acronym PIE to summarize the three purposes of authors: persuade, inform, and entertain. Although these categories often overlap, they tend to identify the different overarching purposes of authors.

But there is another purpose of blogging that doesn’t easily fit in the PIE acronym, and that is self-expression. We blog to express ourselves. To represent a view of reality as we see it and to show this reality to the world. To voice.

And what I still wrestle with eighteen months on from starting this blog is likely what many a writer has struggled to accomplish: finding an audience for their voice. At the most basic, writers have to adhere to the rules of their language sufficiently consistently that others might understand them. All my posts do this, though I explore this topic more carefully in my posts No All Language Errors are Equal in Status and Thsi is not a Tpyo. My audience, then, is people who have some understanding of written English and, less likely, but possible, who engage with this blog through machine translation tools, something I describe in my post When Google Translate is Eerily Correct.

But just stringing sentences together with sufficient effectiveness is not enough, even though one of my earliest seed articles was called The Essential Grammar Toolkit for ELLs. Audiences need more than just coherent sentences. Language is indeed an incredible innovation, but I need to have something of value to offer people who have limited time to consume a tiny portion of all the writing that they encounter. I need to provide value.

One of my most popular articles is 7 Reasons to Use Flipgrid with your ELLs, no doubt because it’s SEO optimized with a clear listicle structure. Interestingly, and distressingly, it was one of the easiest posts to write. Other posts that I expended much more energy and time in writing barely register, even if I feel they have more value.

I wrote two three-post series, The boundedness and porosity of language, and How we’re raising our kids to be bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. These were sincere attempts at bringing together theory, practice, and personal experience into a meaningful whole which I believe was of use to others. I was sharing (informing) and challenging (persuading) ideas with some soul searching (entertaining?).

A part of me wants to be more than just a professional who shares technical insights and classroom practice. This type of writing is important and the type that I benefit from when I encounter it on other blogs. But it’s also easily Googleable. I don’t want to be merely Googleable.

The post What DO you do with an idea? was written at the beginning of the summer of 2018. It was an attempt to articulate the creative and artistic longing for self-expression that most of us, and certainly the fabled tortured artists, experience. I was not, and still am not, content to let the writing just be about professional practice.

In the fall of 2018 and into the spring of 2019, I see a growing confidence in exploring philosophical, theoretical, and justice-oriented themes with posts like What does it mean to know a language, Idealism vs. pragmatism in learning language, Don’t bemoan your lack of a second language, You are not your language. Right?, and Language others. I also love to explore and expand perspectives, as I did with Hey, my language’s got that too, and It takes time, folks.

If there is a theme to this blog, language would be the common denominator. Because my professional and family life is so intimately connected with language learning, I felt that I needed to walk-the-walk and start doing more of the language learning myself. There are only two so far, but I hope to add more Chinese posts in addition to 为什么我开始写中文博文 and 我的学生们变成我的老师.

The subtitle of the site is currently Thoughts on bilingualism, literacy, teaching, and education. With a serving of photography. But I suppose what the subtitle should actually read is Thoughts that Graham Noble thinks are important for the world just because he has expended considerable time in composing posts (but often, mercifully, shelving them too) that show his earnest contributions as parent, language educator, aspiring linguaphile, emerging writer, social critic, and playful user of the English language. With a serving of photography because that is a proxy for his artistic and personal ambition, however possible or futile that may be, to cohere reality at all times.

My favourite of the Romantic poets is William Blake. His Auguries of Innocence begins with these four lines:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

Is it too much to ask for a blog to contain the “World in a Grain of Sand”? To address all audiences? For all purposes? With integrity and some eloquence? Right now?

Perhaps. But it’s been worth the effort, and there’s plenty more to come.

One comment

  1. Graham, I think your musings on language acquisition and bilingualism are interesting. I liked your chronicle of your daughter’s three languages. What I’ve found about blogging is that I continually reach out to bloggers who cover similar topics to mine and with time we form friendships. I comment on their sites weekly and they comment on mine. The other fun way I’ve met more bloggers is by attending blog shares online. Sounds like you like photography. You might try “Six Word Saturday” by the blogger of Travel with Intent. Also make sure to list high interest keywords in the categories and tags like: bilingual family, language acquisition, Chinese, Cantonese… Wishing you well. You have good content, you’ll get the word out about it : ) Rebecca

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