Derek Price
Derek Price
Germany 2012-2013
Welcome to my Lumos Student Travel Blog! I will be spending 9 months in Enkenbach-Alsenborn, Germany to help teach English at a local high school and to improve my German. Check here for regular updates about my project. Read More About Derek →

Journaling, Writing, and Blogging Part 1

One of the most interesting things about the information revolution brought on by the internet is that millions of people have been given access to a public voice that they never would have had. But it is still questionable whether this has had a positive or negative impact on writing in general. Before the internet, if you wanted people to read something you had written, you either had to give it to them personally, or go through some sort of publisher, be it newspaper, magazine, or book. Those publishers had the tools to reproduce your writing and distribute it to a community of readers that, while varying in size, was always more than you could reach alone. But now anyone can create a blog and a few social media profiles, and within weeks reach thousands, if not tens of thousands, of potential readers.

So while the internet has changed the means of distribution of information, what has not changed is the basic types of writing, of which there are, really, only two: writing for oneself (here, journaling) and writing for others (here, writing-proper). These types of writing usually serve different purposes, and before the internet they also existed in mutually-exclusive spheres, the private and the public. But now these spheres seem to be somewhat mixed up.

This is especially obvious in blog writing, where the line between journaling/writing and private/public is often unclear. This fuzzy distinction has given blogs, rightly or wrongly, a bit of a stigma as the medium of choice for wannabe intellectuals and whiny teenagers[1]. While it would certainly be unfair to see all blogs as belonging to one of these two camps, this stereotype hints at some of the big problems in blog writing today. Blogs, in general, suffer from two major problems: authors presenting journaling as writing-proper, and writers misunderstanding the implicit assumptions in starting a new blog.

But before we deal with blog writing, let me clarify what I mean by journaling and writing-proper. Journaling’s most important attribute is its freeness. When one journals, one is free to work out thoughts or problems without the scrutiny of others or the demands of the rules of language. This freedom from concerns of audience can be invaluable when attempting to work through personal problems, develop new ideas, or be creative. Journaling may lead to writing-proper, but in-itself it is often of interest only to the author. Occasionally journal-style writing will appeal to an audience outside the author, but more often than not it is too narrowly personal, too confusingly self-referential, or too boring or petty to be interesting to others.

Writing-proper, on the other hand, should be of interest to others, because the author writes in order to communicate with someone else. This is the essential distinction of writing-proper, and since the author writes with others in mind, he pays special attention to word choice, style, grammar, and all the other rules of usage in language in order to strike his audience in a particular way. Even when attempting to alter her audience in some way, whether it is linguistically, behaviorally, or intellectually, the author always tries to find the best means for conveying her thoughts. These means could look radically different, depending on whether the author is writing a poem or a lab-report, but there is always a consideration of the audience in writing-proper.

In the next part of Journaling, Writing, and Blogging, I’ll explain how blogs have the accessibility of journaling, but the audience of writing proper, and how this mixture has given blogs an unsavory reputation. I’ll then explain the problem of the proliferation of blogs, and finally how blogs have the potential to be an excellent medium for writing-proper.

[1] And as a wannabe intellectual, I object to being grouped with whiny teenagers.

3 thoughts on “Journaling, Writing, and Blogging Part 1”

  1. Could you comment a little more on the difference between journaling and writing proper? I think you’re on the right track with the difference in intended audience, but I think it’s trickier than that. Some things in writing-proper, like your great example of a lab report, are exclusively written for an outside audience; I think that’s a justifiable claim. But examples of creative writing can get a bit more complicated than that. Often this sort of writing can be a means of self-discovery, much like your comments on journaling, while also being intended for an outside audience as well. I know you aren’t saying the two categories you’ve presented are mutually exclusive, I’m just asking you to break your 600 word limit to elaborate a bit if you’d indulge me.

    Also, excellent use of end note to showcase your intellectualism. Whiny teenagers don’t use end notes.

  2. Hi Nate,

    First off, thanks for the comment. I think I left my terms somewhat vague in order to include all types of writing, but after rereading it, I think I erred too far on the side of generality without giving real substance to the terms I used. As I said, I divided the writing types based on who the writing is for: writing for oneself is journaling, and writing for other is writing-proper. But I also introduced the notion of private and public spheres, which also needs this clarification: these spheres are contexts in which a text is presented that allow it to have meaning. I find it difficult to give an exact definition of the boundary between public and private, because, again, as I mentioned, the line has been blurred. I’m tempted to say “private texts are not published and public texts are,” but part of my point in this essay is that almost anyone can be a publisher, so it’s not as helpful of a definition as it might once have been. So basically, I’m going to offer you a logic matrix of examples and avoid giving you a real definition.

    Private journaling: Taking an account of how your day went in a diary or journal. In this case, the author is writing solely for herself, and the value of this activity exists almost exclusively in the recollection and writing. Knowing that she is not writing for anyone, and that no one will see her words, she feels free to say whatever she wants.

    Public journaling: Cryptic, passive-aggressive facebook status updates like “UGHHH! REALLY? I guess I can’t trust YOU anymore!!” This is a great example of an author presenting journaling as writing proper. He clearly wants to share some experience or emotion with someone else, but has been, intentionally or unintentionally, obscure. This serves two purposes: it avoids direct conflict with someone, and turns his writing into “bait” for the thing he really wants, which is dialogue. I hate to string you along again, but I’ll get to the meaning of dialogue in the next part of this essay. Teaser: dialogue is the thing sought in public writing proper. It is a two way communication between author and reader.

    Private writing-proper: Your example is actually the best thing I could think of for this category. One possible scenario is that the author started out with the intention of writing a novel for publication, but during the writing process discovered new ideas, or saw himself in a different light because of his writing. The novel will still be read by others eventually, but even before it is published, the novel has been important to the author on a more personal level.

    Public writing-proper: While I think “writing for a scholarly journal” is an undisputable example of public writing-proper, I think many other genres and styles fall into this category, too. Any time an author “puts her work out there” for other people to read, she is engaging the public. Whether it is through a newspaper, a book publisher, a magazine, or yes, even a blog, the author intends to show her work to other people. And since she has written with an audience in mind (even if it is just a vague idea of one), she desires to be understood by them, and wants readers to take something away from her work. Being heard and communicating – those are the two most important aspects of public writing-proper, and at least two of the necessary conditions for dialogue (I said it again!)

    There. I think that made things clearer. And if it doesn’t, then hopefully the next post will.

    Thanks again!


  3. This is definitely more clear. The distinction between public and private spheres being set up alongside journaling and writing proper helps to clear up some potential problems. Before, I was only seeing one difference, when actually you were presenting two. Thanks for the clarification, and I’ll look forward to the next post. Hope you’re enjoying Germany, and have a beer for me!

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