On the Art of Writing

I recently posed a question on my Facebook page: What’s the difference between having blog that no one reads and not having a blog? The responses were interesting, the consensus being that one should write for oneself even if no one ever reads it. Somewhere Elie Wiesel made a similar point only more eloquently: “I write more in order to understand than to be understood.”

But if I am writing only for myself and simply don’t care whether anyone reads it, I don’t need to bother with a blog. I can set up personal diary on my computer. I could even give it a complicated password to insure that no one reads it and write there to my heart’s content. Somehow that does not much appeal to me. I suggest there is more to the art of writing than self-reflection.

Look again at that quotation from Wiesel: “I write more in order to understand than to be understood.” The whole thing in contained in that single word “more”. He is not writing simply for himself. He is also writing to be understood. He is also writing because he has something to say to people, and therefore he also cares that he has an audience beyond himself.

In the final analysis, a blog is a form of publication, and publication is a form of communication. A blog is somewhat like a short magazine article or an op-ed piece except that it is more or less self-published. One does not simply write a blog and put it away. One also publishes it. That’s what makes it a blog rather than a diary.

I don’t understand why anyone would publish something and not care whether or not it was read. Why publish—why write at all—if you are not interested in communication? Perhaps some writers truly don’t care, but I have to admit that I am not one of them. I do care whether or not what I write is read.

There is an aesthetic behind this. Art is, among other things, a form of communication, and therefore art needs an audience. What’s the difference between not writing, say, an opera and writing an opera that you immediately put up on a shelf, never show to anyone, and forget about? What’s the difference between not carving a sculpture and carving one that you immediately destroy?

To be sure, all of us who create sometimes consider our creation and give up on it because it does not really say what we want said. We learn to do better for having these “failures”, because they are like editing our work. But even these failures are aimed at an ultimate creation that does say what we want and is presented to an audience. Art without an audience is, I think, unfinished.

And so, yes I do care whether my blog is read. I care because I write also in order to communicate. I care because I believe I have something interesting to say to people and want to engage my readers. If no one reads what I write, I have failed to communicate and the creative act of writing remains incomplete. I may as well not have written.

Of course it could be that I really do not have anything interesting to say. It could be that I do not write well enough to say things in an interesting way. It could be that the art of writing simply eludes me. But how would I know if no one reads what I write and says something about it?

Or so I think.

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2 thoughts on “On the Art of Writing

  1. Amy Zucker Morgenstern

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Ken. I think even if no one reads a particular entry, the process of writing bears fruit. Writing helps us to clarify our own thoughts. But it is frustrating when others don’t get to nibble at the fruit too.

    I imagine I am like many bloggers in that I write for whoever may come across the blog (and do a modest amount of promotion to increase their number), while also having space for writing that is only for me (my journal, which in my case is handwritten).

    There is no question in my mind that you write about compelling ideas with clarity, so if readership is low, quality is not the problem. There are a few low-key ways to get more readers to come your way, if you are looking for advice.

    Reply

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