How Andrew Sullivan blogs

October 20, 2008 | By | 6 Replies More

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan has eloquently described how he blogs. Reading this article is a chance to see into the mind of a well-established and well published writer who only later discovered blogging, yet took to blogging with great enthusiasm.

Sullivan sees blogs as a way of “writing out loud.” Because of this, blog writing is always “more accident prone, less formal, more alive.” Because bloggers have less opportunities to collect and process their thoughts, those who write blogs often end up writing more about themselves, often unintentionally. “You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts.”

In his experience as a blogger, Sullivan noticed that blogging “rewarded a colloquial, unfinished tone.”  Compare blogging with the writing he did for many traditional outlets, such as the new Republic:

I often chafed, as most writers do, at the endless delays, revisions, office politics, editorial fights and last-minute cuts for space that dead-tree publishing entails. Blogging–even to an audience of a few hundred in the early days–was intoxicatingly free in comparison. Like taking a narcotic.

Sullivan argues that blogging rewards brevity and immediacy. “No one wants to read a 9,000 word treatise on-line.” Blogging is thus “a broadcast, not a publication.”  Despite the shorter length, blogging offers a greater depth of writing thanks to the hyperlink, which offers readers the ability to tap into primary material instantly.  The hyperlinks offers greater forms of interconnectivity that people could ever have previously imagined “The more you link, the more others will link to you, and more traffic and readers you will get.”

Not all bloggers crank out substantial amounts of original writing. Instead, many of them serve as aggregators of other posts, with dozens of links with “minimalist opinion topspin.” In this category, Sullivan puts Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit and Duncan Black at Eschaton.  Into the category of the original “bloggers,” Sullivan puts Karl Kraus and Montaigne.

How does one keep up as a blogger?

As in the blogosphere has expanded beyond anyone’s capacity to absorb it, I’ve needed an assistant and interns to scour the web for links and stories and photographs to respond to and think about. It’s a difficult balance, between your own interests and sessions, and the knowledge, insight and wit of others–but can an immensely rich one. There are times, in fact, when a blogger feels less like a writer than an online disc jockey, making samples of tunes and generating new melodies through mashups while also making his own music. He is both artist and producer–and the beat always goes on.

What kind of music is it?  Sullivan concludes that blogging is akin to jazz.  It will not replace the carefully written articles that preceded (and continue alongside) blogging, the “classical” pieces of writing one finds in paper magazines. Rather, blogging “is a kind of music that needs to be engaged rather than merely absorbed.”

Just as there are many styles of jazz, there are many styles of blogging.  Sullivan’s article got me thinking.  I break more than a few of his “rules,” but I often blog differently because I set out to have a different type of blog than Sullivan (whose writing and blogging I’ve long admired).  Andrew Sullivan’s article got me thinking and I know that will get me blogging about how I blog.


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Category: Writing

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. Good bloggers are few and far between, in my experience. Andrew Sullivan is a notable exception. (As are the writers here at DI!)

    Most blogs are self-indulgent, inside joke-laden venues for incompetent writers to feel as if their voice is being heard. Most are unreadable. And unread.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Mike: It seems clear that people use blogs in a wide variety of ways. Some of them write private-seeming things and send them out into the world. I'm amazed that so many people talk about their problems with their spouses and children and make those issues utterly public on a blog.

    Yes, there is a lot of terrible (incoherent) writing out there, but there is also some amazing stuff being written by hundreds of thousands of people. It leaves me wondering, with all of us out there working so hard to write, who are the people who have time to read the blogs.

    There are people with special interests (knitting, fishing) who use blogs quite well to create an ongoing community. There are many people who use blogs to rant about political events (I hope we don't seem like that too much at DI, but I know that we veer into it). There are some extremely impressive legal blogs that I occasionally visit. They are carefully written by people with impressive credentials. Then there are the blogs that constitute fan sites for sports teams, musicians and movie stars. Blogs come in so many flavors . . .

    Sullivan's article really got me thinking about what is is that I'm trying to accomplish at DI, which will undoubtedly be somewhat different that what you are trying to accomplish or what Mark Tiedemann is trying to accomplish. It all seems so egotistic sometimes. I wonder, "Why do I assume that anyone would find this to be worth his or her while?" Then again, in the aggregate, this site does feel like a community, an unwieldy community of 60,000 unique visitors every month. But a community of what?

    Maybe this is one of those "meaning of life" type questions. It's not necessary to plan out exactly what you're doing in order to accomplish something.

    Maybe the best way to understand what's going on is to look out the back window to see where we've been.

  3. Erika Price says:

    No wonder that blogs have a more personal, self-revealing tone than more formal and classic styles of writing. Blogs, in all the diversity that we see now, all evolved from the simple Livejournal-type personal account. Livejournal, as far as anyone can tell, was created and was initially used as merely an electronic diary; that any readers saw it was a bonus. But as real celebrities and internet celebrities alike began to make their personal rants public, the format became popular, and a more mature-looking type of journal was created, one outside of Livejournal altogether. Even though the blog is a dazzling work of web 2.0 innovation at this point, it sprung forth from a humble, very-web 1.0 series of roots- basically a gaggle of seventh graders typing about their friends and crushes, and sharing cutesy animated .gifs.

    I think the most amazing thing about the internet is its ability to take something mundane or unimpressive and style it up into something either clever or cult. I wonder what blogs will evolve into next?

  4. Alison says:

    People want to be noticed, listened to, agreed with, and since most of them won't get on TV, a blog could be the next best thing. I've seen bloggers tell intimate secrets, but work hard to hide their identities. They just want to get things off their chests, maybe get sympathy or advice from people who've been there, without making any more problems for themselves or others. The less they protect their anonymity, the less aware they seem in their writings to understand the possible consequences. Some of them will learn. Others just want to voice their opinion in as big a forum as they can – some because of strong feelings, some because they want to be validated by the concurrence of others, some by a combination of those. IMO, you see that a lot in the proliferation of blogs with unsupportable ideas and distasteful opinions. (If everyone around you thinks you're a wackaloon, you need to cast your net further, dontchaknow. . .)

    Looking at blogs that are hosted differently, I think I can see a difference in purposes as well. The Livejournal and Facebook type hosts are promoting a social network type of environment, and I've seen that in the blogs I've read on those sites. The free hosts like Blogger attract all different kinds, but their searchability makes them a desireable place for people who want to attract more comments, and maybe find new friends with like minds. For the people who want to say crazy stuff but don't know enough about blogging or don't know how to set up their own (or don't want to pay for it!) the downside is that the hosts will shut them down if their content is inappropriate. The nuts who are truly committed get their own domain names and set up standalone sites – maybe networking with themed groups, maybe not. Yeah, rational people do that, too, but I'm trying to differentiate the degrees of crazy between the people who don't have to deal with ICANN and those who do.

    I happen to love exploring all of these. I like to see people's opinions on things that interest me whether they agree or disagree, so my own is better informed and better argued (I come back to the ones with the best linky goodness.) I find wonderful inspiration and information on the blogs that stick to a theme, from the creative to the practical. And, while I visit the electronic journal sites of friends, I much prefer the occasional personal glimpses on the first two kinds. I went through all the social network stuff during the BBS days, so these seem a bit of a step back, for me. There are forums you can use for that, as I see it.

    Since 1984, when I first learned about modems, the changes have been astonishing. (Remember when YouTube had only a couple of pages of videos? When let you watch what you wanted without commercials or the latest promoted artist you hated? Heck, remember when green letters on black was exciting because all you had before was yellow or white?) I wouldn't want to even try to predict what's next, any more than I'd shake the presents under the Christmas tree.

  5. Ben says:

    I've enjoyed watching the blog evolve. Now there is more current news, and even flashy stewart and colbert youtube videos. Almost like watching tv… (i like to watch fox news to maintain a healthy balance). So you must have moments when you don't feel like blogging, how long do you predict you will keep at it?

  6. I don't think I'm really a blogger. I don't think I like being at the center of attention, having to relate to my readers, I kind of like sitting at the sideline and shooting my comments from there. 😀

    If I was a better writer I would write more. At the moment though I get severely bored reading my own stuff. Also, I think if you are not really good at a certain subject you shouldn't make a whole post about it. That's embarrassing. That usually leaves posts that are mostly based on very personal opinions that you can't really oppose, knitting and fun stuff.

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