Goodreads Facebook Twitter RSS Feed

Dear Fellow Self-Important Narcissists

Monday, 25 January 2010

Recently I was telling a few friends and fellow scribblers about this here blog of mine, partly because I thought they might be interested in what I have to say (well, you never know) and partly - I'll be honest - because I hoped some of them might click on that lovely little Follow button and/or subscribe to the RSS feed.

The reaction of one of them was striking. Let's call her Sue. Because, actually, that's her name. But it's OK, I can be pretty sure she won't read what I write here, as her immediate and forceful reaction was along the lines of, Bloggers! Bloody self-important narcissists! Why should the world be interested in reading what they ate for breakfast? It's this celebrity culture of ours gone mad. Mad!

I may have exaggerated slightly for comic effect there. But this is a reaction I've experienced quite a few times. Perhaps you have too? And, yes, the people voicing these objections do always seem to think we blog about what we ate for breakfast. For the record, today I had toast spread with some rather nice home-made plum jam and a cup of strong black coffee. It was tasty.

But do people who object like this have a point? Are we just self-aggrandizing narcissists?

Sue, I should make clear, is no technophobe. She's an active participant in several internet-based writing groups and forums. From these she derives vital feedback, writing advice, and, I'm sure, a sense of community. But I think that's exactly what blogs can do too. Only better. The "what you had for breakfast" objectors have just failed to understand what blogging is. Blogs are a sort of dynamic, informal, infinitely-extensible, ad hoc community. Or at least they can be. Because here's the fantastic thing. People don't use these communication technologies in the way they're "supposed" to.

A blog was originally a "web log", intended as something like an online log or diary. The sort of place you might, indeed, detail what you had for breakfast. And I know lots of people use them in precisely that way. But most, it seems to me, do not. They invent no end of new uses for the technology put at their fingertips. They use blogs to broadcast writing advice, or to publish a magazine, or to share experiences of agents and publishers, or to build a writing "platform", or to just swap tales of the trials and tribulations of writing. The permutations are endless. From the writing blogs I follow - and the fine folks who follow me in return - I derive endless useful information, support and entertainment. And breakfasts are rarely mentioned.

Twitter is the same. If you go to the Twitter web site (did I mention I'm @SimonKewin by the way?), the tweet prompt says "What's happening?" - as with blogs, the intended use is for people to detail where they are, what they are doing etc. But in my experience the vast majority of tweets aren't like this at all. They're conversations. They're bookmarks of useful or interesting web pages. They're announcements or jokes. They're the rallying cries of campaigns. Once again, people have taken the technology and bent it to their own will.

I was, I'll admit, slightly sceptical when I started this blog. It did seem a little self-indulgent. Now I see it as a fundamental part of my identity as a writer. It's as simple as that. I wouldn't be without it. I don't think it's any more narcissistic than, say, writing a novel that you hope other people will want to buy and read.

And Sue, if you do read this, I'm sure you'll appreciate the irony of me using your comments as the material for a blog post. Bloody bloggers!


  1. I think, my friend, that you will find, as I have, that your best supporters are complete strangers. And that was not what I expected when I started my blog. I have my own Sue x 20. I think we all do.

  2. Yes, I've had this reaction. Also, trying to explain the idea of platform to people who will never need one is pretty difficult in my experience: 'What? It's all about advertising your books! Huh -- Bloody capitalists! etc.'

    I had toast too, by the way, with marmalade.

  3. Bruce,

    I do think you're right. And I'm constantly impressed at the help and insight complete strangers offer. Twenty Sues though? Wow!


  4. Thomas,

    Mmm, I like grapefruit marmalade but I have to say I'm not really a fan of other sorts. Orange marmalade is a bit sweet for me. But then, oddly, I love honey on toast. Gosh, perhaps I should start blooging about what I had for breakfast!

  5. I for one am always fascinated by what people have for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. I'm obsessed with food actually and should be writing a food blog instead of an author blog. I had a banana and a diet Coke for my breakfast. Plan on eating salad for lunch and hash for dinner.

    That out of the way, yes I've heard the negativity and even used to be like that myself, wondering why writers wasted time on blogs when they should be writing their novels. And I'll bet Sue starts a blog within a year. Because if she's online, and she wants to be published, she will hear it soon enough: "Start a blog!"

  6. KarenG,

    Thanks for the comment. Sounds like a fine, balanced diet. We shall see about Sue. If she does start blogging I might have to tell her about this post ...

  7. Nutrigrain bars for me.

    Only one person I know subscribes to my (thanks!)

  8. Nutrigrain bars?! Aren't they just full of sugar?

  9. Hi

    All power to the blog community! Please tell Sue not to judge unless she tries some - it's just like marmite!

    For breakfast I had honeyloops and soya milk. The cat had cooked chicken.


    p.s. I can't wait for word number 21...

    Take care

  10. Ah yes. All too familiar. Then again I would have probablt said the same myself a couple of years ago.
    Here's to blogging!

  11. Old Kitty,

    Gosh what a fascinating array of foods people have for breakfast. I clearly need to be more experimental. Our cat, I'm afraid, hat cat food. Again.

    Ah, yes, word 21. I can exclusively reveal it's a long one. Fourteen letters!

  12. I agree wholeheartedly with Bruce's comment.

    I don't tell friends I blog, simply because they don't share my passion for it. I have no interest in reading about what someone had for breakfast, but give me a good literary blog, and I'm a follower!
    My best supporters were also complete strangers.

  13. Donna,

    And I'm delighted to have you onboard. I promise no more mention of breakfasts. Unless, perhaps, it's Breakfast at Tiffany's ...

  14. I have a friend who posted pictures of her dinner every day for a year. The blog was called "See My Dinners" and was strangely compelling.

    Meals aside... blogs are a way of exchanging ideas with people you wouldn't otherwise reach. Several of my friends and family members don't really get it, which is fine. However I am surprised when writers disparage blogging - the benefits seem so obvious.

  15. Ha ha! Most amusing...

    Karen - I have started a site, because I realised I could get a presence on the net for my writing absolutely free! I intend to use it as a website rather than a blog. I edit constantly and it would be one more millstone. My beard is itching just thinking about it.

    Carry on blogging...

  16. Look out everyone, she's on to us! Her site (not a blog, oh no), is here. Sue writes some marvellous short stories and I heartily recommend taking a look at her work.

  17. Actually, I have a question. What is this platform you refer to? How does it help? I hear that some agents/publishers won't touch bloggers, so where are the benefits? Doesn't it just mean you have a few like-minded fans who WOULD buy your books IF they were published? I'm not disparaging, I'm genuinely puzzled.

    The reason I've put my stuff up is so that people I already know can (or not) read if they want to and I'll be none the wiser unless they want to comment. Much better than sending them a story and putting them on the spot.

  18. Sue,

    I could do a lot worse than pointing you at this post on Nicola Morgan's blog.

  19. Yes, I'm sure it's all true, but it would be just another distarction for me and I'm soooo easily sidetracked. Bugger, I've just caught sight of the game of patience I didn't finish because I got distracted...


I'd love to know what you think.