To Blog is to Riff

On Thursday, July 30, KQED’s Michael Krasny interviewed blog expert, Scott Rosenberg to discuss his new book, Say Everything, a chronicle of the history of the web log, its contemporary significance and how it may evolve.  More interesting than the typical praises Rosenberg lauded concerning the advent of the web were the comments from people who called in and shared their experiences and advice on how to be a critical blog reader and a savvy blogger.

The focus of the show was  to “privilege the new,” and Rosenberg argued that blogging is a way of “writing a collective history.” He compared the proliferation of blogs as a digital “time capsule.” A caller ingeniously explained her blog as “a writer’s open studio.” Blogging allowed her to share work with like-minded artists and receive feedback. Another caller commented on the popularity of blogging among women, emphasizing that the web provides a means for women to express themselves. “A blog of her own,” they attested.

Of course there are obvious dangers to blogging, but its not as if these dangers didn’t exist before the digital age. They’ve just become more pronounced. There will always be rude naysayers, and there’s always the danger of plagiarism and copyright issues. None of the drawbacks are new. Same game, different playing field–or should we say, additional playing field?

Towards the end of the segment, one of the final callers raised probably the stickiest point about blogging as a “stand-in.” He accused blogging as a  “poor substitute for writing.” The show didn’t have time to address this concern, which leaves a wonderful loose thread for us to pick up and tug to our heart’s content.

Blogs allow writers to sift through the chaos of inspiration and research we’re bombarded with daily. We receive RSS feeds from the major newspapers and magazines, we follow our colleagues’ blogs, we listen to the radio, watch TV, attend the cinema, leaf through countless journals, periodicals, and, of course, novels. Every moment thoughts stream through our mind, whether consciously, sub-consciously, or even unconsciously. We are constantly filtering and internalizing. Blogging provides an effective means to  focus on a few of the many stimulants. We are forced to find connections, decipher and translate. As bloggers we learn the writing process on a smaller scale that ideally should lead us back to our larger and loftier projects.

As a fiction writer, blogging has become a wonderful outlet for artistic discovery amidst a sea of information and an ever-expanding universe of art and culture. Each time I tinker with a post, I learn a new artistic path. A new method of shaping thoughts into words springs forth, and I’m forced to take risks. The wonderful part about it is that I don’t have to worry about the consequences of fiddling with form, content, or voice because its just a blog. Posts aren’t supposed to be fully formed, seamless works of art. I’m allowed to have fun via a completely different medium while playing with an unfamiliar genre, mainly non-fiction. Blogging is, at its heart, improvisation with a few focused and anchored riffs. Like jazz, blogging feeds off creative freedom, collaboration, and interaction.

Blogs allow writers to chew on thoughts and ideas a little longer, so the news headlines, the conversation with a fellow writer over lunch, and the film watched last Friday night, don’t just get consumed and forgotten. There’s no in one ear and out the other, but ideas once blogged and posted can be woven tighter into the artistic tapestry. Blogging is meta-cognitive practices via digital means. Thinking aloud via the web.

How does a writer ensure blogging adds to her writing and doesn’t mutate into some vampiric time sucking monster? She sticks to her guns. Successful bloggers are armed with a set of guidelines and principles that they keep to, reinforcing the writing discipline. Yet blogging requires writers to also be flexible enough to reform these principles when necessary. The standards held thus far for this blog:

  • “Keep it short and sweet.” Never did the saying ring more true than on the web. A post can be as brief as three sentences as long as it…
  • Challenges the writer and reader. Blogging is a sport to keep the writerly mind fit and active. Each post should stretch the writer’s perspective into a completely different angle.  Writers need to find new approaches to age old subjects. Yet…
  • Blog posts should stick to a certain focus. Keep to a theme for continuity. Let the larger, loftier projects dictate what gets posted, so the end justifies the means. At the same time, strive to…
  • Intellectually pique readers’ and writer’s interest. Writer and reader must equally learn something new. Writing the blog should unearth for the writer some nugget of information or reveal a new approach, while the reader should gain odd and end bits of knowledge that prove useful to their own lives.
  • Tickle the imagination through style, image, metaphor, figurative language, voice, and even through visual and auditory means. Exploit all the tools language, narrative, and digital technology offers to capture readers’ attention.
  • Perfectionism is not necessarily the name of the game. Again, keep posts short, and sweet with user-friendly interactivity. Posts should be rough around the edges. Loose ends leave readers and writers hungry for more.
  • Actively collaborate and constantly riff and interact with fellow writers, thinkers, artists, educators–wherever inspiration can be found, seek it out and make connections.

To blog is to riff. Take a few notes from the great jazz artists and follow their lead.  Rahsaan Roland Kirk, my namesake, brilliantly played four instruments at once and became a legend. Writers can blog and write at the same time and the mediums can and should complement one another:



  1. Hey Rashaan, I enjoyed this post. I really like the ideas of riffing, improvisation, and collaboration. I am also with “A Blog of Her Own,” given the negotiations of public space, and platforms upon which women can “speak” without being cut off. I actually do wish more women in our communities would take advantage of this. “Public” is still such an intimidating space for many women to occupy, and for many, I think “public” gets associated with “perfect” presentation. Anyway, lots to think about here. Thanks again!

  2. Very well-written piece, Rashaan. Your posts just get better and better each time. RE is definitely a testament to how blogging can benefit one’s writing.

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