Writing is a bitch sometimes.
I’ve given myself a number of writing projects, some religious in nature and some more scholastic. Some are a blending of the both. I’ve also begun to explore what it would be like to take my writing to print.
All of these things are squeezed into my calendar and shuffled onto my desk throughout the week, and on some days — like the last four — it feels as thought the weight of these papers, ideas, self-directed critiques, and a few outside-constructive criticisms are simply too much to bear.
Yesterday, I tried to write about the return of my dreams, something which has begun since the start of October, after abandoning a post about how grumpy I was. When that post didn’t work, I tried to write about Samhain, but started to sound very Pagan 101 textbook-y, so I tossed it.
I don’t do textbook on this blog, and I’m not sure I really subscribe to the textbook approach to religion in general. I’m more a Socratic method kind of guy.
But some people want simple, effective recipes for how to make their spirituality come to life, how to become creative again, how to do the perfect spell to take their blues away. They want a spirituality instruction manual. And if that works for them, cool.
For me, though, nothing ever seems that paint-by-the-numbers. A spiritual practice, just like a good education, is always much messier and achier than that.
When you write a blog (and I know that many of my readers do, and some are considering starting up their own), you have to make some decisions about your audience. Do you want to engage with them? Do you want to preach to them? Do you want to show them how much you know?
What are you presuming about them? Are they less informed than you about your given topic (i.e. Druidry, Paganism, needlework — whatever you’re writing about), or are you going to treat them like peers?
These are questions that one doesn’t ask just once, either. Recently, as I’ve dipped my toes into the drafting of columns for print, I’ve come face to face with a different audience, one which may not engage with my writing in the same way that you do here on the blog. Print is not as immediately interactive as digital writing; your audience doesn’t post a response to what you’ve written, and you have to operate with this understanding that your writing is going to sit somewhere on a shelf, bound within the covers, static.
So I feel now, after having considered this new kind of writing and this new audience, that I’ve forgotten how to write here. I’ve forgotten what we talk about, or what you want to read about. I’ve been asking this question, what do they want to read about?, and the question has solidified around the mushiness of my writing muscles, like some calcified shell.
It’s like a cast, except I can’t write my well-wishes on it with a Sharpie, because I left all my pens at home.
(Or something like that.)
Writing about Pagan religiosity, in all of its divergent and differently-named forms, to an audience of Pagans can be tricky. You can write to explain some archaic history that might be relevant to a fraction of your readership, if that’s your thing. Or you can write directly from your tradition’s perspective, but that can become kind of insular and inside joke-ish. If you pass on those two approaches, you seem left with the Pagan 101/Recipe/Textbook/How-to pieces.
I try to write about what I know, or at least what I’m questioning. I find that writing about my experiences is much easier than answering the question, what do they want to read?
But I still have to ask…
What do you want to read?
When you visit this blog — any blog — what are you looking for? Do you want testimonials about lived experiences? Accounts of ritual, whether they be successful or fall-on-your-face-like? Do you want to read about the nuts and bolts of someone’s practice?
Now, take a second and consider what you want to read when you pick up a Pagan magazine or book. Does it differ from what you look for in a blog? If so, how? Do you read words differently off the page, and do you have different standards for inky writers?
Please, enlighten me. Shine a little light on the inside of your reader’s brain. Throw this writer a digital bone.
I like to read about theology, and serious pagan theology is hard to find. I appreciate high-level discussions and the assumption that I as a reader am intelligent enough to understand it not dumbed down. I also like people who grapple with the hard questions that get glossed over in many pagan books. (For example, whatever the merits of Diana Paxson’s “Essential Asatru” may be, she neglects to mention the role of human sacrifice in the anctient practices, nor to discuss any rationale for why they were necessary then and aren’t now — which is actually kind of a stumbling block for me.)
As a blogger, I am mostly talking about my efforts to complete ADF’s Dedicant Program and the challenges I encounter. I am not sure it’s of interest to anyone who isn’t also on the DP, and maybe not even many of them.
In addition to what Michael Elamson said above, I like to hear stories. Stories make a person — especially people that I interact with primarily online — come alive in my mind. They give turn an author into a person and help me to understand at least a part of what makes that person tick.
I like to read about experiences. 101 books, recipe books, ritual books abound. As a fairly new Pagan, I want to read HOW people live the life. How it effects them in the mainstream. What thoughts they are meditating on as part of the continuous learning and growing that seems to be the pavement of a Pagan path. When I look at paper bound writing I look for something I might return to again and again. In a blog, I like to be challenged to think or inspired.
As a Pagan reader, I’m looking for thoughts, concepts, practices and experiences that challenge me: to re-evaluate beliefs I may not have examined closely enough, to deepen my studies and practices, to try things I may not have tried… or have been afraid to try. I particularly like hearing about other Pagans’ experiences (in practice, in ritual, in community, and in life in general) since those can usually be read on several levels – they are helpful to the beginner and to the sage.
As a Pagan blogger, I find that when I try to write what I think people want to read, I write crap. My most popular posts tend to be the ones where I write something I feel strongly about. The second most popular posts are the ones where I explore something that really interests me… but my least popular posts come out of that category too. Sometimes my interest facilitates really good writing, while other times it takes me down a path nobody cares about but me.
For me, blogging is ultimately about exploring my religion and participating in the evolution of a new religion, and it’s about the discipline of writing. If others find that helpful, great. If not, so be it.
But if I was trying to make a living from my writing, I would probably feel differently.
I am always reading through blogs looking for new ideas, new things to try, new things to consider. I also like to read about other’s experiences and their tradition. Being a very eclectic Wiccan I love learning about practices that aren’t mine, new forms for rituals, anything that could help develop my practice, give me some insight into life, get my creative juices flowing, or just give me a good laugh 🙂
As a Pagan reader, I like reading about other Pagans’ thoughts on current affairs in the Pagan community, on their own spiritual practice, and unique experiences they may have had. I love learning about the day-in, day-out practices of other Pagans – presuming they are comfortable with sharing. Reading what others do inspires me to continue doing what I’m doing.
In the words of a writer friend of mine (who was publishing Pagan books before there even were such things as “blogs”) — “Buyers are liars.”
In other words, people will *say* they want Beyond-101 stuff, but they’ll continue to *buy* the 101 stuff. That’s what the numbers show anyway (probably because there are way more people dabbling for a lark than there are people who stick with it to deepen their practice). Because of the economics of publishing these days, the publishing industry seems to shy from risk-taking, so they encourage 101 writing because they know it sells. (I think there are more and more exceptions to this, though — Moon Books/O Books, f’ex.) Happily, b/c of ebooks and the internet’s long tail effect, self-publishing is starting to lose its stigma a bit.
But all that’s just me scribbling on your cast.
What *I* want to read, especially in print, are books that weave deep explorations of personal experience with philosophical insights that inspire active relationship with the world. Emma Restall Orr. David Abram. Bill Plotkin. Joanna Macy. Those are the books I go back to again and again. I like that kind of writing in magazines, too, in smaller single-serving bits. And blogs? Good ones are more like conversations, but honestly, they tend to be too short and sweet most of the time — I think my sweettooth is starting to rot from a glut of blogs.
As for my own writing, I’m going to echo John on this one — when I try to write what I think people want to read, I get too meta and my writing gets stiff and uninspired. When I write about what deeply interests me, sometimes I discover I’m the only one in the room who still wants to talk about the theology of Doctor Who after three hours. Sometimes I indulge in a bit of confessional writing, and that seems to get a lot of attention. I guess people enjoy seeing others who aren’t ashamed to wear their flaws on their sleeve. But staying rooted in that place of confession can become a way of navel-gazing, and it can quickly go from being honest about flaws, to wearing them like a badge of honor, to using them as a weapon. Too much confessional writing is bad for my soul and a stumbling block for my own spiritual work, so I try not to do it too often even though it’s the most popular stuff I write.
What I really like to read about are people’s stories on the path that they are on right now. Whether it’s 101 stuff; deep dark travels; doubts – as long as it’s written in a heartfelt, honest way, I’m in.
There’s a place for all of it, I think.
I personally like reading about people’s personal practice and views. I find I learn a lot like that from others. I love learning how they put things into practice, into their daily lives and interactions with others. I just like the personal touch really 🙂
I think the most important thing is passion. I’m going to care more about what you have to say if you show me that you care about it. That being said, I’d like to see more diversity, especially in a magazine format where multiple writers can contribute.
I read other blogs (and write my own) for the occasional ” A-ha” moment…I like my books to be a little more enduring. I may not go back to the blog that momentarily enlightened me, but I will always go back to a book on my shelf to refresh my memory or look for a deeper meaning in the words.
The truth is that I started writing my own blog because it was therapeutic; it was for me and just a few others who might have been interested in my occasional ramble or rant. The fact is, however, that now I also write for others because I have gained a bit of readership. I feel I owe it to the people who take time out of their day to make the effort to actually read my blog, and I appreciate and am grateful they care.They spur me on to be better at it, to go deeper, to pay attention to things I might not otherwise and to sometimes address those issues with my own unique voice.
The thing that keeps me personally humble, and the thing I like most about your style of writing, is that we both realize that we are only one voice out of many. I honor the voice inside of you as I honor my own -in a vast sea of others-as it should be.
Keep doing it just the way you’re lead, because it makes for a fabulous journey.
I try to read a very wide variety of blogs. Some of the things I really enjoy are: history; current events; personal experiences; biographies; meta discussions; philosophical ideas (the big hullabaloo about naturalistic paganism was fascinating to me, starting with the idea itself); and homegrown practices (hedge witchery, the tending of the dead, etc). I think there is great value from high theology to solitary functionality.
A skilled writer takes these formats and makes them relevant to anyone who is looking for enrichment, regardless of belief. I look for the same quality in books – and due to the permanence of print, I also look for consistency of thought and structure. A blog can evolve and change over time and stay compelling, but a book must have a solid and reliable structure to guide the reader through the whole volume.
I both read blogs and write one (or three…) and I ask the same questiosn. I like to read about current traditions and like to read about different perspectives and stories of old and how modern people interpret them. Usually, I end up liking to read the ones that spark an interest or are on track with my own questions or traditions. Now, if I am picking up a book, then I need it to be cohesive and stay on track on the topic at hand (versus a blog which can meander in a pleasant way) If I have to pay for soemthing (either subscription or purcahse price) I need it to be well researched, referenced and enjoyable. A blog, I’d read for enjoyment mostly, and only secondly for hardcore research/enlightment. I read a lot of blogs. I find that the ones I go back to again and again are the ones that engage me not only via topic but also asks quesitons that stay with me and make me delve deeper into my own beleifs and question them too. 🙂
I am still a sucker for the 101 occasionally, but it’s expected for us “baby pagans” I suppose. It’s rare to follow the advice or instructions, but baselines are nice. But the reason I follow bloggers such as yourself and Star Foster (among others) is for varying life experiences, opinions, philosophy and the occasionally blog like this that just makes me giggle because it is a random assortment of wtf?? I suppose after long periods of writing you run out of material but I personally very much enjoy all the “this one time at band camp” moments as much as those absolutely reaching lot spiritual moments. Blog on my friend!
Refreshingly (not reaching lot….stupid auto correct)
Can I take a snippet of everyone’s comment and call it my own?
I started blogging to record my wandering path into a witchcraft practice. That has expanded to talking about personal practice, daily life, my communion/offerings/harvests with/from the nature around me and occasional ramblings. I honestly was thrilled when my first follower showed up. I never really thought I’d develop an audience.
I think it’s very difficult to write what you believe/hope/guess others want to hear. Like others have said – some of what I considered my most profound posts garnered little notice, and other tossed-onto-the-interwebs-haphazardly type posts resulted in an avalanche of comments.
My style is eclectic though. In personal practice and in blogging. Not everyone has the patience for that. But it is also what I look for as a reader. My bookshelves contain everything from classical works to witchcraft 101 books, more herbal books than I can count, fiction, bibles, history books, collections of children’s stories and poetry books and more.
I love your blog style because you keep to a certain ‘feel’ but your topics can wander too. You ask important questions. You dig deep. If you wrote a book as honestly as you blog here, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. And buy extra copies to give away.
I want to read about the revitalisation of the old tribes. I tire of all the magic and occult esotericism in modern “paganism”. I want to see more good old fashioned tribalism, and I know I am not alone.
I like to read (from you) whatever you want to be talking about.
You. Want. To talk about.
Why? Because you’re interesting, gentle, and you have a pellucid writing style that is a pleasure to read.
I want to read something pithy, with meat to chew on and digest. If something struck you strongly, it probably has that kind of density. Share it. I also like to read things that talk about worldview and how our religious lives and actions reinforce our chosen worldviews. How do you live and express your religion in the world? How is it meaningful to you every day, or just today, right now? Tell me. I like blog posts that invite thoughtful discourse. Brain food. Share that revelation you had today. I might inspire me. Thanks for writing, and for asking. 🙂
The blogs I read seem to fall into two types. One is like Cake Wrecks or Tiny House Living… I’m mostly in it for the pictures. The others (including this one) I read for a tiny snap shot of how people integrate a specific interest (that I share) into their lives. This is why I love Pagan Soccer Mom. I have kids, she talks about how being pagan works as mom. I like The Yarn Harlot not for the patterns but because I can relate to what it is like knitting on a deadline. I am commenting on this post because I have a silly little blog and I can relate to how hard it is to find a topic balance. I read books for entertainment or information. I read blogs for a glimpse into how the heck everyone else is managing to get by.
I like to learn things about the Gods I worship, or even ones I don’t worship. I like learning things about others’ paths. I like to read about people’s religious lives and how they intersect with their secular lives. I like reading the hard-hitting, deep-reaching, transformative stuff and I like reading silly, humorous posts. I like reading about theology intersecting with video games or books or food or hats. I like reading rants; I like reading posts about paganism and social justice and where they intersect.
But most of all? I like reading something that obviously *means something* to the writer. Reading something the writer doesn’t connect with, doesn’t have any real passion for is boring. It’s obvious when this happens, and it doesn’t get me hyped about what I’m reading. If the writer doesn’t care, why should I?
So in the end, I say write what you want. Write what you _feel_. People will want to read that.
I second the notion of serious pagan theology… though really I like honesty. Glossy is what drew me to Wicca when I was a young teenager, and glossy is what inevitably sent me looking for greener pastures.
I like hearing how one’s religion is done in the context of their location, though. If you’re a druid, for instance, why only pay attention to the trees that are native to the British Isles if you live nowhere near there? Where role does the cyprus play in your practice? Or the ficus, or the redwood? I like hearing about all the myriad ways in which people honor their gods and spirits, and -why- they do it that way. The intersection between tradition, locale, and divinities/spirits is what I’m most interested in right now, and the combination of those things is likely to be completely different for everyone. I want things that I can ONLY get from a personal blog, you know? If I can find it in a book from Barns & Noble, then I get bored.
I also like seeing pictures of practice too, but I guess I’m just a voyeur that way.
My blog writes from the assumption that no one is going to know about the mythology and gods I’m writing about (almost a year in and my assumptions are still correct), but I treat them as equals. Just… equals that haven’t encountered the kinds of things I may be talking about before. I write to educate, entertain, and document my progress, not to mention the fact that I write to sort out my own thoughts. People seem to enjoy it.
The blogs I prefer, and try to write, are the ones which are personal. I want to know how your polytheism is infusing your life and how it outwardly manifests. I want inspiration for my own practice. And those blogs will also bring a lot of other material to the table as well, so it does not become rote.
I struggle with this. It’s why I rarely write on my own Pagan blog and why I only read a handful of Pagan blogs. I find many Pagan blogs redundant and superficial. I’m not entirely clear on what I want, but I know what I don’t want.
I’m not interested in personal gnosis or “how I came to Paganism” stories. I’m not interested in 101 material. I’m totally over debates about what makes a “real” witch, whether Gerald Gardner invented or inherited a tradition, arguments about being in the broom closet, and so forth. I like looks at historical paganism, but I don’t want a long diatribe about all the ways in which we contemporary Pagans are doing it wrong or dull pseudo-scholarship.
I do like deeper examinations in theology, new ideas for ritual techniques, looks at how different Pagan paths approach worship, the application of one’s Pagan values to difficult real-world situations, and adapting paganism for one’s local area.
Cosette – I want to read a blog that could be summarized by your last paragraph! Are there any that are satisfying these criteria for you?
No single blog does all of these, but there are several I enjoy. I read your blog, for instance 🙂 and I read The Wild Hunt, A Heathen’s Day, Into the Mound, Religio et Pietas at Patheos, and Way of the Rabbit. I also like to keep up with Chas Clifton because he will post goings-ons in Pagan Studies.