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Can Bloggers Write?

So asks Stephen Howe in the New Humanist:

And into this febrile environment come two preposterous new books – Richard Seymour’s The Liberal Defence of Murder and Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism – both of which think they have found out who is responsible for our current predicament. They are both diatribes – Seymour’s from the British far left, Goldberg’s from America’s ultra-right – directed at the same target: the follies, errors, pretensions and crimes of liberalism. Or rather, of liberals, for neither Jonah Goldberg nor Richard Seymour really tries to show that the large, heterogeneous assembly of individuals they abuse is actually united by anything much at all, and certainly not by a shared philosophy or ideology that could aptly be labelled an “ism”. Indeed for both authors the word “liberal” in their titles really means something more like “a bunch of people I can’t stand who are somewhere vaguely to the left (for Goldberg) or right (for Seymour) of me”.

Almost all Seymour’s previous writing appears on his well-known blog Lenin’s Tomb, while Goldberg, as well as much pontificating on other media, indulges his blogorrhea on the National Review Online and Bloggingheads.TV. Their shared apparent inability ever to use ten words where a hundred will do, to ask themselves whether their thoughts will be worth rereading next week or next year, or even whether what they wrote today is consistent with yesterday’s screed: all these are endemic and maybe fairly harmless failings in the blogosphere. Books, though, are supposed to be a bit different. People pay real money and give up precious shelf-space for them. They are supposed to have some enduring value, however slight. At the very least, writers shifting genres need to think about necessary changes in the way they write, and discover the mysteries of self-editing.

Perhaps, though, people like our two miscreants are incapable of that, and need – for society’s protection – some harsher punishment than a mere ban. They need to be locked up, somewhere without access to email, phone, Web, TV or radio, without human contact except (of course) that they’d be forced to be 24/7 in one another’s company, and with nothing to read except the Collected Works of JS Mill. To avoid either kicking or boring each other to death, they might feel forced to read him. It just might do them some good.

Here’s Norm’s answer:

[Y]es, bloggers can write decent books. (1) Some writers are bloggers. (2) Two bad books by bloggers does not a law establish. (3) Some bloggers write well even on their blogs. (4) There are people capable of operating in more than one mode.

Blogging is a very different skill from writing a book. For many, political blogging is first and foremost an act of advocacy. Each blogger develops their own rules, that shape their style. We write in short punchy sentences. We limit each paragraph to the analysis of a single idea. We build on past arguments.

But there is more to blogging than simply declaiming into a keyboard in an empty room. The secret of successful blogging is to develop a personal, sometimes confessional relationship with your readers. We interact, and react to each other, and to the facts and political moods, as they shift. Reading a book is essentially a solitary occupation. Blogging is communal.

There’s another, often forgotten golden rule of blogging. Don’t blather on for too long.