Why I Blog
Some recent discussions about garden blogging, particularly in response to proposed changes in the system of “picking” blog posts at Blotanical, have included a focus on why people blog. I have been struck by how often garden bloggers have described their blogs as something they do “for myself,” a personal record of their gardens that they keep online just because it is convenient. Some use the blog format because it allows them to share their garden record easily with friends and families; others have expressed their surprise at discovering that others, particularly strangers, were looking at their blogs. Those who see their blogs as personal records tend to strongly reject any system for evaluating blogs or blog posts, seeing evaluation as inappropriately injecting a competitive element into the personal sphere. These discussions have led me to reflect on my own very different experiences of and motivations for blogging and to consider an alternative perspective on evaluation.
I have long kept personal garden records, including both a spreadsheet where I record what is growing and blooming in my garden (see Keeping a Garden Record)and written personal journals that have come more and more in recent years to focus on my garden. So I don’t blog to keep a record for myself; I blog to connect with an audience of readers. Part of my motivation for blogging is to share my garden with others. But my more important reason for writing a garden blog is to practice and develop my creative writing skills. As an academic sociologist, I spend a lot of my time writing and am a published author of books and articles in my field; but my professional writing is a very different, more technical, type of writing. Ten years ago, I wrote an essay about the wild berries that grow on my property for a regional weekly newspaper, and I found that I enjoyed this kind of creative writing. In the years since, I have often thought about doing more of this type of writing, and doing it in a more serious and sustained way. Starting a garden blog was a step in this direction.
Because I blog for an audience of readers and because one of my goals is to improve my writing, I feel differently about evaluation than do many of those who blog primarily for themselves. Experts divide evaluations into two types — “summative” evaluations that summarize how good (or not) something is and “formative” evaluations that provide information that can be used to improve. It seems to be the “summative” forms of evaluation, which can feel like being graded, that many garden bloggers object to. But in order to improve my writing skills, I need constructive, evaluative feedback from readers. Comments left on my blog and reviews of my blog by others can sometimes provide this kind of “formative” evaluation. But the distinction between “summative” and “formative” isn’t always as clear in practice as it is in theory. Seemingly more “summative” forms of evaluation like readership statistics, numbers of “picks,” or numerical ratings of my blog posts can help me understand my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and I can also use them as yardsticks to measure my progress. If I sometimes obsess about how many readers I have, about the numbers of times a particular post was picked, or about my blog’s ranking, it’s not because I’m trying to find out if I’m better than other garden bloggers, but because I’m trying to figure out if I’m getting better at the kind of writing I want to do.