Monday, September 21, 2009

So You Think You Can Blawg...

It's fall, loyal readers- and fall brings with it new classes, fresh blood at the law school, and of course, absurdly high hopes for my chronically disappointing football team. And Halloween candy. But that's another story.

This blog post is not about The Little Football Team That Broke My Heart, or why those candy corn pumpkin things are the vilest food creation on the planet except for fried oysters. This post is about being a blogger (or a blawger, if you must) in a law school world. If you're thinking of starting a law blog, here's my take on it:

On blogging. Or not: Fall always brings a new crop of law student blogs. They are mostly 1Ls, chronicling the life/times/terror of 1L year, and they (nearly) all peter out by mid-October. That, to my mind, is a terrible shame. Though I have no great qualms about referring to myself as "the few, the proud...the blogging," it is nice to have some fresh blood on the law-blogging scene.

Blogging is fun! Or, at a minimum, it is an exercise in creativity and expression that has very little to do with actually being in law school. And that, frankly, is pretty nice.

But blogging is also a commitment People start up for a variety of reasons (keeping in touch with family, having an outlet, narcissism), but when the chips fall and it is outlining season again, many blogs start to fall apart. This is not a "new puppy" level commitment, but if you have a hard time keeping goldfish alive, you may have a hard time keeping the blog up and current, too. If updating only sporadically (and a readership that corresponds with that habit), doesn't bother you, then you have nothing to worry about. Just be aware of the mounting guilt that comes with abandoning your one loyal reader. Writers block is a terrible thing.

On Anonymity: Many beginning bloggers opt for an anonymous blog. There are great perks to this- your blog won't show up in a google search of your name, and it may give you a little more freedom to write about what you please. On the flip side, there are compelling reasons not to blog anonymously, neatly summarized at Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil. Obviously, I come out on the anonymity side of the argument, with certain caveats.

I opted for anonymity for a number of reasons. First, because I am incredibly sheepish about connecting my writing to my name- I much prefer that School Me and Blog Me operate independently. Second, because this blog is largely personal - I write as an outlet, and I add very, very little academic content to the interwebz. This blog will never be a resume booster for me, so I have no great need to attach my name to it. Third, I prefer anonymous blogging because (as those of you who subscribe to the feed know) I am not much of a proof reader.  I prefer anonymous blogging because it gives me flexibility in the things that I write: with some filtering and a fair bit of free-flowing thought, I can dump my "This is Me" all over the internet without caveats or mincing around the point. 

The freedom you get from anonymous blogging is not a free-pass to no-holds-barred snark, however. Thanks But No Thanks is not a resume booster, but it will never be a resume killer, either. I don't name names, I fudge minor details, and I try to keep the potentially defamatory information to a minimum. More importantly, I don't really give people a reason to want to know the law student behind the screen. Would I be fun to take our for beers? Yes, and you should do that. Do I make anyone so angry that they want to seek me out and egg my house? Not on a regular basis.

When I first started blogging, I was super-secretive about my online persona. I never blogged from school, and I compulsively checked sitemeter to ensure that nobody from NoSchool was reading. Three years later, I've gotten a little more laid-back. After making it through 2 years of law school, my sense of my own importance has changed dramatically. Though it may be a great shock to you, dear reader, most of the people who come across this blog don't actually care who I am in real life. Except maybe the ones who come here googling "elephant boods," but thats another story.

Whether you generally choose anonymity or not, I think it is a wise move to share the blog with those you're closest to. Roommate and Darwin both read here, as do Funny Mean Friend and a few others who are near and dear. The reasons for this are twofold: I am a terribly chatty drunk, and I blog about them fairly regularly. Given the option between having them know about the blog now, and having them potentially find out later, I went with the option that caused the least amount of drama. Also, would-be-anonymous bloggers: the Internet is not a diary. It is public. Don't you think its a little creepy to send up public missives about your nearest and dearest without their consent?

If you think you want to blog anonymously, Citizen Media Law Project has a great guide here, with lots of links and resources. If you do jump on board the John Doe anonymity train, however, keep in mind: nothing on the Internet is ever really secret. Blog anonymously, but blog with the recognition that you may be uncovered. There are trackbacks, there are drunks with big mouths, and there is such a thing as revealing too much online. There is Google cache- and that, friends, should give you some temperance the next time you want to pour a little vitriol into the internet. Anonymous blogging is many things, but it is not an invisibility cloak. Conduct yourself accordingly.

Anonymity goes two ways: Dennis Jansen over at No. 634 offers great advice when he suggests that you create "composites" of your professors and other frequent players on the blog. Blur the edges of reality just a little bit, for your own sake and for the sake of those you blog about. Unless you intend to call someone out (in which case, have at it, and good luck), identifying people on your blog is just asking for trouble. Relationships and the social network, especially in law school, are far too complicated to go burning your bridges at the first sign of annoyance. The legal world is small, and the economy is terrible- don't go making enemies you don't need.

Even when people really, really, suck (and believe me, they will), its worthwhile to tailor your message and take a deep breath. Think about it: unless you're the H.L. Mencken of the law-blogging world, you're going to sound like a raving asshole. There's an old adage about glass houses and stones in there somewhere, but the moral of the story is this: if you must mock (and as a law student, you were born with the inclination to), mock wisely, and make it worth reading. Be the witty commentator, not the angry grandpa on the porch next door.

Link, comment, link,repeat: Bloggers who have readers are readers. If you don't take the time to catch up on other people's blogs, do not expect them to trouble themselves with yours. Not only will reading other blogs introduce you to people outside of your law school environment, but you'll get to be part of an ongoing conversation in the law student world. No man is an island, and no law student blogs alone. Show some link lovin'.

Give credit where credit is due. If someone inspired you, reference them. Don't quote without asking (it's rude!) and don't, for the love of all that is holy, plagiarize off your fellow bloggers. We are selfish about the things we create, and do not like to share without credit.

Take the time to comment, and develop a blogroll. Blogrolls have two major bonuses: first, they allow you to connect with other blogs. When you add my blog to your blogroll, I'll add yours to mine. We both get more traffic, and the internet hums along more harmoniously. When you add me and Joe the Juggler to your blog roll, I read your blog, and then I get to read Joe's blog. More fun for everyone! 

When you comment on my posts, I read your blog. Bonus points if you tell me I am smart or clever, clearly. Negative points if you use my blog to promote your own (unrelated) agenda or male enhancement pills. Not only do I read your blog when you comment on mine, but the people who read my blog see your comment, and then they read your blog, too. But until you say hello, your fellow bloggers don't know you're out there- and then its just your mom and that one creepy guy from Canada reading your thoughts on law school. And when you reference your two loyal readers, well- wouldn't it be nice to have readers that aren't quite so cliche?

On finding your voice: If you are a 1L, you will invariably blog about: your lack of sleep, how scary the Socratic method is, how your classmates make you want to smack them with your Glannon on Civ Pro, the hairy hand case in torts, and how exams are officially The Worst Thing Ever. The fact that these are such staples of 1L blogging doesn't need to stop you from writing about them: one only needs to take a short trip down the teen vampire romance novel aisle at Borders to know that just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean you can't, too.

If you frequent the Law School Roundup here, you'll see many of the "standard" law school topics covered in the featured blogs. The thing that makes these blogs stand out to me is that they have found a unique way of describing their world. They have a funny turn of phrase, a new perspective, or a healthy honesty that I enjoy. They are poignant or funny, or express a common experience in a different way. New material is great, but part of the value of blogs is being able to look at the world through someone else's (overworked, caffeine-soaked) eyes.

Blog postings can be pretty hit or miss. I don't re-read my blog posts unless I am very, very drunk, so I can't give you an honest review of my own work, but I can definitely tell you that some of it "adds value" to the law-related internet yammering, and some of it is pure drivel. Much like photography, the key is often to put more out there in the hopes that something will be a hit. Reading more blogs helps, too. Virgin in the Volcano and (In)Sanity Souffle both have a unique voice, and reading them inspires me to write more.

If you weren't in law school, you could, you know, read actual books, but let's not shoot too high, shall we?

Happy blogging!


idwsj said...

My 1L blogroll is dying already. I feel compelled to pour out some liquor for my homies, but I refuse to do so until February.

teasinglydiverse said...

Nicely said. I would echo a lot of those things.
I usually read in a reader, so #1 thanks for featuring me in the most frequent RoundUp and #2 I love that your profile picture is an ostrich. Or an emu. I don't really know how to tell them apart...

Legally Fabulous said...

You were pretty much right on in everything you said in this post... especially for why people blog.

I totally blog out of narcissism. I think I am really freaking awesome and hilarious, and I want to share that with everyone else. Because I'm so nice like that. Ha

Oh, and because really ridiculous things happen in my life, and it's nice to have a place to write about them.

ImNobody said...

Accurate. And then, I am validated, because people tell me I am funny, so I blog more. It's really a terrible cycle.

JD-Maybe said...

This is one of the best posts ive read in a while. For the record I read your blog because I like it and if it gets me MOST of my readers (which it does) well then that is an added bonus! Thank you! :)

Cowgirl in the City said...

Lol. love it, and very accurate! Since I had a blog before I started law school this fall, I don't think I'm totally on the 1L bandwagon, but I've certainly had a lot less time to blog!

But I'm following you now, love this post! And I'll be back to read more when I should be studying torts or actually working!

My Bestfriend's Little Sister(MBLS) said...

Thank-you very much for this post. I've just started blogging and found this advice to be very practical and sound!

jaxcat said...

Great advice.

Energy Spatula said...

Holy crap - I can't believe how far law school blogs have come! Now there's instructions...who knew??

josh said...

you don't re-read your blogs unless your very drunk, lol that's funny

All rights reserved to my snotty and generally self-deprecating writing. And if your comments bother me, I'll delete them. That's right, pumpkin.
...How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
-- Emily Dickinson