Giving students a blog provides an instant audience, and a shift in identity for the blogger. A blogger looks at life with a writer’s eye and awareness of the audience; a blog gives its author a chance to examine, name and reflect on events, and may offer vindication and healing if the blogger is courageous enough to tell the truth.
Once again, I’ll use my recent experience with Mistaken Identity to exemplify what an audience can do for a student writer.
We hadn’t planned to do anything more than collect Sheila’s stories for a few friends, but the response to the initial print run made us think about finding a wider audience. So I undertook to explore the process of making it an e-book, publishing it at Smashwords.
When the e-book came out, I made her a blog, primarily to get the word out about the e-book, but it too grew into more than we expected. She called it “Stories from Life.”
A Blog Brings a Community
Sheila had only the most basic of computer skills when we started the project, and there was nothing intuitive in her use of the blog in the beginning. However, she quickly came to manage most parts of it on her own. On the side, nothing to do with me, she started reading and responding to other bloggers writing about similar themes. She found a little on-line community of people who liked what she wrote, and who wrote things she was interested in reading. She made comments on their blogs; they responded to her posts.
Sheila loved having a blog. We posted a couple of stories from the book, to give people a sample of what they would find if they bought it, stories of a woman frequently mistaken for a man, with outcomes variously ridiculous, funny, dangerous, and humiliating.
Of course, the fact of writing Mistaken Identity did not mean that people stopped mistaking her for a man in her daily life; soon she had a couple of more experiences that she wrote about directly on her blog. Her readership had become a safe place for her to reflect in print on her life as she lived it.
Blogging Changes Experience
As she took on the identity of a blogger, she began to look at her experiences differently. Instead of dreading an encounter with someone who thinks she is a man, she began to see it as grist for the mill; she began to look forward at the beginning of her day to writing about it at the end.
For example, she muses about going shopping for presents for a sister and a sister-in-law and wonders about the clerks she will meet in the body and bath department:
Thanks to my new blog, I am in anticipation of the adventure. Will they even spot me as a woman? And if not, will they be kindly, or fawning, or flirtatious? or however they feel they should minister to this man so endearingly out of his depth.
And do I play them and THEN tell them their mistake, which could only exacerbate their “gender shock” and all the forms that might take, or do I tell them at the first sign of the wrong pronoun? …
But I will have to report “after” and that might make me no end of brave, plus, nothing like an audience to embolden one. (November 21, 2012).
A Whole New Power
After writing a post about going through airport security (Patted Down, March 5, 2013), she says,
But writing the stories in Mistaken Identity and having them published and having this blog to add chapters whenever have given me a whole new power over the potential insults and a whole new joie de vivre in the flaunt of it. I almost look forward to potential theater for good “copy”; I hone my witty comebacks. So much better than a state of semi-dread that I might need a washroom, not a pretty picture for a woman of my middle, post-menopausal age.
It has been great to get this off my chest and I really do feel quite differently about the whole thing. So my thanks to you all for listening. I love having a blog, really.
Thanks to my friend Sheila Gilhooly for letting me talk about her experience in writing for an audience. I have seen very similar changes in ABE/Literacy students (Caroline, Naomi) whose writing finds an audience of friends and strangers.