Why Write?

I started blogging three and a half years ago in the fall of 2008.  I took it up for no particular reason — except that everybody was blogging, so it seemed as if I should give it a try. Also, I’d just quit my job and needed — well, what? Some kind of anchor or structure to my life, I’m guessing.

Anyway, I started blogging and took to it almost immediately. I’m not a very talkative person, so didn’t think I’d have much to say. Turned out, I did. I blogged regularly, once I got the hang of it. I wrote about politics, my daily life, family, men, women, marriage, friendships, things that made me happy, things I found funny, things that broke my heart.

I broke the cardinal rule of blogging by not having a niche or particular subject I wrote about. I also lacked a constant tone. Sometimes, I was morose, other times, a wiseacre. I joked about cancer, I whined about colds.

But, niche-free and emotionally erratic, I kept blogging. I loved it. I went around telling people I was born to blog. Since I’d always been attracted to low-paying work, I told people, blogging was perfect for me since it paid nothing.

Anyway, I never seemed to lack for anything to write about and I was always motivated to hit the keyboard and opine about something, anything. I wrote about everything from the healing power of gelato to getting an MRI to realizing why I should stop whining and get some fucking perspective.

For some reason, that all came to a halt last week. I didn’t feel like blogging. The thought of it depressed me. I avoided my office, I stayed away from my computer; both seemed to reproach me for my inactivity. Maybe it was because I had a lingering malaise from a cold or that my husband was out of town for too long. Maybe too much activity, between moving and having a novel come out, had worn me down. I didn’t feel depressed (I know, too well, what that’s like — and it’s hideously painful).  But I did feel down. I couldn’t imagine writing when I felt so depleted of any kind of energy or humor. So I didn’t.

This week, I feel better. But I’ve been asking myself questions I’ve never asked before. Why do I blog? What difference does it make? What good does it do?

If you write, I’d be curious how you answer those questions yourself. If you read my blog, I’d like to know what you find in it and why you come back to it.

I know, I know: It sounds like I’m fishing for compliments. Probably because I am. But, you know, sometimes you just have to fish or cut bait. Let me know what you think. I need to hear it.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

39 comments… add one
  • I blogged on my personal blog for many years because it helped me recover my own writing voice after too many years pleasing others. I also wanted to learn to blog–I called it staking my turf in the new media landscape. It’s a particular kind of writing that not everyone does right, I think. But I, too, ran out of steam on the unpaid blogging and my personal blog now sits languishing.

    I read your blog because you entertain me. And so I can gnash my teeth when you are more clever, witty, thoughtful, etc. than I.

  • I have felt the same way recently with my own blog, struggling to figure out where I think I am and where I am going. I started mine as an experiment, to see if I could reliably keep a diary that I didn’t end up burning. Whether it has done any good for the world is a nebulous thing. but it has done so much for me. It’s given me space to work out ideas and record my own history. Writing in my blog has lead me to relationships and friendships I never would have found otherwise, ones that fundamentally changed my life. Ten years of my life have gone into my blog. Maybe I just feel daunted by the weight of my own history.

    I keep reading because I like your written voice. It encompasses a lot of things I am not, so maybe it is just my opportunity to experience a life not my own? Plus I live in Austin and there’s a certain enjoyment in recognizing a fellow citizen.

  • I love your blog. It moves me; it makes me laugh and cry. I don’t know why, but it feels like we have lots of things in common which I guess is self affirming in some way. I had a blog, too, but I also burned out. I chalked it up to the fact that I’m not really a writer, but maybe it just goes with the territory. I certainly hope you don’t stop.

  • I enjoy your blog. Your not afraid to put it all out there, and to heck with PC. Biggest plus is your just down home funny. The comments are not full of sweety, sweety, fluff that is so much a part of blogs today. No one wants to be considered a pot stirrer, except for you & me…

  • Cindy A Link

    I write because I love, love, love to entertain people — even if it’s just the five members of my critique group. Please don’t stop blogging, Ruth. Yours is at the top of my blog list and YOU ENTERTAIN ME!

  • I blog to chronicle my various experiments and adventures in “living on the smell of an oily rag” as they say Down Under. It can be a lot of fun for someone with an odd sense of humor and I’ve got one of those.

    I come round here for a laugh, for a cry, for your unique view on the world. I’m never disappointed. I’m glad you are back, but I understand the need for a breather now and again.

  • Kel Link

    I enjoy your blog quite a bit. But geez – you said you had the whole Irish-Scots thing going on…Wouldn’t that bit of ancestry just tell you to pipe down with the angst and get on with it? You need to blog because you can and most others can’t. Art just IS.

  • Cindy D. Link

    I need you to keep writing because you express my thoughts better than I do. I have your blog on RSS and each time you post it is like getting a letter from a friend. You make me laugh and cry and want to answer each of your posts with validation and examples from my own life that connect to what you have said. The first time I became aware of your writing was an article you did about hating all the pink crap that people want to give you when you’ve had breast cancer. You so accurately expressed things that I had wanted to say and you did it in a way that was funny, provacative, and truthful.

    You and I have so many things in common that each of your posts makes me want to sit down and have a cup of tea (or a margarita) with you and discuss the topic further.

    I need you to blog because you are my “alternate personality.” You are living/have lived the life I would have liked to live if I had taken a different road. I love hearing your stories about “old Austin.” I get to live vicariously a year in New York City, living in a condo downtown, knowing some very cool people, and being honest, funny, and witty about all of it. I also like that you are honest about being a 50-something woman and what that means in real life rather than in Hollywood’s narrative.

    You give me courage to get up each day and face the world with a little more grace, humor, and an occasional snarky remark. I feel less alone in the world because of your writings. What you say matter to me and hundreds of others. Take some time to nourish your body and your soul and then come back to those of us who’s lives are so much richer because you take the time to write about your own.

  • My name is linked to my recent post on this very topic, back in the dark month of February. The big why.

  • I read your blog because it is always interesting and we shared some of the same experiences, you lost your Daddy, I lost my husband.
    You are the only blogger I read that has their own bridge. We both love New York City, I only get to visit, you got to live there and I enjoyed hearing about your time there. What a wonderful experience. Was that your husband I saw on TV, a show about Jon Benet Ramsey, or are there two James Pennebakers?

  • Oh I think we do it because the words don’t give us a choice. They are there waiting to be written. So we write them.

  • Blogging, in a way, is like having a conversation. You say what you think and others respond. Sometimes I don’t want anything to do with it, but other times it makes me so happy. Today, for example, a woman commented on a post from December on my MarthaAndMe blog where I posted a recipe for a recipe I once saw Hal Linden make on TV, 20 years ago. It turns out she has been looking for that recipe for years. It was really weird, but it was also kind of great to have that strange connection.

  • Paula Burney Link

    I love your blog because they are always fascinating and usually funny. But if not funny, riveting, anyway for its content. I should blog if I knew where to start doing one. I think it’s a healthy way to get things out that maybe you can[t communicate to those close to you. And you’re not keeping it all inside. That’s at least healthy. Hope you’re doing well, cousin!

  • I’ve felt this way several times in the three years that I’ve been blogging. I am actually quite impressed that this is the first lull you’ve felt in 3 1/2 years.

    I read your blog because you don’t have a niche; because sometimes you damn funny and sometimes your damn poignant, but always you tell a good story and I’m a sucker for a good story.

  • Donna Link

    I look forward to each of your blogs. Certainly I noted you’d not blogged last week and felt a sense of loss and wondered what your silence meant.

    What keeps me looking forward to your next blog? Experiencing your fresh and precise writing would be enough. But you add much more. Often it’s your laugh-aloud humor or dry wit. Equally appealing is your self-awareness that awes me and your subtle and compassionate observations about people, politics, life. They open worlds of thought and emotion that are absent in my life unless I read your blog.

    Many people can learn to write well and be funny. What brings me back and feeds my mind and soul though is the “only Ruth can do this” sensitive blending of sharp thinking with genuine feelings. Each blog is a few paragraphs yet it offers us the depth of a whole lifetime lived with passion and grit and honesty. It’s a privilege to read your blogs. Thank you for sharing them.

  • Craig Link

    It would seem, by all appearances, to be a fairly simple matter. You write some thoughts down, shove them out the stage curtains into the lights, and let people have a look at them. It is just not that easy.

    I tested the blog waters in 2000, developed a fan base, wrote like a man possessed and thought this is good. By early 2004 I was managing a post a month at best and decided to do all involved a favor by putting my little blog to rest.

    I think if you are writing in your office and that is where it stays then it is a piece of cake, assuming you like the old fashioned diary.
    When you involve the reader it becomes a different animal. You start thinking I need to write a humorous entry because I don’t want everyone thinking I am depressed, or vice versa. Sometimes you resonate with people and they comment. Sometimes you resonate with people and they have to go pick up the kids.

    Speaking as a fan I would like to see you continue writing your lyrically precise tales of everyday life that no one comes close to in my realm of the blogosphere. But that is selfish. I’m not the one having to summon the emotional energy to keep us sharks fed.

    In the words of the late 20th century philosopher ” no one does that hoodoo that youdoo so well…”

  • Marsha Canright Link

    How else would I keep up with you? Your blog has made me smile at least three times — that I can remember — and laugh out loud at least once. I can’t say for sure that it gives me a fresh perspective because I seem to agree with everything you say. I also quote you … liberally … I don’t read every single blog but when I don’t, I miss you (or the blog). I can’t tell them apart. So take a breather from time to time but don’t abandon your silent but applauding cyberpals.

  • I began reading your blog a couple of months ago simply because it brings me joy. I look forward to each post, the topics you bring up & your style of writing reminds me of an old friend. The fact that you haven’t had a constant tone is exactly what make this blog so interesting, your a real person! Your full of everything that makes us complicated and your even brave enough to share it all. That the blog doesn’t have a particular topic is one of the things I appreciate most about it, I don’t come here looking for info. on cooking or relationship advice. I come here just to hear what you have to say on any given day. I’m not a writer though I have thought about taking it up. Perhaps you just need a little time off to relax and self care. I’m sure you will make the decision that is best for you.

  • You are one of the few blogs I have an RSS feed for and whenever you blog it goes to my Tweets. I don’t read them all but appreciate your tenacity to blog so frequently. It is kind of refreshing to hear you too need to take a break sometime. I love writing but when it comes to my blog I get too much of a case of trying to please my whole list and then that paralyzes me. I need to cut loose and just share my thoughts, which can be all over the map.
    Keep writing Geezersister-You do it WELL!

  • Well, I love your blog — its swings, moods, humor and all, but I related to the pressure that IS blogging. Once upon a time writers like us felt pretty good about getting a handful of good pieces written per month, and now blogging demands / expects / (insert your word of choice here) so much more.

  • Ruth, I ask myself this question daily. I rarely get an answer. So I don’t write as often or as freely as others do. It seems that you write plenty when you have something to say. That’s the key, IMHO.

  • The last graph of Sophie’s comment says it for me. My blog also has no particular niche, unless it is the granny niche. But mine lacks the same oomph of the Geezersisters. Insert teeth grinding here. There is a reason “Fabulous” is in the blog title!

    I started Retirement Daze to record my . . . surprise! retirement memories, since I seem to have faulty memory of things that may be categorized as large or small, important or unimportant by others but are all meaningful to me. I don’t want to forget the details! If someone else finds a bit of something in what I write, all the better.

    Oh, and now that I have more than hubby reading, i do struggle at times with the temptation that Craig faced, of approaching my blog as a “different animal.”

  • Sheryl Link

    I was wondering where you’ve been, Ruth! And now I know. And completely understand. You are burned out on blogging. I’ve been there numerous times. For what it’s worth, I love your tone, your sarcasm, your insight and your humor. But sometimes we all need a break, so if that’s what you need, take it. Either you’ll come back stronger or decide that you’re done with blogging. And that’s okay, too (except I’ll miss reading your posts!) xo

  • I started blogging because I wanted to share what I was learning with others. Then I hit a slump. I didn’t feel like doing it anymore. I come back when I do feel like it and that seems to work for me.

    I subscribe to most blogs I read by email. There are two (out of 50 or so) that cause me to smile every single time when I see a new post in my inbox. Yours is one of them.

    I read your posts because I sense that you are a kindred spirit. I like your spunk and your humor and even when the posts are more serious, I’m moved and inspired by your thought process. I often come away either having learned something (often something about myself) or thinking, “Yes. That’s it. Exactly.” I forward your posts to friends more than any others.

    When you write here, it becomes a gift to us, your readers. Thank you. I know it isn’t always easy.

  • Just found your blog via my sister’s blog. When my youngest daughter introduced me to blogs in 2005, I was hooked. I knew I’d found my niche. I write about everything. I go to BlogHer in the summer. I blog for my own entertainment. I blog because I love to write and practice is good. I blog because words are in my bones.

  • Ruth, I feel the same way sometimes. Unlike you, it’s my only source of income so blogging for me comes with all the ancillary social media, search engine optimization, technical and design issues, etc. – things that I never realized I’d have to deal with. It sometimes makes me crazy. But my alternative is to come back to the States and get a “real” job, as my father tells me repeatedly, and I just can’t bear the thought. So I struggle on because it’s what I love.

    However, even if I didn’t have all those other tasks, I really believe I’d go through periods where I just couldn’t write. Lately, I begun to realize that travel for the sake of travel is just not enough for me. I want this while travel thing to have some greater purpose but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

    Though I don’t get to read your blog as often as I’d like (what with 14 hour per day power outages now in Nepal), when I can it makes my day. You say you don’t have a niche but you do – you are smack dab in the middle of the “life blog” category and what makes your blog so great is that it is raw and real. You say what you feel and we can all relate to it. So please don’t be discouraged. Take a break every now and then, but please keep writing. I would miss your blog so much if it went away.

  • Dear Ruth,
    I hope you are encouraged by the (well-deserved) compliments you fished for. If your head is not already too swollen I will add that when I visit I know I will find, whatever the subject, something intelligent and well written.
    But here’s another — depending on how you look at it — smaller or bigger reason for carrying on writing as you do:
    My young cousin started a blog last month when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. They have two small (under five) children and went in a few weeks from finding a suspicious lump to a double mastectomy. So far his blog (anneandsam.com) is just to let friends and family know how she is getting on.
    As soon as she heard the news my mother said, “Maybe we should ask Ruth to go comment…or to mention them. She’ll know all the good survivor links… She’ll know what to say” Which is not to say that you need to do any such thing — just that my mother wouldn’t have known anyone to suggest, if she didn’t know you. And she knows you can suggest something encouraging.
    That reason isn’t exactly about writing, but it is another way you have made a difference in this very personal, 21st century way of letting private conversations be overheard.
    We’ll be glad to overhear yours a little longer if you will let us.

  • To blog or not! That is one of the wonderful freedoms of choice I hope nobody ever robs Ruth of– or any of us. But now on to my personal, selfish statement. Every day when I log on to my reader and don’t find a new post by the fabulous Geezersister, I often feel I’m in the grips of despair. Then I try to cheer myself by thinking, oh well, at present Ruth is being held hostage by a cat-burglar/lounge-lizard within a stained glass elevator in a remote wing of some seedy hospital in the Pyrenees. In a few days she will overpower her captor and be escorted back home to Austin by Interpol. Then she will sit at her keyboard, reveal a lurid tale of how she just happened to visit the Pyrenees during the weekend, and spice up the travelogue with a witty take on running into a wee bit of trouble abroad. All things Ruth could never share with us if she were locked into a niche. And she has many of us reading along, willing to celebrate, cry, laugh, growl and puzzle it out with her.

  • Well Ruth, I read you because I enjoy your writing style, your sharing of the heart, and sometimes I read because I am looking to see if you are being irreverent-I love that aspect of your writing!
    I share with you my sometimes avoidance of writing my blog, I have all these posts roaming in my brain, and am trying to sort and edit and need one to pop out because it HAS to be written.
    If you like blogging you should, just for that reason. A forced blog is not fun for the writer or the reader.
    With much respect after reading your books and your blogs, Sally

  • I read your blog because you are such a great writer. I blog, too. Strange, because I have been feeling a similar malaise of late. I think it may have to do with the world situation, which is so lousy: war, crazy politicians, corporations ruling the USA, Medicare in danger, etc. Writers write to make a difference somehow and hope people will read their words. Respect for the written word has gone down the drain. What’s more the industry is dying. Journalists are losing their jobs. My brother is a journalist and hopes his newspaper lasts three more years so he can retire.

    The world needs writers, creative people. I was pleased this week to hear about bloggers suing HuffPost for lack of pay, then distressed by the response, something about being similar to reality TV. Hel-lo?? Absolutely not. A writer thinks about the world and shares. This is not what reality TV is about. But, I’m a bit off-subject. I’m glad to see 29 people responded to your post … We look forward to more!

  • Christine Link

    You’re not a mommy blogger or a Mormon mommy blogger or a food/foodie/co0king blogger – all blogs which I enjoy reading. You just seem to “fit” for me and I enjoy whatever you write. I have a number of things in common with you besides age, so again it’s the fit plus you’re around my age.

  • I have only recently begun to read your blog, and relatively recently begun blogging as well.
    Reading your blog is often like reading my own thoughts, but in a much more lucid format.
    Even though we have never met, I feel as though we could have a wonderful conversation. The connection to other people, albeit those we have never met, is a benefit of blogging that I never expected. It is reassuring to know that there are others out there in the world with whom I share so much.
    Hope you decide to keep blogging.

  • Terry Link

    I love your blog because you elequently say what I want to say…you make middle age seem relevant…you are very funny…rest up and buck up…we ( the invisible 50 somethings) need you!

  • Ruth, it was fascinating to read that you’re not a talker. Since I’ve been reading your blog I just imagined you were a chatty Cathy, because your posts feel like a conversation with a friend over a cuppa: sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes whiny, sometimes, mad, always warm and witty.

    I think it’s pretty normal to hit a wall on the blogging front. But judging by this thread, you have a devoted audience, which is pretty addicting for a writer.

    As for me, I began blogging because I wanted to develop a new beat and I wanted a forum where my voice — not that of a magazine or newspaper — had a place at the table.

  • Ward Link

    Ruth, as you well know, I don’t blog. But I love the randomness (or is it randomosity?) of your posts, your insights and your humor. Plus it keeps me posted on family updates (news travels at a snail’s pace among the Pennebaker clan.)

    Very few things make it onto my Google home page, but Geezersisters is front and center.

  • Paige Link

    As said above, “I love your written voice”. Reading your blog puts the sunshine in
    my days. Don’t stop! You have a gift, and you are our gift.

  • Carolyn Link

    I didn’t write before because I am not a writer and knew I wouldn’t say anything as clever as anyone who wrote before me. I enjoy your writing very much — I identify with you because I live in Austin, and I loved your NY experience because a year there is my fantasy. You say what you think and it’s very refreshing. Your blogs are a nice treat whenever they appear in my inbox, and I hope you continue.

  • I blog in spurts, then it all begins to seem like a huge chore and I drop off the radar for months. I’ve always envied your fluidity and apparent ease of blogging. Indeed, you were the first one to encourage me to blog and, when I’ve gone into purdah, you’ve coaxed me back out. I can’t imagine a day when I don’t log on and read your blog, even if I don’t often comment. As Duchess says, you’ve made a difference in peoples’ lives, so please don’t abandon us now!

  • Susan Link

    Absolutely love your blog, your wit, your incisive observations! You keep us grounded Ruth, and help us remember to treasure all of life’s moments. Keep it up!

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