Somewhere Between Vanity and Creativity

Last week, the husband called my blog a “vanity project.” I wasn’t offended. It was a definite step up from calling it “your latest attempt to get me fired.” He is an FSO, after all, and discretion is therefore his middle name (except when he talks to his wife, apparently…)

But, I got to thinking: are personal blogs just vanity projects? Is that really the right term for them?

The first thing I discovered is that there is no formal definition of vanity project. That surprised me. It’s a common term, isn’t it? But, if you Google “vanity project,” you’ll find:

1.) A lot of people discussing possible definitions for vanity project.
2.) Several references to “vain” actors and their movies (e.g. anything starring Woody Allen and a woman 1/3 his age).
3.) A blog called Vanity Project.

OK, point taken. “Vanity project” often refers to something, shall we say, unedited. Blogs are not, technically speaking, usually edited by anyone other than the blogger. But that is not always a bad thing, either for the blogger or the reader.

I enjoy a lot of creative pursuits in which perfection is rarely, if ever, achieved. For example, you should hear me cussing over knitting projects. The husband rolls his eyes and wonders why I bother. I grit my teeth and tell him “it’s about the process, dammit!” And, truly, it is. I can  go out and buy a hat or socks any day of the week. I don’t need to make my own. I just like to knit. And possibly to cuss. I don’t mind hats or socks that are little weird looking. And I know in my heart that my family doesn’t either  :)

Same with blogging. I don’t need a practical reason to blog, and the end result doesn’t have to be perfect. I just like to write. But there are benefits.

Blogging is great exercise for the writing muscles. If you don’t use ‘em, you lose ‘em. Remember the Billy Crystal quote from “Throw Momma From a Train?” A writer writes. The man had a point. I occasionally write for publication, and I am a part-time content manager for an organization as well. So, I do exercise those muscles in my working  life. But that kind of writing is constrained by the format and subject matter of the publications involved. OK, let’s face it: most of it is slightly boring.

Blogging, on the other hand, has given me an opportunity to write about any subject I like, and to play around with writing style. In the process, my “regular” writing has improved. A few days ago, I needed to fill up a page in a newsletter that I edit, and it took me less than an hour to whip up an article that required only very minor tweaks from my writers’ group. It struck me then that my writing fluency is improving in the same way that speaking fluency in a foreign language improves with frequent practice. Very cool.

Blogging offers structure, much as scrapbooks and diaries do. I don’t “scrap” and I have terrible handwriting, so I don’t keep a diary. But I have three years to live and travel in Europe. I may never have that chance again. I want to take lots of photos, keep a journal, share with my friends and family, and have a record to refer to later. If I didn’t have a blog, the odds are not good that I would keep up that routine!

Aside from being an obvious medium for travel journaling, blogging can be therapeutic. Now, I’m not one to get too personal on my blog. In fact, when I started it, I didn’t intend for it to be personal at all. But, a funny thing happened. It started with a special needs situation and a bidding/assignment process that was so insanely stressful I felt like I had to write it down just to make sense of it. Then after we finally got to post, this thing or that thing kind of got on my nerves, and well, I wrote about it. And it turned out that people were more interested in reading those posts than anything else! Which was kind of startling, but also kind of fun. So, I kept doing it.

Nowadays, about a quarter of my posts are commentaries. What the heck, it’s my blog, I can write about whatever I want. Sometimes I hit the mark, and sometimes I don’t, but I enjoy and learn from every single blog post I write, and yes, sometimes it feels like therapy!

I like to read blogs, too. It helps that I read fast. It’s true that there are many blogs that could use some editing. But on the other hand, a blogger is telling you what he or she really thinks. No editor to filter out, dumb down, or sensationalize the copy. It turns out that most women, in particular, are a lot smarter than magazine editors think we are. We write about lots of cool stuff that has nothing to do with dieting or mommy wars. Especially in the Foreign Service community.

So, I think that a blog can be a vanity project, but for most bloggers it is a creative project. By definition creative projects are not perfect. You don’t know how they are going to come out when you start them. If you can live with that, then you are a creative person. If you can’t, then you probably don’t blog!

If you are a blogger, what does your blog mean to you? Vanity project? Creative outlet? Free therapy? All of the above? Something else entirely? I’d love to hear about it.

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11 responses to “Somewhere Between Vanity and Creativity

  1. You bring up some interesting points. My purpose in blogging is probably primarily a need to give something back to the world in exchange for my carbon footprint, which is sometimes heavier than I think it should be. I also need to do something with the products of an increasing addiction to picture-taking. So, for me, it’s part gift, part act of contrition.

    On a separate note, I met Tales From The Vienna Woods a few nights ago and we thought all of us Vienna bloggers should get together for coffee or a drink. Interested?

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  2. A few weeks ago I went about 4 or 5 days without posting. I just didn’t have time to write but over the course of those 4 or 5 days I found myself growing increasingly crabby and moody–totally unlike myself. Then, finally, I got the chance to scribble out a quick post and all of a sudden it was like the sun came out. I felt loads more like “me” than I had before I wrote. I told my husband: either I’m truly a writer or writing is therapeutic for me or maybe both. Probably both but I definitely believe that the only way to become a better writer is by actually writing. Until I’m inundated with freelance jobs, blogging is the next best way and the fact that it’s a public domain keeps me accountable and doggedly drafting.

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    • Dani, that’s a good point. Unlike a diary, other people are going to see what we put on our blogs. So we had better not embarrass ourselves :)

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  3. I’m a new FS blogger and I assume that this will change over time, but I’ve found writing about this unique lifestyle & the process of getting on board with the foreign service (for my husband) has helped me not only keep friends and family involved in our life during these continuous transitions but also make sense of it all in my own mind. This whole experience (and subsequent experiences) feels much more “real” if I can share it with others. It’s also much easier to communicate something verbally once I’ve put specific words down on my blog. I have wondered if there isn’t a degree of self-indulgence in publishing my thoughts in the public domain, but deeply believe that our stories overlap and affirm one another’s even when they’re different and that offers something to the reader in itself. Really enjoy your posts!

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  4. A friend of mine who got me started blogging called it “a writing assignment to myself.” I always liked that attitude.

    Of course, now it’s a job, but I recognize that is a rare and fortunate occurrence.

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  5. Those of us who are stateside would simply die of boredom without your blog. Okay so it is vicarious, but it feels liek we were there with you no matter what the subject. When I see a “Well That was Different ” new blog, I stop everythinig and read. You are a delight!!

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  6. Although I have two blogs, neither is that active now, and neither is really about me. I have been writing more mundane things, like reviews of Amazon products, and short essays in a Coursera.org literature course. But I find that the more I write, the more I seem to want to write about things that actually mean something about me. If I start with a new project, it may actually expose how mundane my life has become, but it may also push me to be more involved in my life. Right now. That would be good. Meanwhile, my fingers are getting itchy.

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  7. you should check out this month’s town and country – a great piece on the changing face of narcissism. don’t know that i agree with all of it but raises similar questions and was a good read ;)

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  8. I love this post. Blogging is definitely all the things other have people have mentioned: a creative outlet, a way to tap into this global FS community (we JUST arrived to our first post last week and I’d already “met” tons of people — in-person and virtually — because of my blog), a source for information. I also like to think of it as a digital scrapbook of sorts, a good way to keep a record in words and pictures of all the adventures we’ll have!

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  9. Good questions! For me, blogging is a lens. I look through it, and I see and express what is interesting or beautiful or inspiring in my world. Truly, for every blog I write, there are 5 that never get written. Perhaps I am more of a dreamer than a writer.

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