Ann Althouse Reads With an 'Eye for the Bloggable'
Professor, University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison
When Ann Althouse decided in January 2004 to start blogging for the sheer pleasure of expressing her opinion, it was as if she was born for reader-driven communication.
While many others in the legal profession have entered the blogosphere afraid to bring too much of themselves into the open, Althouse opened the book on herself.
Her blog is as quirky and provocative as it is substantive. One day she’ll be posting pix of dead birds or a poll about the next deserving inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On another, she’ll be blogging live from a 7th Circuit conference.
Her posts on the 2008 election are right-leaning, at a minimum, and she’s faced plenty of heat for those opinions on and off her blog. But to Althouse this is only more invigorating.
“Even when people get mad at me, call me a fool and slander me, I love being one of the characters on the Internet stage,” she says.
See related story: The Blawg 100.
Q&A With Ann Althouse
ABA Journal: When and why did you start blogging?
Althouse: I started on January 14, 2004 (and have blogged every single day since then). My purpose was purely to express myself for the sheer pleasure of it. I had no mission or message or even anything that I wanted to say.
ABA Journal: How has your style changed over time?
Althouse: As traffic has grown, to what is now over 50,000 page views a day, I’ve become much more aware of the interactions with readers and other bloggers. My relationship with the commenters on the blog has become especially important, and I often put things up that I think will inspire them. (Some of them are very talented and funny.) And I go into the comments section myself and converse. But mainly, my style has stayed the same. I scan the mainstream news, mostly, and other blogs and see what inspires me, and then I write very spontaneously, shifting from serious to humorous and trying to say something new and surprising.
ABA Journal: How long did it take you to find your voice?
Althouse: I think I had my voice on the first post. From day one, it felt like I’d been dying to do this.
ABA Journal: Tell me about some of the biggest hurdles to doing regular posts.
Althouse: I have none. I wake up every morning ready to blog, and I do that before anything else. During the day, when I can, I go back to the blog. The real problem for me is overblogging, not underblogging.
ABA Journal: Have you ever experienced burnout or writers block? And how did you get over it?
Althouse: Blogging is energizing for me, and I never feel burned out. Sometimes it takes me a while, reading through things, to find something I want to write about, but I consider that part of writing. You need to read with a flexible, open mind and have an eye for the bloggable. Once you see something that is bloggable, start writing. Let it flow. I like to write to see what I think, to observe my mind at work. I free associate, and since I’m pretty old, I have a lot of material to weave in. Another thing I do is photography. If I take a photo-walk, I come back with things I can make into posts.
ABA Journal: What have you learned from the blog world regarding direct, immediate feedback? Does that cause trouble for you in your day job?
Althouse: I’m fortunate to be a tenured law professor and to work with people who appreciate nontraditional writing, including a lot of writing that is only tangentially about law (or not about law at all). As for the direct feedback, I love it. I’m always checking the traffic statistics, seeing who’s linking, and reading the comments. Even when people get mad at me, call me a fool, and slander me, I love being one of the characters on the Internet stage.
ABA Journal: Would you encourage other legal professionals to blog? What advice/cautions would you share?
Althouse: If you want to blog, blog. Otherwise, don’t. If you don’t find it intrinsically rewarding to live freely and continually in writing, on display to the world, then don’t waste your time. If you’re contemplating a website that will work as PR for your legal practice, I don’t care what you do. I’m not interested, and I won’t read you.