One of my favorite forms of writing has long been the humble essay, which allows me the freedom to explore in written form an idea that has been bouncing around my head. At times I use the essay as the basis for a longer academic article, while at other times this method of writing simply clears out some of the cranial cacophony.
Pundits over the past decade have increasingly bemoaned the death of the essay as a literary genre, and these funereal pronouncements on the demise of the essay have not been without evidence. Certainly essayists find fewer outlets for publication in an era in which an news-addicted public craves short political and entertainment articles and op-ed pieces, and the carnage of print media that will follow in the wake of the digital revolution will reduce further the number of periodicals willing to publish essayists.
Yet I perceive opportunity in the digital crisis, and I think that the rise of blogging offers hope for those concerned about the future of essays as a genre. The well-written blog post, like the essay, tends toward a narrow topical focus, and the relative brevity of essays is in keeping with the shorter word count typically found in blog posts.
More important than the structural similarities between essays and blog posts is the ease with which essayists can adapt to a blog format from traditional print media. The lag time between conception and publication is all but eliminated, and time formerly spent licking stamps and hounding editors can be better used in the development of new material.
Certainly essayist may find themselves constrained in their art by the necessity of developing some familiarity with programming languages like HTML, or by the need for bloggers to be cognizant of the role of graphic arts in a high-quality blog, but a writer simultaneously can reach a sizeable, global audience within months of designing a blog. In my own experience, my work has been viewed by nearly a half-million site visitors in two years, and I have achieved a greater level of distinction through my blog than had I simply followed the traditional print routes of publication.
And - in all honesty - I have not spent much time in the act of shameless self-promotion with this site as I might have; a writer with more time and a larger ego could turn a similar site into a Web powerhouse with daily effort at site promotion. Blogging, thus, offers essayists significant opportunities to hone their craft and, more importantly, bring about a rebirth of the essay.