My all-time favorite quote about writing is this one:
Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of,
I think that this quote applies to bloggers in a very significant way. If you are a writer who writes essays or how-to books or smut novels or technical manuals or epic poems—whatever it is that you do—and somebody thinks enough of your writing to occasionally pay you for it, then when introducing yourself at a party, you might say, “Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I am a writer.”
I write every day—sometimes at work, and sometimes at play. I write miles and miles and miles of words. And then I edit and cut half of it out and take the paragraph that I liked so well from the bottom and put it at the top, remove the top paragraph all-together because it kind of sucked and I was just throwing down some words off the top of my head anyway, and now that I removed the bottom, I have to come up with a new way to wrap things up, and since I changed the beginning I now have to check and make sure that the middle of it still flows right, and blah, blah, blah and on and on, and I continue to chip away until the huge block of granite with which I started begins to look like something I wouldn’t mind giving away to some random friend who happens to have a nice spot in their garden for it. ("Here, I made you this cool granite bust of Jerry Orbach—would you like me to carry it to your car for you?")
Writing a short essay, product review, press release, comedy bit, 30-second commercial--whatever it may be, can take a bit of time out of your day. You also pull your hair out a little, sweating the details. Why have such a time-sucking, painstaking, pain-in-the-butt “hobby”? As Richard Krzemien said about writing, “It's tougher than Himalayan yak jerky in January. But, as any creative person will tell you, there are days when there's absolutely nothing sweeter than creating something from nothing.”
I am a big fan of that magic show.
But I’m no writer.
I’m not a writer, that is, until that moment in which I say, “screw it,” and proclaim MYSELF a writer, since nobody else is going to do it, what with me being a blogger and all.
But I am.
Of course, after my declaration, I immediately feel the need to qualify that remark and defend the whole “it’s just a blog” response by reminding people that I just spent my work-day, where actual money changed hands, deciphering one of my boss’ Frenglish (French into English) memos, editing and rewriting mountains of pages for other people who write for the purpose of asking someone else for money (grants—always a lot of ass-kissing fun), interpreting some big fat technical manual called the Student Policy Handbook into a language that any lazy truant can understand, and communicating to everyone around me, in the clearest way possible, why even though I'm "just" writing, I am actually busy.
Which is also not writing…
Recently, a friend wrote a blog post about how people reacted to things that she has written on her blog, specifically, how people that she knows in person were less than excited seeing things published. On the web. For the viewing and reading pleasure of The Entire Planet.
My first instinct was to say, “Seriously...they can’t take a joke?” because that is how I truly feel.
But instead, I asked, "What do they think that writers write about, anyway?"
(And then I warned her, “Hey, I’m gonna be blogging this…”)
I know, I know—you don’t really want to tell your friends and family that it is too damn bad if they are uncomfortable, because you just HAVE to tell the story about how your husband got lost while driving on the way to your vacation destination and he was being particularly prickly that afternoon and said some really dim-witted stuff which you just couldn’t wait to blog, and the fact that you blogged it started a huge fight between the two of you which came damn close to ending your marriage….I KNOW!
Profession? (Money? Paid?)
Blogs and personal web pages, some of which make money, but most of which do not, are at the forefront of the biggest self-publishing push of all time.
I beg of you two things: First, to think very seriously about the words “self” and “publishing”, and second, do NOT to attempt to draw a line between the “for pay” and the “not for pay” kind of writing.
You see, almost nobody writes for pay. In most cases, unless you are a famous writer already, you write for nothing, and later on, when you are mostly done with the free writing, all that work you did for free gets judged by somebody, and if somebody deems it worthy, then somebody may give you money. Or not. If more than, oh, I dunno, 6 people find you enjoyable to read after all of that free writing you did, then you might get an additional buck or two more out of the deal.
Unless you self-publish. Self-publishing involves very little in the way of getting approval—seriously, you can put just about anything out there, and there is it, OUT THERE. Of course, there is the added chance that there will never be any money to go with all of that free writing you did—you might even lose money.
Some of my favorite books were shopped to publishers with no luck at all—nobody wanted to publish them—there was no approval by any major, minor or miniature publishing house, and everybody thought that they stunk, so the authors, people like me, said “Screw It! I’m a writer!” and published their own books, on real paper and everything, by themselves, taking all of the risk and sucking it up, because when it came to writing, the only opinion they truly believed was their own—they were the center of their writing universe, and Damn-it!, they were going to write and be read.
If we all wait around for some specific group of people to approve of what we are doing before we go ahead and consider ourselves “writers”, then the criticism or judgment of others begins to shape what we put down on the page. Then the writing itself suffers.
And then maybe we aren’t writers…
Having said all of that, I must add that it is OK to NOT blog about a particular topic if you know that it will start some kind of a hail storm that you don’t have the strength or desire to deal with. I, for example, rarely, if ever, talk about my marriage, even though I could go on for days, people. Its not that I put my husband on a pedestal. More often than not, I just want to kill him. And by "kill him" I mean, plug my ears and make the la-la sound until he just. Stops. Complaining. You'd think a person could mine a lot of material from that. I just prefer to keep it private, out of respect for the relationship itself. We are publishing, after all.
So if you don’t want your doctor to ask, “Where the hell are you getting Lortab?” then maybe you shouldn’t include that blurb about how you like to wash them down with Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper.
Or, if you must talk about the amazing sex you had with some hot chick last night, please don’t be surprised when your wife’s girlfriends send her the link.
The legalities are the same on this blog as they are in any book or magazine, as you know, so if you say something stupid and you get yourself sued, you can’t fall back on the “this is a private diary” thing. There is no such thing as "private" on the internet. Not really.
This is why it is very important to never just play at it—don’t just go half-way.
Be a writer.
Tell the whole story, and be honest. And when you do, expect that sometimes, some people may be angry with you. Let them vent, then do yourself a favor and accept that some people just aren’t going to get it. Immediately after that, you should forget about it and move on.
I want to share two more quotes from two more people, the first of which is Orson Welles, who said, “Nobody who takes on anything big and tough can afford to be modest.”
I’m reminded of a time when I met a guy who worked for a record company and he told me of a party he had attended the night before, where Eric Clapton was the guest of honor. He made reference to the notion that Eric Clapton, being an amazing artist, was somehow not of this world, and that his behavior on the occasion of this party (which involved nothing that I found to be in any way surprising, inappropriate or objectionable) was somehow evidence that artists are just not “normal,” that they are “not like the rest of us,” and are “all full of themselves.”
I wanted to ask how a guy who parlays natural talent and lots of practice into a successful recording career is in some way different from the guy who decides early on that he wants to own and operate a chain of hardware stores, who also achieves his dream?
I bet that lots of people who work in hardware stores think that their bosses are full of themselves, too.
And if you own a hardware store and decide to fire the guy who has been stealing from the till, for example, is that any different from ending your association with someone who sabotages you artistically?
Because, you know, she is just so smart. She is the person I think of when I think about writing and how to do it. Before I had even heard of her, I spent a lot of time writing in notebooks, and when I found that she prescribes this method, I felt I had found a kindred spirit. I wrote really for the sole purpose of expressing more of the person that I wanted to be and not spending all of my time living in the compromises that one makes in order to have relationships with other people, be it family, a lover or whomever. Cheaper than therapy? You better believe it.
Lots of people blog because they need to write, and write because they indeed would like to be, or at least feel, a little more sane. Writing gives order to whatever junk is rattling around in your head, and creates calm and harmony where once there was only noise and chaos. It solicits strong reactions in people precisely because it is powerful, and it is tough, and if you want to do it, REALLY do it, you can’t afford to be modest.