Here’s J. Robert Lennon, whose blog, Ward Six, written with his wife, Rhian Ellis, is a routine landing spot in my browsing:
Listen carefully here, writers, because this is important. Content. Do not post reports on how many people came to your reading or what nice things book reviewers said about you. This is called bragging and it makes you look like an ass. People will read your books not because you’re telling them how much people like you, but because your writing is worth reading. So, on the internet, give them more of that. Give people more of yourself.
It’s great advice, generally de rigeur at Ward Six. But it gets at something I’ve reconciled over the past months. Here’s what I’ve worried: Is this blogging and now Tweeting and Facebook updating not just a self-indulgent practice as a person, but also a waste of time and creativity as a writer? Or maybe it’s been more like: This kind of writing isn’t “real” writing, but is that a problem and should I stop it?
The answer for both I’ve come to is No.
Here’s my rationale: Before I started reading and writing short stories in the academic mode I read novels but never thought to write one. I did start to write, though, mostly out of a desire to transmit stuff from my head into other people’s heads. To put things in there I wasn’t able to out loud. Stories, notions. Reports from certain parts of the world. And egotisms, sure.
Then, when I got older and started to take writing more seriously, I looked around for transmission methods. Publication venues. A truth about me and many writers of my generation is that I published online before I published in print. That is, I put my own stuff online and then emailed people the URL of my site and asked them to remember to visit it every now and then. But then when I looked at more serious (or, well, just more prestigious) publication venues, I found literary magazines that published short stories.
So I started writing literary short stories. it was the transmission method.
My belabored point here is that it is I think common ground among writers is that they will write toward the publication venues of their time. And by this I mean they’ll both hope to publish in those venues, and but also their writing will get groomed or formed for those venues. Novels still exist, and so we’ll still write them. But new things exist in addition to novels, and now we get to write those, too.
I should try to find a book or paper that recounts the history of this.
But it’s what I’ve felt in myself as a writer. I write because I like words and messing with them. And still, all these years later, I write because I want to transmit stuff from my head in the hopes that someone wants to receive that stuff. And so a lot of people read Facebook and Twitter and RSS feeds now, so it’s just a natural and exciting step for me to produce content for those publication venues.
What’s great about the satisfaction I feel about doing so is that it makes the original question(s) I asked not just irrelevant, but backward and wrong. The stuff I tweet isn’t a waste of time or isn’t taking away from my “real” writing, it’s writing that’s just as real as the stuff I type into MS Word in the mornings. It’s a successful transmission of stuff, without the concern that it make me famous.
The worst part about going to school to learn how to more successfully transmit stuff is that you read a lot of work that you know is read by a lot of other people in your same position. And so, models of quality writing are presented as having been made by people who are now famous. Whether they became famous for the model or whether the model was chosen because its writer was famous is not a distinction that seems to get parsed too often. But the connection is there: good writing either makes you famous or (worse) good writing is produced by the famous.
Lennon’s quote above comes from a post about the wretched Andrei Codrescu (who should move in to a dank basement-level apartment with fellow insufferable wretch Anis Shivani), who wrote something unreadable about Facebook (one line grabbed at random: “For a writer, these cybervenues are especially deadly”). This always happens. Nothing is sadder (or, well, funnier) than ancient men trying to argue why publication venues they neither read nor understand are bad for writers.
Writing on the Internet is bad for writers who want to write what writers in their sixties are writing. Or, more accurately, have written. And writers in their sixties . But what’s sadder than ancient men opining about what’s bad for writers are young writers who want to rewrite the work of their elders.
So give me the Internet. Give me new venues.