On blogging as an art form and a writer's worst nightmare
I don't have a place for comments on this site for two reasons. One is ineptitude. I once wasted a couple of hours trying to add them and it just wouldn't work. My computer skills are minimal, to put it mildly, and I figured if it was going to be that much trouble, it wasn't meant to be.
But the truth is, if I were one hundred percent convinced I really wanted them, I probably would have kept playing with the HTML until I got it right. My incompetence just provided an excuse to do what my instincts were already telling me: don't give up control.
I'm a writer in part because I'm a control freak -- and writing is something you can control. (Unless you have a really bad editor -- and I'm the only writer I know who doesn't have a single bad editor story to tell.) I polish stories until they are as perfect as I can make them. I've had a few stories land on the page needing little revision (thank you, God), but in most cases, I do hundreds of drafts. Galleys are hell for me, because at the last moment I always see far more changes I'd still like to make than I know even the kindest editor will let me get away with.
Blogging is already a loss of control. It's fast and unpolished, closer to journal writing than traditional published writing -- and yet it's public. Unless you have an ego far larger than mine, an absolute conviction that every word you write is gold, you realize that you've just invited people in to look at the messy and sometimes incredibly dumb contents of your brain. I usually proof-read what I write a couple of times, but for someone who's used to spending months on stories, and even a few days doing last minute proof-reading before putting a story in the mail, that doesn't feel like much. I hit publish, and send posts out into the world (a small world, admittedly, but the world nonetheless), knowing there are uncaught typos, misused words, awkward phrasings, and spelling errors a sixth grader shouldn't have made. Worse, there are ideas that if I'd thought about them for a day or so would make me recoil at their shallowness or wrong-headedness. I've looked at several posts a few days after I've written them and thought, What in the world made me say that?
I feel obligated to leave the dumb ideas there as well as the reasonable ones. I'm not sure why. When I write what I realize is a hopeless story, I have no mixed feelings about throwing it in the trash. But somehow this is different.
Comments would take away even more control. I like getting e-mail from people about things I've written, but I'm not sure I want to open it up to the point that anyone can put anything they want on here. I feel about this site the way my daughter feels about her teddy bear -- this is mine, nobody can touch it.
Yet I sometimes find other people's comments fascinating. One of the best threads I've read recently began with Patrick Nielsen Hayden's
comments on the debate over Spinsanity's attack on Media Whores Online. Patrick's initial remarks -- basically agreeing with Spinsanity -- were interesting, mainly because they differed from almost everyone else's, but they weren't detailed. At first, I agreed with all the defenders of MWO, although my own defense was pretty tepid, reflecting, I think, some rather mixed feelings about MWO.
Reading through the comments on Patrick's post, though, my mixed feelings started hardening into the anti-MWO camp. I won't get into the reasons I changed my mind. If you read through the thread and watch Patrick refine and develop his idea, I think he makes the case eloquently and convincingly. I have nothing to add.
What interests me right now, though, is not so much the idea itself as the way it came about -- developed and deepened by the give and take on the comments board.
I got interested in doing this blog in part because it's a kind of writing I don't know how to do. In fact, it's a kind of writing nobody knows how to do yet. Everyone is still sort of figuring out what works and what doesn't. Can you mix the personal and the political? How much and in what way? How creative can you get with links before it starts getting merely annoying? Are there any real rules and forms at all? (Probably not yet, but eventually there will be. What constituted a novel stayed a pretty open concept for awhile -- and those early is this a novel?
novels are some of my favorites.)
I know how to write an essay, a story, a prose-poem, a sonnet and villanelle. I have no idea how to do what I'm doing at the moment, and if you love writing, that not knowing is exciting.
It's also exciting when you begin to see a form develop. A comments board, at its worst, is nothing but people cutting each other, but at its best, it's a kind of group essay that forces everyone to think and rethink until it comes to a meaningful end. In a really good personal essay, you usually see the writer's thoughts evolve. On a good comments board, you watch several people evolve, overlap, come together, and come apart. Sometimes it works so well -- as it does in the comments I mentioned -- that it's hard to believe it's organic. It looks choreographed.
I have a feeling this may be one of those posts that embarrasses me the day after I write it -- old comparative literature students have to find some strange way of using their useless skills at literary analysis
-- but I find something really intriguing and potentially artistic in that.
My iffy feelings about comments, however, just hardened into a definite no. I just got my first truly nasty (and semi-literate) e-mail. I'm afraid that sort of thing brings out the English teacher in me. Semi-literate bothers me at least as much as nasty (and anyway, I'm a firm believer that there's a connection between the two.) I'm not putting anything on my site unless I can red pencil the errors.
But I appreciate it when other people do it. I guess that's my own little piece of hypocrisy.