I just finished reading a collection of essays by a much-loved and well-respected novelist. And it just made me sigh. All writing is not equal. It’s a new thing, taking a disparate group of blog posts, slapping them together, and calling it a book. Rarely has this been done well.
The struggling writer could only wish for a day when they are so honored and revered as a writer, as a name, that someone would be happy to compile their scraps of writing, make a pretty book cover, and sell them to a large base of established fans, ready to eat them up. The reality seems to me, to be just a little sadder, like the honoring of a formerly beautiful building, just before it’s torn down.
So often these collections are a hodgepodge of journal entries, ordered in such a way that it is like binge-reading a blog. That seems like a fairly unedifying way to spend one’s time and it doesn’t get any better in hard copy. It is not just the ordering or grouping of blog posts that can be jarring in a book format, it is the quality and nature of the writing.
As I write more and more offline, I’m finding out something about myself as a writer. I don’t do the long game well. I write in short, disconnected spurts, even over the course of several hours. This is what blogging has trained me to do. And it’s not good for the purposes I intend.
It’s an indicator of what I’ve spent more time doing over the last five years. There are writers who write books who do not blog, or do so sparingly. Their writing skills are already strongly established. But if you’re coming at it the other way round, your struggles may just be beginning. Mine are.
Writing has changed so much over the last century. I think about the impact of cameras and televisions – the communal knowledge of images. No longer needed were the lengthy descriptions of a sycamore tree or satin dresses propped up by crinoline or Times Square. Scenery is not painted for the reader, but merely referenced. Everything is written in technological shorthand.
This is not to say that change is bad or that we should stay rooted in nostalgia, but it does speak to our attention span and how we process what we read. The trend towards more information and fewer curators, means that our writing is vying for attention in an increasingly scattered collective.
With the advent of social media, or writing in an endless array of formats, it’s a necessary thing to think about what kind of writer you wish to be. It is important in the sense that who you are is what you do and read. Or at least what you spend the majority of your time doing and reading.
Some would say, “Well, hell, I’ll do any kind of writing that makes me money, or gets me published.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the kind of honesty that keeps you from frittering your time away trying to be literary or artistic. To say that I want to produce good, solid work offline that has a few readers, doesn’t make me anymore highbrow or respectable, but it is a reminder about how I need to balance my time.
It’s been too easy for me to feel like I’m getting somewhere, when the kind of writing I’ve been doing is not what I intend. The kind of writing I do on a blog is not the same needed for a novel. I am learning this the hard way and the dissonance can, on occasion, be disheartening.
There are writers who switch easily between mediums and their blog compilations aren’t herky-jerky. I’ve read John Scalzi’s Whatever blog for many years and am amazed how quickly he can go from writing a novel, to blogging, to Tweeting and back again. But he has worked for years, established his credentials and skills, as well as having an understanding how to integrate all his platforms. Shit. I have to learn how to work on one scene without creating 25 subplots.
As I put more and more time in on fixing my train wreck of a novel (that’s some good publicity, isn’t it?), I have become more cognizant of what I am accustomed to doing versus what I need to do. There is, despite the struggle, a spark of happiness in my brain about this. It means I have so much more to learn and explore.
I’ve started late. I will not have a lifetime career in which I am honored and lauded because of a large body of work. The opportunity to be blog-compiled will likely never be presented to me, but I’m okay with that, because I have to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.