Saturday, June 07, 2008

Writers and readers

Tuesday, 14 March, 1944

Dear Kitty,

Perhaps it would be entertaining for you--though not in the least for me--to hear what we are going to eat today.

In 1966 I read Anne Frank's Diary for the first time, and encountered this unforgettable line.

If you're wondering what could be more forgettable, believe me, I wondered too. Why wouldn't this bit of trivia leave my head? Why did it seem important?? It was one of those writer-to-be wake-up moments, but I was 12 [2], and I didn't recognize it at the time.

I'd run into plenty of entries about the minutiae of her daily life in the 100 pages before that, but here's where she kind of broke the 4th wall of diary-keeping and seemed aware that her readers would be living different lives from her own. It might not even have been the first time she did it -- it's been some decades since I read it -- but it's the one that got through to me.

So I blink my eyes and ka-foof! [3] it's 40+ years later and I'm in this Jetsons world I never imagined, where I can write anything I want, ignore rules and conventions, put it online for free, and even get read.

In the land of Twelve Steps we're urged to live the examined life, to really look at what we do, why we do it, and why we feel what we feel. When other bloggers feel they need not only to take time off but to delete years of carefully crafted and often excellent writing, I don't question it. OK, that's a lie. Let's reword it: I acknowledge that I have no right to question it. They're examining their lives and deciding accordingly.

I'm examining mine too, though, and wondering what the "negatives" of blogging are.

The time it takes from Real Life? Well, yeah. The way it satisfies a need to express myself, which bleeds energy off of writing a book? Yeah, it does that. That it elevates the trivial?

But Anne Frank proved that the trivial can be very interesting and even important. It can be that little glob of paint I spotted in Bruegel's The Harvesters, last time I visited the Metropolitan Museum.

I used to sweep through museums like a Roomba [TM], but last time, I got smart and realized I wanted to see less but to really see what I looked at. I love Bruegel, so I sat and studied it without imposing a time limit on myself. There among the meaningful brush strokes was this little spot where the paint had kind of glommed before the brush moved on and it was breathtaking. It connected me with a "trivial" moment when the paint was wet, 400+ years ago.

Most of my blogging friends live everyday lives that are very different from mine and I enjoy that window on their worlds.


So far I've run into no outright nutjobs, and if I do, there are powers that I could wield to remove their access.

As for honest disagreement .... I reallyreallyreally hate it, OK?!! I hate when I'm an idiot and someone calls me on it, but blogging makes me think my stuff through and by the last draft, I often end up with a more balanced view than I started with. Plus I need badly to face it as an Opportunity For Growth [4].

I speak for nobody else, this applies ONLY to me, but I see these not as negatives of blogging, but as negatives of me. Temptation to give short shrift to my real life, to take easier paths, to avoid criticism. It's all personal baggage and it'll go with me into anything I do.

Used rightly, blogging can hone some of my writing skills, and teach me something about discourse. Maybe even interest readers but that needs to follow my process, not lead it.

A delicate balance to strike. Its important to get tough on oneself, especially when it comes to blogging, because it's so easy to hold oneself to no standards at all. This power, this freedom to say anything any way, could tend to corrupt.

But it can also corrupt me by making me try too hard to pre-empt criticism. My perception suggests to me that I have a soul. And that it needs nurturing. Experience has taught me that letting others tell me what to say, and how, starves it.

When am I making my writing better, and when am I failing to be true to my vision? A blog can be a good place to repeatedly examine that issue and practice a healthy balance.

For its first six months or so, I concocted a few blog entries to entertain myself and blow off steam, but nobody knew it existed. Then people started discovering this thing.

It wasn't by design , but it was probably where I needed to go next. Writing to engage reader interest is a skill I need to hone. But I also need to stand strong against pandering to The Market.

So here's an entry from last December, that I never posted because I thought it would bore people. It's about hymns! Scintillating! 8~) I'm putting it back there in mid-December where it would have shown up, so here's a link.

I could be wrong about reader reaction, but that's totally NOT the point. I need to hold myself to high standards, but not post to please. Otherwise I'm squandering this opportunity.


[1] Anne Frank. The Diary of a Young Girl. The original 1947 version I grew up on.

[2] One proper-form rule I get to break is that of spelling out numbers instead of using numerals. I hate spelling out numbers. Vive la révolution!

[3] I also get to make up any weird onomatopoeia I want to.

[4] Opportunity For Growth started out as a suggestion for healthy attitude adjustment toward coping with life's problems. But it's become a sarcastic 12-step-program euphemism for Miserable Experience. When you complain, you get told to stop your Pity Party. But word it as, "I had an Opportunity For Growth this week," and you get lots of sympathy: "O no! I am so sorry!" etc etc.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

Good post. I've had some of the same thoughts about blogging since I started, but I am REALLY enjoying how the act of blogging exercises my writing muscles.

Plus, I have a kitchen project to show off. :-) (more pics coming in the next day or so!)