A few weeks ago, there was a raucous argument online over the unimportant question of the day — are bloggers “real” writers?
I have my own thoughts about this, but I’m all about spreading the love, so for all practical purposes, I edge towards saying “yes.” If you write, you’re a “real” writer, whatever that means. A “professional” writer might be a better writer, but then again, there are a lot of shitty books published about cats.
The problem is the word “writing,” which like “blogging” is too broad and meaningless. A doctor is a doctor, but you don’t want a pediatrician doing your heart surgery. Blogging is a new art, and a singular discipline. A good blogger might write a boring book. On the other hand, I have read blogs written by novelists that bore me to tears. These professionals just don’t “get” the community aspect of blogging, or the soap opera-ish, episodic nature of a personal blog. No writer can write anything. Screenwriters are considered the low end of the writing totem pole, but both Hemingway and Fitzgerald took stabs at screenwriting, with awful results. Every art form is different. A play is performed live. A movie uses editing. Blogging is writing. But writing isn’t blogging. And really — who cares? The whole conversation reeks of insecurity. I’m not ashamed to say I am a blogger. I’m ashamed to say I make NO MONEY blogging. But I am proud to blog. I love it!
When we talk about “real” writers, I’m assuming we are all thinking about someone like Jonathan Franzen, a guy who writes BOOKS you can buy in a store. Of course, I only mention him because other bloggers are talking about him, which just proves that blogging is all about immediacy.
Yeah, I hear you. Blogging is exactly like writing. For every person who says that blogging is real writing, I wonder how many times you have gone into my archives to read my “writing,” as if my blog was a collection of short stories. Never! Gotcha!
In some ways, bloggers are not “real writers,” in that blogging is just plain different. Bloggers use links. Links are as revolutionary as editing in a movie, and completely unique to the online experience. You never see links in a traditional novel. Imagine a novelist describing Doctor Zhivago’s house, and then including a link to a photo in Flickr. Bloggers play off of one another, like improv players. Someone writes an angry post. Two hours later, someone writes another post responding. Blogging tends to be topical and immediate, like my name-dropping of Jonathan Franzen. “Real writers” write in isolation, their beards growing gray as they toil over their masterpiece for ten years in an abandoned cabin in the woods. And here is the real big difference, at least according to me: most bloggers allow COMMENTS! Not too many “real writers” allow comments on their novel, unless you are one of those crazy readers who scribble notes to the author on the side of the page.
“WTF?! Are you saying that his wife is his OWN SISTER?! You are a perv!”
If you want to feel like a “real” writer, shut down your comments and let your beard grow. If you want comments, and enjoy the adoration, you are a blogger. Be happy.
Of course, as times change, so will our ideas about “writing.” In ten years, all books might have “links” embedded, as we read them on our Kindles.
Which brings me to the real point of this post — blog comments. If you are one of those people who shook your fist and shouted “Bloggers can be REAL WRITERS!,” I have a another question for you. “Do you consider commenting to be real writing, and if no, why not?”
I do. I consider my comments an integral part of my post. The comments on one of my posts can be more interesting than my post. They are very important in humor blogging. Have you ever read the comments on The Bloggess? They are hilarious. Her blog would not be half as fun without her comments. Jenny and her commenters FEED off of each other. In fact, their relationship is so strong, I think she should SHARE all of her advertising dollars with her commenters.
I see many bloggers complaining about a lack of comments. They usually blame Twitter and Facebook. I say, it is your own fault. You don’t respect comments as “real” writing. You consider stupid one-liners on Twitter as “writing,” but the comments on your blog as an appendage to YOUR brilliant post. Is it any wonder that there has been a brain-drain from the comment section to the Twitter stream? There has already been a book on Twitter Wit? Can you imagine a book of blog comments? Can you imagine anyone getting a sitcom deal or book deal from a blog comment? Of course not. No one really respects the blog comment.
The first lesson I learned at film school is that the auteur theory of film-making was hogwash, created to fulfill the need for critics to analyze a movie in the same way that they would a book — written by one author.
We tend to view our blogs under this same “auteur” theory, dissing the community aspect of the medium. Of course, this doesn’t stop us from pimping our blog posts on Twitter, or constantly networking. Blogging is not only writing. It is part circus, part Borg.
I write my blog. It is my words. But during my five year writing journey, I have been guided by YOU as much as by my own life. YOU have been part of my experience. We all have been part of each other’s blogging life. This is what we mean when we talk about this “community.” If we all just want to write on our own and think of ourselves as “writers,” then let’s drop blogging and write our books. But if we are going to blog, we should embrace “blogging.”
I am not a good commenter. I am more comfortable talking about my own life, than reflecting on yours. I consider this a fault.
Commenting is a skill. It is real writing. I greatly appreciate smart comments. For the longest time, I have wanted to come up with some sort of blog award, solely for comments, something that would undercut the typical “Best Blog of All Time” idea, a concept that would embrace the community, not just the individual blogger making believe she writes in complete isolation. Perhaps by enobling the comment as an art form, as “real” writing, we can energize commenting again. Wouldn’t it be great to see a session at a conference where the speakers doesn’t suggest ways to “get MORE COMMENTS” but instead — “how to write more meaningful comments on the blogs of your friends?” — taught by some of the best commenters amongst us.
If I actually started a Commenting Award, my personal nominee would be Headbang8. When he comments on one of my posts, he takes my topic to another level. This is, despite the fact that I rarely comment on HIS blog, mostly because he lives in Europe and isn’t in my usual circle of friends. I can tell that this isn’t a reader who has zoomed though 100 blog posts in one morning. He has actually thought about the subject, and when he writes a comment, I consider him to be a collaborator on the post.
And just to show how much he means to me, I will now share all of my advertising dollars with him.
Here is one of his recent comments on my post about my “big ears.”
Americans are plastic people. Often, in the best sense of the word.
Live your dream. You want to be an astronaut? Sure! A doctor? A scientist? A millionaire? Anybody can be anything they want to be. I was born in a log cabin but grew up to be president. I was once a football player and now I’m an actor. I was once a cheerleader and now I’m a movie star. I was a Catholic, now I’m a Buddhist. Live your dream. If you don’t, you have only yourself to blame. You didn’t try hard enough.
That sort of thinking spreads to your body. If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde. You can shape your body. If you’re fat, it’s your own fault.
I once worked on the advertising account of a product that had to do with teeth. My god, what baggage teeth carry! If your teeth are bad, it’s a marker of poor discipline (did you brush right as a child?) or social class (could your parents afford braces?) or old age (yellow = old and decrepit). People around the world shake their heads in amazement about an American’s obsession with his smile.
Amidst all this obsession about be-the-best-you-can-be, it comes as a comfort, from time to time, simply to say “I am what I am”.
That’s what your tribe is for. The people amongst whom you feel comfortable. Who know your experience. The people with whom you can let your hair down.
Generally, we are born into a tribe. Few of us change ourselves to be part of a tribe to which we don’t naturally belong. We see or find people like ourselves. And discover that though we may differ, the thing we have in common makes those other differences unimportant. That’s a source of great serenity, self-confidence and strength.
The big-eared. It may seem slight to build a tribe around. But it was enough to make you feel bad about yourself growing up. It had an effect on you.
These wing-nuts, these head-kites, these flesh-made Flying Nuns, these Basset Humans, these Dumbos are your people, Neil. Embrace them. Love them. May you never have to grow your hair long, ever again.
Now THAT is “real” writing. In a comment.