Hi. Today is Wednesday, May 23, 2012. It is a sunny day in California. Today is also the day I have decided to end the personal writing blogosphere as we know it.
Sure, it will continue on in the same way for most of you — business as usual. But it will change for me, and once you see my paradigm shift, many of you will see the wisdom here.
Change is the future.
Blogging, once a radical act, has become pedestrian. But I’m not going to take the obvious route, and rant about monetization. Making money is good. I want to discuss the concept of niche.
Bon Stewart recently wrote a brilliant post about niche from an academic point of view, and came down hard on the concept.
Every group within society has its markers, its distinctions. We think of them as our tastes, but they are – says Bourdieu – markers of our class identities, internalized and usually invisible to us. (Or they were until the hipsters started drinking Pabst, at least.)
Distinction says “I am not that. I am this.”
Unlike Bon, I’ve given up fighting against niches. There will always be niches. Even those who feel trapped in their niche are afraid to leave it.
In my view, the problem lies in one simple fact: we are not the master of our own niches. These categories have been created by others, usually marketers who want to sell us things. We need to fit into a box to be acceptable. Food bloggers. Craft bloggers. Mom bloggers. Dad bloggers. Self-Help “You are Beautiful and Be Happy” Bloggers.
This does not work for me. There is a talent to writing for a niche, but it is not a universal one. It doesn’t mean that we are talentless. It means that we don’t have children. Or aren’t married. Or aren’t close to being experts in cooking or knitting or celebrity gossip. Or we are just weird.
And frankly, a system which categorizes writers by personal lifestyles is extremely crude. Do you read Charles Dickens because of his parenthood?
The dominance of this rigid, superficial system of inclusion — created by the market — is something frequently discussed offline. Some of my friends have simply stopped blogging because of it, feeling as if they don’t belong in the market. Others have become defiant, shouting to the world that they don’t need any niche; they can march to their own drummer.
I used to be the latter, wanting to go it alone. But it is a lonely road. A niche offers more than just monetization or categorization. It offers companionship in a group. And having a “tribe” creates confidence and power.
I have decided to embrace the niche. Embrace the friendship and power in order to combat the pressures of this lonely and difficult profession.
The difference with my niche system is that I don’t want to follow what the market has decided is right for me. That boots me to the back of the bus, because that is where the market thinks I belong. I want to create a niche that works and empowers me.
There is historical precedents for creating your own niche. There have been countless artistic and literary movements throughout the ages — Cubism, the Bloomsbury Group, the Beat Movement, Impressionism, Romanticism, Social Realism, Neo-realism, etc. Many of our favorite artists and writers from the 17th to 20th Century were members of these niches. They were creative individuals — yes, but they also teamed with others to nurture their creativity. Was it exclusionary? Yes. Was it focusing on distinction? Of course. But it was a far less primitive system than separating the world by lifestyle, marital status, and gender.
I’m done trying to figure out whether I am a humor blogger, a memorist, or a diarist. I would love to be a member — at least of a while — of a group of Humorous Surrealists. Many of my favorite posts involve hyper-realism where I talk to my dead father or get berated by my own penis. I would love to read more writers who write in this style. What do our styles have in common? What is different? When does the surrealism overcome the artistic point of the piece? What are we both trying to say about the current world?
I presented this idea to Sarah Gilbert of Cafe Mama, a writer I greatly respect. She said that she wished she could be in a movement titled “Domestic Realism.” I loved it! How much more empowering to be in a movement titled “Domestic Realism” than being seen as a bland “mommyblogger.” A “Domestic Realism” movement would be committed to viewing the world of the parent, warts and all, showing the dirty dishes in the sink rather than the Architectural Digest view of things. It would be a distinction based on artistic temperament rather than social status.
I believe that drama is good for the creative spirit, so I can imagine having fun artistic conflicts, like in Paris of the 1920’s. I would write a post accusing Sarah and her “domestic realism” friends of missing the point of the spiritual in art. She would strike back, accusing “the surrealists” as being immature frat boys, going for cheap bathroom humor. Of course, when we met up at some conference, we would all laugh together, knowing that our arguments were part of necessary artistic growth, not personal nonsense over who breastfed and who used formula. The Golden Age of Blogging would begin.
A bit crazy? Maybe. I love writing online, and it makes me sad to see so many of my friends give up. When did the marketers, PR people, and sponsored posts start dominating the field and setting the agenda? The current niche system only works for those who fit in.
My idea is simple: don’t quit. Let’s create our own artistic niches. I’ll see you at the virtual Parisian cafe at night (uh, Twitter) where we can argue about writing.
(note: this post was sitting in my draft file for a week until I read this post from Helen Jane: Know What You Want)