Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Blogging = writing?

One time I asked Dave Neiwert at Orcinus about whether I should make my blog “legit” and try to be a topic-specific blogger. Neiwert inspired the question because he wrote this post where he mentions he’s going to start talking about other topics besides right-wing media, Michelle Malkin and the Minute Men movement (at least that’s what I perceive his blog coverage mostly to be about). Neiwert was kind enough to respond and say that part of reason to blog is just to work on our writing skills.

I’ve wondered about that however because I often feel like when I write a blog posting it’s my laziest writing ever. I don’t think about an “audience” and I rarely try to focus my thoughts or organize them into a better structure. If you read my actual paper-version diary (which you’re not gonna) you would notice that my blog postings are written in much the same style my diary entries are. (Which is suffering these days because with the blog I don’t find as much need to write in my diary).

Back when I was still doing journalism internships for a now-defunct music magazine in Seattle, the editor asked me if I was writing in a journal every day just for “practice.” I saw his point, that for some people writing is so difficult that they need to keep “in practice” by journaling. But I’ve never been one of those people. I don’t have problems putting words on the page…I have problems making them interesting or just organizing longer thoughts into a complete story.

That’s partly why I started this blog (or rather re-started it) was that I wanted to talk about my Weight Watchers diet. I used to compose these long e-mails to friends that discussed tiny minutia of my life. I notice that I rarely get those kinds of e-mails back from them and I started worrying I was basically boring my friends with stuff they didn’t need to know. Hence, the blog where reading what I write is voluntary. I have no deadlines but no real structure either (also no readers).

However the downside to all this creative freedom, is that I feel like I’ve taken no consideration to structure my posts into coherence or interest. I still feel like this is the most lazy of lazy writing.

There is an upside to this kind of freedom, I have found something that I thought I lost. I actually enjoy writing again.

It’s strange. I used to be a reporter and I clearly recall a coworker, someone in her first reporter’s position, exclaiming to me “don’t you find it’s it just so cool we have a job where we get paid to write!”

I completely did not feel that way. As a reporter I stopped loving writing a long time ago. It felt like pulling teeth to write stories. I would just and most times I just gave up trying to make them the least little bit interesting. It was a tiny bit better when I was in charge of a weekly newspaper for a year. I got the chance to pretty much write whatever I wanted; columns, editorials, news stories, although I still had to keep to a kind of weekly newspaper formula. It was almost too much freedom. It was so heady I didn’t realize how good I had it until it was gone. As a regular joe (jane?) reporter for a nothing-daily newspaper in Ohio, I had to come up with exciting prose about the weekly County Commissioners’ meeting and I just couldn’t do it and mostly didn’t even try. I wrote the blandest, driest shit you ever saw. About everything. I always tell people it was the story about the Mayor’s prayer breakfast was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m Jewish but also mostly agnostic. If anything I despised public displays of “official” piety. The newspaper bought a table at this breakfast and my managing editor was sitting write next to me during the entire event. He could have written the damned story. I deliberately turned in the most threadbare story I possibly could (it was an annual event, pretty much exactly the same thing said every year).

That was kind of it. I realized this was what reporting was going to be like for me for probably 20 years and if I was good I would get to maybe be a columnist by the time I was 40. I would never really like the stories I was writing. Writing stories about things I didn’t care about was like giving away little pieces of my soul. I don’t think I can adequately explain it but I’d rather do boring work than boring journalism. I actually quake a little inside when I think about going back to doing that kind of writing jobs and probably why I’m so picky about the kind of communications jobs I apply for. I really want to care about what I’m pitching.

That’s what I kind of hated about journalism was that it killed my interest not only in writing, but in being a good story-teller. I felt like I was phoning it in for probably more than half of all the stories I wrote. My creative brain probably atrophied.

So that’s why I was really amused by my little adventure with drugs this weekend. It may be a naturally funny story, but how you tell it that makes it interesting. I wrote this mea culpa on Craiglist for that guy. Sure I feel guilty about it, but it was also my way of sharing the “story” to the craigslist world.

And here’s the thing. I’ve gotten some e-mails from people reading my posting. One guy says I seemed “witty.” I can’t tell you how much that perked me up that I, Newscat, can write an amusing anecdote to keep someone’s attention.

Maybe Ornicus is right about this whole “practice” thing.

1 comment:

David Neiwert said...

I'm not so sure that I would call it practice, but rather kind of the groundwork of what is, for me at least, the writing process.

Most of the time, good writing doesn't just spring whole from my fingertips. Most of the time it's a matter of polishing and refinement. The first step is getting words down onto the page, and then the essential step of good writing is making those words better. It's also the really pleasurable part of writing, to be honest.

But that first step, as you mention, can be a real chore, especially if you don't do it a lot. I've found that the more regularly I do it, the easier it becomes. Of course, before I hit publish, I always do at least an initial bit of polishing, so I'm enhancing that part of my craft as well, at least the earlier stages of it.

Of course, the real advantage that blogging has over reporting is that you get to decide what you are going to write about, not some pea-brained city editor.