Why everything we write shouldn’t go instantly to readers, by Sarah Glazer.
Blogging, self-publishing, Facebook, Twitter. Our words go directly and instantaneously to readers thanks to these new formats, but maybe we're losing the time for reflection and sifting--dare I say editing?--that makes writing an art, not just a personal confession, a narcissistic exercise or a superficial crowd-pleaser.
In the midst of all the celebration over today’s torrent of immediate transmission, New Republic
art critic Jed Perl
recently raised a finger for silence—or at least for the moment of creation when writers are alone with their own words. Here are some of Perl’s wait-a-minute gems:
“We need to remember that a book—or a painting or a piece of music—begins as the product of an individual imagination, and can retain its power even when largely or even entirely ignored … “[W]riters who live for their readers—or for what their editors imagine their readers want—may end up with an impoverished relationship with those readers.
“Writing, before it is anything else, is a way of clarifying one’s thoughts. For many of us who love the act of writing … there is something monastic about the process, a confrontation with one’s thoughts that has a value apart from the proximity or even perhaps the desirability of any other readers.”
As a writer, I warm to Perl’s description of writing as “an extraordinarily intimate confrontation between the disorderly impressions in the writer’s mind and the more or less orderly procession of words that the writer manages to produce on the page.”
It reminds me of how many times I surprise myself by coming up with a phrase that captures what I want to say as I sit alone with my keyboard in some kind of trance—a phrase I didn’t know was inside my brain beforehand no matter how many times I’ve thought or spoken about the subject.
And yet, as a workaday journalist, I ‘m not sure I’d be writing this piece now if I weren’t up against a deadline—or if I didn’t have in mind all the possible She Writes readers out there. At the same time, I wonder if I’m trying too hard to increase my audience by writing a first sentence crammed with the kinds of contemporary terms I’ve been assured will make my blog pop up in google searches.
The process of writing and polishing often involves rejecting what one has composed or even holding back from readers. The inability to hold back, epitomized by 28-year-old blogger Emily Gould
, may explain the mixed reception of her book And the Heart Says Whatever
, recounting her career as a writer for the gossip site Gawker
and as an independent blogger. She cheats on her boyfriend, breaks up with him, then blogs about him against his wishes. Writing about this for the New York Times Magazine
, she admits, “I was compulsively seeking gratification from strangers at the expense of the feelings of someone I actually knew and loved.” That article leads to their ultimate estrangement.
The result for her writing? She settles for the “shallowness” of instant cocktail-party name recognition but doesn’t seem, entirely, to realize it, according to Times reviewer Maria Russo
OK, I get it that everything we experience is just “material” if you’re a writer. But I wonder if the very personal Internet blog, by breaking down the traditional privacy of the diary, can actually make for worse writing—when there’s no time for reflection or for the critical eye of an editor. A kind of garrulousness descending into logorrhea.
Wondering if bloggers ever feel that constraint, I read with fascination the interview that Victoria Mixon
posted on She Writes with The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, who draws a half million page views every month with her very personal and funny blog TheBloggess
Is there any line the Bloggess won’t cross? To avoid hurting people she’ll first read posts to friends, who laugh hysterically and then say, “That was awesome and you can NEVER, NEVER publish it.” Good friends make good editors, she observes. And good editors know what to cut.
When it comes to personal revelation, I’ve written some pieces that I felt compelled to put on paper to sort out my feelings but I’ll probably never publish them while the people I describe are still alive. As the Bloggess says, “The problem is when I start writing about my life it’s not just my story anymore. It’s my parents,’ inlaws’ husband’s’” children’s. … you can finish the list.
I’m interested to hear what other writers out there think—Are we losing quality with the breakdown of our traditional filters—or is it worth it to gain voices we would never have heard?