The other day, my sister, in her Livejournal, linked to a rant about how Livejournal in specific and blogging in general interferes with the art, craft, hobby, and profession of fiction writing. This is the rant.
I hate the word “rant,” at once falsely modest and self-excusing. I hate the way this rant was written; it’s purple prose, overwrought and overripe, well beyond what’s needed to establish the half-serious tone she aimed for. It’s too long, two or three times what would have been effective. It repeats itself. Some might say it could be reduced to the last line: “Don’t blog. Write.”
I thought this was what bothered me about it. This, and the snobbish tone that seems to come with being a certain kind of science fiction or fantasy writer (though, in their defense, I’m sure they see more crappy “competition” in the form of doggerel and fanfic than other types of writers).
But there’s something else.
Hobb makes one good point in her rant, about the addictive nature of the interactive instant gratification of online blogs, journals, and comments. It’s true that these things can distract you from writing. Or from any other work you do. Or from eating or sleeping.
But that’s not all of it. It’s specifically about the difference between “writing,” which is “revealing to your rapt reader a world, page by page by fluttering page,” and “blogging,” which is “twitch[ing] and writh[ing] and emot[ing] over the package that was not delivered, the dinner that burned, the friend who forgot your birthday.”
Well. It can be.
“Writing” can also be rehashing the same old recipes of Tolkien and McCaffrey and Brooks and Lackey, doing Harlequin romance with dragons and swords, warmed-over shit stuffing the shelves of guys with long greasy hair and bloatees and wolf T-shirts and kilts. “Blogging” can also be the most wonderfully anarchic and prolific period in essay writing the world has ever seen, out-newsing the newspapers, out-analyzing the analysts, and — here’s probably the uncomfortable part for someone whose livelihood depends on pushing pulp printed on pulp — out-publishing the publishers.
Maybe you don’t buy the blog hype, though. Not everyone’s trying to write timeless essays, it’s true. Some people are just telling you what they bought that day and what color the food particles were when they flossed. Some blogs are just personal diaries, and some read just like letters to their friends. Lame, right? What real writer would lower themselves to put out that shit when they could be writing actual novels?
Well, it looks like James Joyce: Letters, 3 Volumes in 2 Books; Reissued Corrected Edition, the hardcover from 1966, is available on Amazon used starting at $344.50. Letters Home by Sylvia Plath is in print, so it’s only $18. Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971, Revised and Expanded Edition is $21.95. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wasn’t exactly a novelist, but he did write more than 25 non-fiction books and win two Pulitzers, and somehow still found enough time to keep a diary for 48 years, published as Journals: 1952-2000 and marked down to $26.40 on Amazon from a cover price of $40.
I’m quoting the prices not because I think it’s meaningful that you have to pay so much for these letters and diary entries about, I’m sure, what Nixon had for lunch or that day Ted Hughes got mad about the dirty dishes, while you can buy any number of Robin Hobb trilogies for $7.99 per paperback. I’m just trying to point out that what these writers produced for free — the letters they sent to their friends and relatives, the personal diaries they probably showed to no one while they were alive — is now considered valuable enough to publish, to buy, and to read.
In other words, it’s “real writing.”
Oh, but no one would buy faeriegoddess88‘s letters. You need a name like Nabokov on the cover. If it weren’t for Lolita and Pale Fire no one would give a shit about the damn letters. So you have to write the novels or the trenchant political histories for your, you know, blogging to be worth anything.
That may be true, but I don’t think it’s coincidence that these enormously brilliant and productive writers wrote enough letters and journal entries that they could be published in separate volumes. It’s not just that they clearly had time to write “for real” and “blog,” such that the “vampires of the postal service” could not prevent them from writing Ulysses and Ariel.
I think it’s that there’s more to writing than just the stuff you’re trying to sell. I think there’s a reason every writing teacher encourages students to keep a journal, to do freewriting to stir up ideas and limber up the muscles. I think there’s a reason writers in the pre-Internet age were also big letter-writers, like Raymond Chandler (Selected Letters and The Raymond Chandler Papers are, embarrassingly, yours for a fiver and change plus shipping).
This stuff is practice, and more than practice: it’s where ideas are born. “That is life,” Hobb says of blogging, “and we all have one.” She’s right about that: it’s just that some of us take the trouble to examine it, to find more than “the nonsense and drudgery of reality,” as only an escapist fantasy writer would put it.
And speaking of escapist fantasy, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is $10.20 on Amazon. Meanwhile, Robin Hobb’s “rant,” “Vampires of the Internet,” rife with sentences just aching for blue pencil like “With a trembling finger, I double clicked my mouse to unfurl the missive upon my screen” — that’s available online for free.