Monday, December 7, 2009

Honest to Blog

As I mentioned in my first post, blogging does not come naturally to me.  Why is this?  I think the main issue is one of control.  As a fiction writer – and, hell, as a human being – I tend to obsess over the way I present my words to others.  When I was in my MFA program, I would read my submissions over and over, often aloud (to the amusement, and probably irritation, of my partner and dog), checking and re-checking the sentences for imprecisions, repetitions, grammatical mistakes, and weird punctuation.  After I printed out a copy, I invariably found more flaws.  Our windowsill is still cluttered with a pile of scrap paper from my torn-up drafts.  Although the finished product still sometimes bore unfortunate sentences like, "She shoved her glasses up her nose" ("Wouldn't that hurt?" inquired a friend), for the most part I at least had the illusion that what I was offering up in class was polished, thought-out, complete.  The same is true for me even with communication where that shouldn't matter.  I preemptively bought a bottle of white-out for writing holiday cards this weekend (and promptly put it to use), and whoever invented the "review and re-record your message" function on modern voicemail is both my savior and my tormenter.  If I could have three wishes, one would be for an edit function on emails already sent.

One of the purposes of a blog, for me, is to provide myself a low-stakes forum for hashing out half-formed ideas.  In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott extols the "shitty first draft"; similarly, another writer pal and I often exhort each other to "poop it out," to get words down on paper, regardless of the quality.  Rewriting and polishing are essential, of course: though charmed by it as a teenager, I'd never endorse Allen Ginsberg's credo, "First thought, best thought" now.  But sometimes, I err too far to the other extreme: I can prune the first thought away to nothing before it has the chance to grow.

I don't yet have a wide circle of readers on this blog, but I do have a handful now, and I find that the more people I imagine might see my posts, the longer and more worked-over those posts become.  Although I like the idea that I can delve into my ideas and opinions deeply here, and I want to keep that trend going, I also think that goal can, at times, undermine what a blog does best.  The blog post can and does bear a resemblance to many earlier forms – the newspaper column, the journal entry, the book review, the editorial, the essay, the memoirist's vignette – but at heart it is a new animal, mutant and rangy and omnivorous as a Sendak beast.  The tendency of the poem is toward an austerity of language, the novel toward a broadness of ambition and scope, but the tendency of the blog post is toward immediacy, speed—and then dialog, as the blogger's voice spills out from the main post into the comments.

Though I grew up in the first generation of bloggers, this idea is still foreign to me.  But I think it's a beautiful one, and it's something I'll try to keep in mind as I continue my work here at Ye Olde Chaw Shoppe.


Eric Taxier said...

True, true. And dialog also "spills out" into other blog posts. Of course, sometimes a bunch of people just write about the same thing in a bubble -- like those #twitter topics... But maybe such anti-rigor is part of blogging's immediacy?

Virginia said...

Oh, oh, oh, do I feel your pain here. I can spend a good half an hour crafting the right Facebook update — but I didn't realize that committing to blogging daily would mean sacrificing an awful lot of sleep to revising and revising and revising (even the short posts). I do love the immediacy of the format, but I also get irked when I read other people's blogs and spot typos and unfinished thoughts. The idea that they're probably lurking all over the place on my blog (especially as I'm still developing the narrative threads and arguments and such) is completely horrifying.

So thank you for reminding me that the blog is also about the conversation and the chance to connect personally with readers and writers... it's sort of like one big writer's workshop, I guess. And we can try (I said try! As I go reread my post for tomorrow morning) to leave the perfectionist polishing for the book writing. Argh.

The Chawmonger said...

I guess perfectionism is in our blood! Seriously, Virginia, if it's any consolation, your blog is one I look to as a model. Even though you agonize over your posts, you don't let that freeze you up -- it seems like you have something new posted almost every day, and it's always interesting, conversational, and a jumping-off point to a larger discussion... all of which is essential to this form.

I think self-imposed quality control is important in the blogging world, since there are no editors to catch our mistakes, but for me as a reader, the occasional typo is less important than the larger project/voice of the blog... which is something I'm trying to remember as a writer, too. But it does take some getting used to. It's a brave new world for all of us, I guess.