The Amateur

pompeifresco-278x208 roman writerI dropped out of my writers’ group after I stopped writing my novel.  As with so many of my writing projects, I spent a month polishing the first chapter, then wrote the next nine chapters in nine days.  It’s far more fun to write, write, write than to polish.

But I love writers’ groups. I miss the excitement of the rustle of paper as the copies of manuscripts are breathlessly distributed. I miss the diverse population of the shaggy ex-freaks, the chic professionals, the retired women with their graceful novels-in-a-drawer, and the talented slackers with their drug memoirs.

Stories are not attacked in writer’s groups.  The feedback is kind.

It isn’t school.

Nobody’s going to tear your story apart.

An editor is not going to reject you.

I still remember my friend, Cassandra, rolling back and forth over a rejection letter from a poetry editor in her wheelchair.

“My poetry is goddamned better than theirs!”

And, yes, it really was.

I am a dilettante.  My husband says, “Get offline and write that book that will support our retirement.”  (But haven’t all the vampire books been written?)

Anyway, I enjoy blogging.  I write whatever I want, personal stuff, book notes, and mini-essays.

But “blog” is a disparaging word, and bloggers should find another word for their writings.

In 2012, Sir Peter Stothard, editor of TLS, Dwight Garner, a critic for The New York Times, and Jacob Silverman, a freelance writer for Slate, attacked amateur online writers, claiming that the blog and social media have weakened traditional criticism and publishing.   Even the novelist Howard Jacobson mocked blogging in his novel, Zoo Time:  “The blog is yesterday,” the hero wants to tell his gloomy publisher, who believes the blog “is the end of everything.” He says the problem lies with “myBlank and shitFace and whatever else was persuading the unRead to believe everybody had a right to his opinion.”

What they don’t understand is that blogging is very much about voice.

The blogger, D. G. Myers, an intelligent writer whose conservative views are usually very different from my own, articulately championed blogging recently.

Blogging is not merely an amateur’s medium. It is a dissent from the professionalization of literature, where professionalization is represented by English departments and creative writing workshops and print magazines and large publishing houses which are subsidiaries of even larger conglomerates. What Jacques Barzun calls the professional’s fallacy (namely, the superstition that understanding is identical with professional practice) has transformed the institutions of literacy into closed shops. If you’re not employed in the literature racket, you might as well, in literary terms, not exist.

Although there is much mockery of the blogger who announces, “Peter Buck is a god!” there are many gifted amateurs who write thoughtful, interesting essays and reviews.  Are novelists and nonfiction writers professional?  Not until they’ve published.  And there are not enough traditional publishers anymore to support talented amateurs.

There are many different style of blogging.  There are the intellectual bloggers, like Ellen Moody and D. G. Myers, who write scholarly notes and reviews.  Ellen often writes about women’s books, Myers about Jewish literature.

Blogger Pioneer Woman now has a cooking show on the Food Network.

Blogger Pioneer Woman now has a cooking show on the Food Network.

Then there are the domestic bloggers: Pioneer Woman intersperses her stories of an impossibly interesting ranch family with recipes, and is so popular she has published cookbooks; Dovegreyreader, though billed as a book blogger, is also domestic, pulling us into her world with anecdotes about her family and pets.

Some women bloggers on my “sidebar” are not what I’d call domestic writers: they intersperse personal writing with musings on books, but they do not sentimentalize family life (something I have been guilty of occasionally).  Among these areBelle, Book, and Candle and Thinking  in Fragments.

Most of the male bloggers on my blogroll are remarkably impersonal.  I know only the sketchiest details about the personal lives of Asylum, Kevin in Canada, and Tony’s Book World.

Two exceptions to this rule of the Impersonal Male are A Common Reader and Stuck in a Book.  A Common Reader writes good book reviews, but he has occasionally mentioned his music and included a video of his performance of one of his songs (excellent), which made me think very well of him.  Stuck in a Book focuses on middlebrow women’s books, but he also writes comically about bookstores, baking, and outings with his twin, who is apparently his opposite in matters of reading tastes.

One does not need to don the “professional” journalist’s or scholar’s voice to write a book blog.  And even if the blogs read like rough drafts, it is easy to see the talent, intelligence, or humor between the lines.

I don’t know how long blogs will last as a genre.  It seems to me that people are turning to shorter and shorter forms, like the tweet.  Blogs are part of what I call the “long-attention-span indoor culture.”  As our climate changes and society fragments (looting after Hurricane Sandy:  you know the kind of thing), huge numbers of people will stay indoors, addicted to the internet.  The more they can get us to blog and tweet and stay indoors, the less trouble they’ll have.

And, yes, I’d better go write that vampire novel, because I’ve got Climate Change blues.

15 thoughts on “The Amateur

  1. In an earlier day many people kept journals which then shared with family and close friends. I feel that my blog is my journal. Mostly I reflect on what my reading means to me but occasionally I get more personal. The effort to state my reactions clearly helps me to draw more meaning from the words of others. It will never put the professionals out of work.


  2. Thank you so much for your kind mention. I suspect that many of those people who denigrate bloggers are fearful that their power base is going to be challenged and unable to accept the idea that there as many opinions about a book (or any other work of art) as there are readers. It seems to me that trying to obtain and maintain power in every walk of life is one of the true evils of humankind.

    I blog because, unlike whoever it was that said “I know what I think when I hear what I say”, I have always been someone who knew what she thought when she saw what she had written. It straightens out and orders my ideas. I kept paper journals for years and blogging is simply my way of saving a great many trees. Also, I began blogging when I was very ill and then it was a way of building a community at a time when getting out and about was impossible.

    And do go and write that novel and enjoy the company of other writers. When I was teaching the children hated the idea of redrafting until I brought in something I had written that needed working on and shared it with them. Together we picked out the bits that weren’t working and they offered suggestions which they discussed with great seriousness until a consensus was reached as to what was the best amendment. Thereafter they formed writing circles of their own and benefitted tremendously from it.


  3. An excellent article. And not just because I get a mention in it (but thanks for that). I see blagging as a democratisation of the review process and as you point out, a chance to bypass the in-crowd of the literary establishment. I think Amazon are doing their bit with kindle self – publishing although for commercial reasons.


  4. Silver Season, I love the idea of a shared journal. Your blog fits that category very well. I would have listed you along with Alex and Belle if I hadn’t gotten so tired of writing (you can see that I didn’t even put in links this time!).

    Alex, I do know what you mean about the power base. Journalists are losing their jobs, and the publishing world is chaotic. Bloggers get blamed. Surely journalists also like to write–how can they blame us? Yes, yours IS like a journal–and I forgot to mention you also write about theater. Writing to know what you mean–I understand that very well!

    Tom, I have to laugh at “blagging”! A character in Zoo time refers to blogging a blagging. (Did you read that?) Your phrase “Democratization of the review process” is exactly what it is. I had not thought about Amazon Self helping with the democratization, but it obviously is. The e-world has freed many writers.


  5. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Karen Russell’s latest collection of stories, due in April, has the word ‘vampire’ in its title. I had thought that the last few years had pretty much spoiled that word for reputable literary writers.


  6. Kat, Thanks for the kind mention. I hate the word ‘blog’ – it makes me think of a cross between the sounds of burping and vomiting. I wish we could come up with a more melodic word.

    And, oh dear. If I were to write about my domestic life, the screen would be blank.


  7. Tony, vampires are “in.” I suppose there’s not a real vampire in Russell’s book. I haven’t read that much vampire fiction except the Twilight books, which, of course, I actually liked, but somehow I’ve missed out on its successors. You’re keeping me up on contemporary fiction, Tony! I’ve still got Swamplandia, which I know you liked.

    I know Justin Cronin turned to vampire books. And they’ve gotten good reviews. I haven’t felt like reading them, though.

    Belle, the word “blog” doesn’t sound like you at all. It is a silly word. It stands for “web log,” according to Wikipedia. Are we writing “web logs?” No, we are not.

    Yes, someone should rename them for us. I guess “journals,” or “shared journals,” are something like what many of us do. And some write straight book reviews.

    So many different blogs!

    I should explore some new ones, but I don’t know how to find them, except for clicking on bloggers’ sidebars.


  8. It’s interesting you find most male blogs are impersonal. OTOH, studies have shown that when men put photos on their websites or blogs, it’s far commoner for them to have a comic self-mocking (deprecating). Women use mug shots (front face), them inside their family, or some objects alone or with them that they value.


  9. Ellen, I don’t see many photos at the blogs I read, either! It’s odd, but maybe bloggers save those for Facebook (which I still don’t have).

    Belle, a commonplace book is a lovely idea. I think that fits the graceful writing at your blog.

    We’re all doing something different.


  10. Blogging is definitely ‘all about the voice’ – and so many are essentially dull and unable to avoid sounding self-important (much worse when they’re established and have a large and somewhat slavish following ;-)!).
    Your voice is beguiling, not least because you write so well and don’t flinch from following themes so that there is a sense of an entire personality (as opposed to over-written, competitive and self-conscious snippets). ‘Bon courage’: keep on keeping on!


  11. Thank you for your kind words! I do enjoy blogs, and I know many good ones, but I do wonder how long any of us will keep it up. 🙂 I’m sure I miss out on many new blogs: the same ones turn up again and again in sidebars of book blogs, and though I mean to look for new blogs, I’m not often referred to them.

    Thank you again!


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