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.