I’ve been accused of being overly pretentious when it comes to my views on literature and writing before (regarding posts on this blog, actually), but when I found this post, I thought I must have just found a couple of hungry trolls because I feel that my posts do nothing to rival that level of conceit.
You see, the post I linked claims that bloggers are not technically “writers” because blogs are considered “low writing style.” The author generalizes blogs as being lists of how-tos and gathered links and, to an extent, is correct; there are blogs that fall into those criteria. There are blogs that the author fails to mention that delve deeper into subjects which read like serialized essays. The author also claims that blogs generally lack a distinct voice or style which can attract readers. Later in the post, the argument is made that a blog is not creative writing because there is no character development in the prose. Personally, I find all these particular qualms ridiculous, particularly the last one because there are many forms of creative writing (poetry, personal essays, letters and journals) which thrive off of structure and talent as equally as prose fiction, without having a character one.
After a little clicking around the site, I found a blog dated a few days ago that talked about this particular blogger graduating from college with a creative writing degree and having to finally get into the “real” world. This is where I started to get amazed and a little disgruntled. I highly respect education and those who strive for the life of the mind, but there also comes a point where theory and lofty idealism breaks from practicality. Not to seriously knock her, but with a freshly printed college degree, there is a wide world of writing and literature waiting to be discovered. I can barely fathom how much my life and academic outlook has changed in just the three years since I graduated college or how much they will change as I work toward finishing my Ph.D. Education is a fantastic tool to train students how to start thinking, but I wager from my admittedly limited reading of her blogs that this particular poster has been fed too much traditionally canonic education to be practical or open-minded when it comes to the evolution of language, literature, and writing.
But this post isn’t about bashing this blogger’s self-righteous pomp. I promise. It really started me thinking. Which I fully admit is the first and most prominent feature of effective writing, so Ms. Blair Hurley succeeded in at least that.
Admittedly, I’m new to blogging. I have been doing this seriously for right around a month as of this writing, and I’ve churned out twenty-ish posts of varying quality. I love to blog, and I consider myself a writer because of it (among other things). I can’t help but relate blogging to column writing, a much desired position by many writers. Why, then, are columnists considered “writers,” when bloggers aren’t? Both blogs and columns are op-ed pieces, and I have found blogs online which appear to have more editorial control than some national magazines.
Part of it has to be the selection process. Reporters and journalists often work for years before they’re offered a full-time (or even part-time) column in a paper or magazine. Their writing has to be perfect for a particular demographic, so they’re carefully chosen by their editors. A blogger, on the other hand, can start a blog about anything at any time for free and start promoting it like mad. The selection process can be analogized to submitting to a peer-reviewed academic journal or submitting to Associated Content. What matters, though, is quality of writing. There are lots of articles on AC that are very worth reading (and a great many that aren’t). Readers have to weed through the chaff on the internet, though, to find the truly fantastic essays. A columnist, however, has been selected to be delivered to subscribing readers because he or she is known to have astounding writing, and peer-reviewed journals only let the best and brightest scholarship get introduced through their publications. Columnists might seem to be of higher quality when, in fact, a blogger or an AC content producer might have just as much, if not more to say on the same subject. They just generally don’t come with a standing pedigree.
Then there’s the idea that some writing is “high” writing and some writing is “low,” that some authors write things of worth, while others write frivolous nonsense. This elitism really gets under my skin. Writing is writing. There really is no distinction between “high” and “low” writing. The worth of the prose itself should be judged by its quality of content (and the quality of the writing itself), not the medium in which it is published or the audience it targets. Thinking that just because someone writes regularly for a blog and self-edits does not mean they have any less skill as a writer than a published novelist. The blogger just has a different medium in which he or she chooses to publish. The content’s quality, not the topic or medium, needs to be categorized as “high” or “low.” I wrote extensively on this subject a while ago because it is probably the single most closed-minded approach to literary analysis I can think of.
As far as what Blair Hurley above mentions as developing character, Matticus calls branding. While there are subtle differences in how this aspect is approached, I want to go back to my columnist analogy. A columnist is considered a real writer, yet he or she does not build fictional characters along the way. Columnists build themselves as a character who readers want to hear about, and that becomes a way of developing a character as well as making a selling a recognizable brand that people want to come back to. Over the course of a blogger’s (or columnist’s) career, people begin to associate a certain style and tone as well as quality with that person. If the blogs being posted begin to change, readers stop reading because they have grown attached to a persona which is being altered. They have followed the progression (for years sometimes) of what can best be described as character, even though there is rarely, if ever, a full narrative written. The writing itself develops this persona through the medium. It can thus be considered ludicrous for her to say that blogging cannot be creative writing because character is missing; one of the most prominent features of blogging is character, just not the kind of character one might find in prose fiction.
And then there’s the idea of creative writing itself. What specifically categorizes writing as creative, and can the ability to write it be taught? I’ve wanted an MFA in creative writing for years, since before I got my undergrad degree. I went into a M.A. program instead because I was told that an MFA was a degree of passion rather than practicality. I found out recently that my department did not recognize the MFA as a terminal degree, either, and if I were to proceed with the program I was looking at, I would not be paid or promoted like I would if I were to obtain my Ph.D. That took the wind right out of my sails. I kept reading up on it, however, and since my department chair told me this, I have been more aware of disdain that professional writers and other academics have for creative writing programs at the university and post-graduate level. It seems like a widely held opinion that writing programs suck any innate voice and talent a writer might have and replace it with trite rules and formulas that offer little practical value as a writer. I have read people say that any writer who is worth being published in the first place can do it without paying for a degree; the creative writing programs just make a unique writer conform to supposed literary “rules” which are stale by the time they get into academics to begin with.
As much as I want to write and publish fiction (and eventually get an MFA), I kind of agree with this. I know that sounds a little like a cop-out because I want one but was told no, so it’s like I’m a kid whose mom said I couldn’t have that cookie, and I retort by saying “well, I never wanted it in the first place” and pout a while. It’s not like that. And the reason I feel that way toward the degree is because of my starting blogging and wanting to take it seriously. Matticus is right: blogging is hard work.
Writing 1000 or more words that are worth reading and posting them on a regular schedule takes a lot of mental energy. I am generally always thinking of new things to write on this blog; my mind rarely stops going. I have a folder on my flash drive where I just make new files with headlines for titles that I might want to come back and write about eventually, my iPhone has a series of notes dedicated to future blog posts and academic paper topics, and I have a small Moleskine notebook that I keep around me in case I get an idea. And if there is one thing I have an abundance of, it’s ideas. They might not always be good ones, but I have them in droves. I decided my schedule was going to be posting a new blog every other day, so 3 to 4 posts per week. That’s actually quite a bit, given how wordy I am and the process of revising each post.
So taking into consideration that I have to come up with 3 to 4 new ideas a week, write them, revise them, and make sure they possess a certain style and voice that makes them at least partially entertaining, I say that a great deal of creative energy goes into keeping a blog running smoothly. For Hurley to say otherwise is incredibly closed-minded and elitist. Sure, bloggers don’t end up with 100,000 words in a single narrative, but they write roughly that many on a select group of topics in roughly the same amount of time. Good bloggers put forth just as much effort in their posts as any other prose writer, essayist, novelist, reviewer, and so on. To have them considered a lower form of artist is inane and pretentious, and does not give the effort that these people put forth the respect it deserves.
In the end, I always go back to the same old idea: at base, writing is writing. We all enjoy different things, sure, but there is no need to bash and belittle anyone’s choice of medium. Effective blogging takes as much creative effort as a columnist or a novelist or any other writer. The internet as a medium is just looked down on since it’s accessible to anyone and everyone. There is no “high” and “low” writing, there is only “good” and “bad,” and those are opinions at best. These dichotomies exist in prose fiction as well as poetry and blogging and columns and any other form of writing. I hold that no writing is any “higher” in stance and importance than any other. It is impossible to not admit, however, that some books and stories (and blogs!) are simply better put together than others. Bloggers go through the same process of creation as any other writer, so for them to be considered “lower” is an insult not only to the writing itself, but to the person who chooses to spend his or her creative time by blogging. No amount of education or training gives a person the ability to deny, by simple virtue of medium and definition, the much-lauded moniker of “writer” just because there isn’t a Blogging 101 class that teaches students so-called rules.
If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck…
Or in other words: if it writes, edits, proofs, and revises, then it looks to me like it’s a writer.