Thursday, November 11, 2010

From Writer to Blogger to Writer

I have been quite busy with my education blog, but I wanted to take a break to write here about writing, a.k.a., the reason I started this blog in the first place.

Recently,  I was a guest blogger on Valerie Strauss's blog on The Washington Post website, "The Answer Sheet." I sent her this, the original post, a critique of Michelle Rhee's tenure as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. 

Valerie wrote back and said it was "terrific" and that she wanted to run it. Yay! After a day or so she wrote back to let me know that she still wanted to run it but that her editor said it was too long and needed to be cut and reorganized. I agreed, given the context and audience. Since I was tired of looking at the thing and knew she could do a much better job than I could of molding it to fit her particular blog, I let her do the edits.

The final version of the revised piece came out more strident and less contemplative than the original post, as it should have been, but the experience caused me to do some thinking about writing, blogging, voice, and what my goals are.

When I started this blog, my purpose was to self-publish and get feedback on my writing, to hone my craft, same with the food blog, just that the topic merited its own blog. I got good feedback on the writing, but many told me, including my own mother, that the posts were too long. One friend asked me if I could provide cliffs notes. Valerie's editor was essentially saying the same thing. As I've sent my education blog around to education people, I've gotten some additionally similar feedback, for example, one guy told me the posts should be "shorter and punchier."

This feedback is right on, for blogging, but when I started this blog I had no intention of becoming a blogger, per se. I just wanted to work on being a writer. On her own blog, education journalist Dana Goldstein discusses what it means to be a blogger and a writer in the digital age. I thought it was she who said (I can't locate the sentence now), "why can't blogging just be called writing?" Indeed. But I have come to realize that I should be writing in one way for my blog and in other ways for other publications.

This article in The New York Times Magazine explores the world of online journalism and blogging (and I just discovered another good one on the same topic in the Columbia Journalism Review). One line that really resonated with me was, "Opinions posted on blogs are cheap. Great journalism is expensive.” That's basically what I was trying to say in this post on journalism. For me, though, I am blogging to become a writer. It's so challenging to get anything published right now for reasons I won't go into here--blogging keeps me writing, publishing, and keeps the discouragement at bay that the constant stream of rejections bring. 

But blogging is cheap, or rather, uncompensated, and I can't go on doing it indefinitely. People say, "do it for yourself," or as Ted Genoways, the infamous editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review, spat at writers last winter, "Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood." I agree with that in principal, but one has to eat. Does that mean only independently wealthy or comfortable people can afford to write? Is that fair? What will that do to the richness of our country's body of journalism and literature?

I suppose I could move to Norway where, I read in McSweeney's Issue 35, writers are heavily subsidized by the government. I found, though, that the stories in that Issue 35 collection (and perhaps that collection wasn't representative) were rather, well, boring. Is that what comfort and security do a country's body of literature? Does the system in the U.S. weed out the crap and publish only work with the most vital sense of urgency?

I don't know. In the meantime, I'll keep writing, and blogging, until I either can't or won't any longer. 

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