On the other side are those who find ‘blogging’ itself a ridiculous and unnecessary term. “You’re not blogging,” one said to me. “You’re writing!” Well, I never denied that, but we make distinctions, after all, between poetry and prose, between journalism and drama, etc., etc., and certainly not all writing is blogging (whatever one thinks of all blogging), so clearly there is some kind of distinction to be made, and can't I be doing both at once sometimes?
But let's start over. Maybe I could come at the question from the other side by asking what defines a real writer. Is it –
- Someone who writes every day? (That’s pretty much what I do.)
- Someone who writes for money? (Occasionally I write for money and would be happy to do so more often. Anyone want to write me a paycheck?)
- Someone who makes a living solely by writing? (Nope, not me.)
- Someone whose work is recognized by other professional writers? (And are they professional because they are paid for their writing, in which case either the second or third possibility would seem sufficient and this one unnecessary?)
- Someone who cannot cease and desist from writing, whether money or recognition ever follow? (Or is this merely a sign of mental illness?)
- Someone whose name appears in a cultural literary canon? (Who decides? And doesn’t it usually help to be dead?)
- Only a good writer? (Who decides? Is it a general popularity contest, or do we go by the critics? Or by awards? Or something else altogether?)
- Someone who puts himself or herself forward to others, publicly, as a writer? (I think there’s a lot to this, just as there is to being an actor or a musician or any other kind of creative artist, but is it necessary?)
A couple of years ago someone who became a friend confided that she was “trying to write a novel.” I corrected her. She was writing a novel. She might not finish it, and if she did finish it might never be published, but she was, that year, writing a novel. Two years ago I spent a winter writing short stories, and when people asked, that’s what I told them I was doing, but I did not say, “I’m a writer.” David sometimes told people I was a writer--until I asked him to stop, because the next question would invariably be, “What have you published?” (Uh, a doctoral dissertation? No one cares.) And then would come, "What are you going to do with them?" So although I have been asked from time to time, “Are you a writer?” I don’t present myself that way to the world--except in my blogging profile, where I also call myself a gardener, but you can read my qualification of that term on the profile, also! No, I am a bookseller. Right now in my life, that is my central public identity.
But—coming back to my sheep--I do write this blog and have been doing so since the fall of 2007, and while I have never been paid a cent for writing it, I think my perseverance speaks to the seriousness of my commitment to the forum. I did not undertake blogging for monetary reward; does that make the effort something less than writing? If audience size is taken into account, my commitment may begin to look like madness indeed! But again, I don’t do it to win large numbers of readers. Does that make it less real? Or is it not real writing because I don’t have an editor or am not working on assignment? (How many fiction writers work on assignment?) You tell me.
Most of my life has been spent around creative people, and every single one of them has struggled with the relationship of work to money. For me, finally, the heart of the matter is to take pains with one’s chosen work to make it as expressive and as valuable as possible. If and when someone steps up and offers to pay for it, that can be taken as a kind of affirmation from the outside world, but if no patron or client materializes, if the work is never subsidized or purchased, its value has not been neutralized or negated. The value is intrinsic to the process.
In giving one’s time and care, one gives one’s life, and in this the meaning of one’s life resides. This is the stand I am taking.
As for my other, at least equally real writing—the nonblogging stuff, those short stories mentioned earlier--I may throw some more out into the blogosphere soon. A couple people liked the first Burger Shack story enough to ask for more. And why not? What do I have to lose?