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Friday, May 4, 2012

What’s the Difference Between ‘Writers’ and ‘Bloggers’?

That could be phrased differently. I could load the question by making a distinction between bloggers and real writers, as was made in my presence once, on hearing which a couple of friends shot me alarmed looks. Would I rise to the bait? But I didn’t think it was bait and didn’t see myself as the speaker’s prey, and it didn’t seem the time or place to push the question.

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?


Ian said...

I think less in terms of what I am than what I do. I'm not a "writer", but I write. Also, I just think "blog" sounds like a stupid non-word.

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Ian. It's not a beautiful word, that's for sure, but it makes sense to me. Web + log. Like a ship's log, it contains all manner of happenings, and being on the web it's public in a way an ordinary journal or diary is not. But I understand how a word can grate on a person. There are other words and phrases that grate on me....

Dawn said...

Never thought of myself as a writer, always thought I'd like to be a writer, but never defined what that meant.

I think we are raised to believe we are what we do for a living. Interesting to think in terms of being what we do outside of work.

Ruth said...

A writer is someone who writes, who must write, who can't resist being drawn to writing. The blog is merely the delivery system, like a newspaper (was) or a book. But a real writer will write even if no one else will ever see the writing. Having an audience, via a blog, is gravy.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, you make me think of the old days in Leelanau County. Thirty years ago every carpenter was "really" something else--a photographer, a writer or something like that. Their identities were very much separate from the way they earned their daily bread. Down in Kalamazoo, where I lived then, I worked as a secretary and hated that identity, but as soon as I was accepted into graduate school my secretarial role troubled me no more: it was only temporary, not who I really was.

Ruth, your first, third and fourth sentences resonate with me, I hesitate over the second because while a blog post may sometimes constitute an essay (or story), more often it is less coherent, less complete, less finished than that. I'm not talking only about my blog but others I follow. Here again the analogy to a ship's log comes in. Many things we write have no claim to be literature. A grocery list is writing in one narrow sense, but composing such a list doesn't make one a writer.

You can see that I'm still thinking my way through this. So far I still think blogging is, by its nature, a kind of subspecies of writing, although occasionally it reaches beyond itself.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ruth that the blog is merely the medium, the delivery tool. It's not the same as saying poetry vs. journalism, because clearly you can have poetry blogs, journalism blogs, short story blogs, food writing blogs, parenting blogs, philosophy blogs, travel blogs, review blogs, you name it. The variety of purposes and genres is endless, and the writers of all such blogs are indeed writers. Not all of equal quality or merit, of course, but that is true of all writing.

Anonymous said...

For the young who want to
By Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

P. J. Grath said...

Maiya, good point about the unequal level of the general writing terrain. Anonymous (who couldn't post as Karen because the platform wouldn't let her), thank you for sending all that Marge Piercy poem. I especially love "an invention like phlogiston/after the fact of fire." Wow. Don't know if the work is a cure, but who would forego the treatment?

Gerry said...

The blog is a different medium, perhaps a different form for a writer. Some blogs are not written at all, but consist entirely of photography. Many writers who are attracted to blogging do it as part of drafting, or as a species of workshopping. Others are columnists just like Rober Ebert or Erma Bombeck. (OK, not just like.) Others are doing PR/promotion.

If someone publishes a photography book, is that person a writer? If the book is a collection of newspaper columns? If it's a how-to? If it's a campaign biography? If it's a soap opera?

A writer is a person who writes. A professional writer is a person who gets paid to write. A good writer is . . . a matter of opinion and/or self-delusion! And a really good writer is generally someone who has a really good editor.

Kathy said...

I truly enjoyed reading this post. Many good questions to ponder! We can get caught in definitions of what it means to be a "real" writer. You bring up some good points, even though the answers are elusive.

It sounds like some of your stories are begging the writer for some space in the blogosphere. Have you sent any out to publications?

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you, Gerry, my fellow toiler in the trenches, for laying it all on the line.

Kathy, you see? That's just the kind of question (have I sent any out...?) I try to forestall. Sending stories out to publications is like going on the job market in philosophy: it's a job in itself! So no, my primary focus at present is still on my bookstore, which means selling other people's work rather than flogging my own. I could try to do it all, but that would run me ragged--and I'll not give up mowing grass or digging in the garden or exploring the woods with Sarah, either!

Ruth said...

Thank you for the poem: I love Marge Pearcy!
Some wonderful thoughts here.

P. J. Grath said...

I appreciate all of your comments and contributions more than I can say. Clearly, many of us wrestle with these questions. Proceeding without definitive answers (isn't that life for you?), I will be posting the second Burger Shack story on Monday morning. Thanks to everyone for reading.

Dorene said...

To me your post--which is "real" writing as opposed to "blogging" (with its connotation that anyone can do it)--is delicious in terms of posing a clear question that does not have an easy answer. Still, we think on it often and ultimately just walk away from our intrinsic need for definition and just continue to write. Thanks for your thoughtful posts. I look forward to the next story!

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Dorene. You spotted my inner philosopher--trying to pose a clear question even when there's no clear answer! But you think this post is NOT blogging? See, I think it is. Glad you think it's also "real" writing. Big difference between a tiny essay and an effort at fiction, however, so you may not be as nuts about tomorrow's story as you are about this personal statement. We'll see....

Helen said...

I love Gerry's comment that

"A writer is a person who writes. A professional writer is a person who gets paid to write. A good writer is . . . a matter of opinion and/or self-delusion! And a really good writer is generally someone who has a really good editor."

Not only does that seem true, it's also very funny and allowed me to enjoy a much-needed chuckle!

P. J. Grath said...

Isn't Gerry great? She often gives me a laugh when I'm needing one, and her comments are always very much to the point, also. No punches pulled. You can read more from her over at Torch Lake Views.