Is blogging the new MFA program?

Before I was in high tech, I was in publishing.

At Scholastic, I worked in the creative marketing department, not directly with authors, but with their work; trying to make their work appeal to the largest audience as possible.

My claim to fame is that I wrote responses to fan letters for R.L. Stine and K.A. Applegate. So if you came of age in the late 90s, we were probably pen pals.

I also was a part of the exciting marketing campaign surrounding the release in the U.S. of the first Harry Potter book.

Good times.

After I left Scholastic, I spent a few years in other publishing jobs: in the promotions department at Parade Magazine and as an assistant editor for a Jewish newspaper.

I soon became expert in making other people’s work better.

Of course, through this experience, my work became better, too.  In addition to assigning and editing stories to freelance writers at the Jewish newspaper, I would report on local happenings and sometimes interview C-level Jewish celebrities for features.

Every time my boss, the Editor, would hand me back my first draft, I would grimace at the red marks in the margins.

But the marks, when implemented, always made my stories better.

In time, I became a confident writer of short form non-fiction. Your work becomes better the more you write and the more heavily you are edited.

I imagine the process is similar for any form of writing; especially in fiction and poetry, two genres in which I am experimenting and want to improve.

This is why so many emerging writers and published novelists come out of MFA programs.

They’ve dedicated themselves to writing, yes — but they’ve also committed to being publicly criticized for two years in the hopes of improving. In the hopes of one day being so good they will be noticed. Noticed like a misused metaphor, like a dangling participle.

This element of the writing program — the communal critical eye — is missing from the fantastic writing community that is the blog-o-sphere.

I never — or hardly ever — publicly criticize a blogger’s work. If I add a comment to a blog, 99% of the time it’s a positive comment. If it’s a negative comment, it’s finely worded so as to not offend the author.

I’m not talking about political blogs, where trolls feel completely uninhibited to offer their frank opinions about how the author is a stupid, naive right-wing psychopath. I’m talking about the community of essayists that have sprung up through the popularity and ease of the blogging platform.

Mommy bloggers.

Aspiring novelists.

Flash fiction writers.

People who feel the need to chronicle the every movement of their cats.

Everyone can be a published writer now.

A published author even — thanks to Amazon.com and a host of self-publishing software.

And, yes, this is awesome.

Really awesome.

And … not so awesome.

I like to read good writing.

I like to pay for good writing.

I’m annoyed when I read bad writing, especially when I’ve paid for it.

I want the books I read to have been written by people who cared enough to become better writers. I want those books to have been through at least one, if not five, careful revisions by an editor.

I say this not just as a writer, but as a consumer of the written word.

Maybe I hold myself up to too high a standard. (That sounds obnoxious, I know. )

Maybe if I didn’t, I would already be a published author myself now. (I’m not counting The Fantastic Adventures of Me & My Friends or the two other activity books I wrote for Scholastic. That also sounds a bit obnoxious, doesn’t it?)

Maybe I’m worrying for nothing.

Maybe the world is a happier place because more people are writing and finding their own audiences.

But I think there is room for criticism in the blogging world. Perhaps we would do more to support each other by not just commenting when we think a post is good, but when we think a post is almost good — when something could be just a little bit better if only it was rewritten once or twice.

It irritates me when I write a post that I think is really good and a commenter writes something simple like,

“Lovely.”

This happens a lot. Which should be a good thing.

But I want to follow up on that “lovely.” I want to know, “Why?”

“Why do you think this is lovely?”

Did it strike a chord?

Was it my careful phrasing?

Was it how elegantly I described the herd of goats by the side of the road?

And how could it be better? How could I rewrite it into something you’d be happy you paid for? Satisfied you spent your time on?

This is what is missing from the blogosphere. And why, at least now, blogging in community will never be as serious as a writing program.

Most of our comments are just blatant attempts at trying to attract new followers.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Are you a blogging writer who seeks comments like this? Who wants more than just a

“Great post!”

If so, let me know — perhaps we can build a more critical commenting community together.

Help each other… emerge…from red marks in the margin.

My so-called writing life

The other day, I asked out loud on Facebook whether my friends thought that writers were born or made.

Most answered some version of “born, but….”

As in: Writers are born with the creative spark that’s a prerequisite to creative talent, but it’s a spark that requires not only nurturing, but also education, practice, and perfection in order to mature into talent, and then success.

Mostly, I’d agree.

I think about my own journey as a writer, and sometimes, admittedly, I even hiccup a little calling myself a writer at all.

When I think of myself as a writer, I still think of myself as the girl who wrote love poems in a small, tear-stained spiral bound notebook that I hid in the back of a drawer.

When I think of myself as a writer, I still think of the jittery young woman who spilled coffee on her pants on her way to her very first feature story interview for a newspaper article.

When I think of myself as a writer, I still think about blogging as playing for a minor league team, and published literary novels as the World Series.

I still think of myself as a novice, and sometimes as a would be somebody if only I had the time.

Then there are moments, hours, days even, when I catch a scent of my destiny and it smells like poetry and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and an antique oak writing desk facing a picture window.

The leaves casually drop from the trees as if there’s still time…

As if there’s only time.

…and words to discover.

Words slowly strung together like colored beads on a braided rope.

I really, really don’t want a book deal

I really, really don’t want a book deal.

Just kidding.

Which blogger doesn’t want a book deal?

Put your hands down.

Stop pretending like you blog for the fun of it.

I say that all the time, too.

I don’t mean it.

Except for when I do.

Which is a lot of the time.

But then there’s the day when a mommy blogger I’ve never met gets a book deal and my eyes bug out and steam pours from both of my ears and my heart and belly both get stuck in my throat and deep inside I

SCREAM!!!!

…In my inside voice. The louder of the two.

Where’s my book deal?!?!?

And then my other inside voice answers back,

“What makes you think you’re getting a book deal?”

And the scream, now subdued says, “Well, you know. Someone should just discover me and fall in love with my writing and offer me lots of advance money (or at least plumb royalties) and beg me to write a book. A whole SERIES even.”

“Oh,” the peaceful, reasonable voice answers with subtle condescension. “I see.”

What she’s not saying (in her peaceful, reasonable tone) is:

Stop waiting around for someone to discover you.

Stop wanting what other people have.

Stop being regretful about what you think you should have done, but didn’t. What blog you should have kept up, but didn’t. What career you should have stuck with, but didn’t. What path you should have taken, but didn’t.

She’s only being a little bit judgy, just enough to quiet the screaming.

===

I have a colleague whose dad is a celebrity.

She hardly ever talks about said celebrity, except in the context of his dad-ness.

I’ve never asked her about this. Or what it’s like to be the daughter of someone so famous.

I imagine, though, her modesty has something to do with her relationship to him.

To her, he’s dad. It doesn’t matter how famous he is or becomes, his celebrity will always be secondary to her.

And I think in all the glorifying we do of celebrity — of book deals, of magazine covers, of awards and prizes and titles — we lose sight of celebrity’s secondary-ness, its subservience.

We lose sight of the inevitable real life behind the celebrity. Why?

Because save for the tabloid spreads, we hardly see the real life behind the celebrity.

The anxiety that comes the day after a book deal was signed.

The self doubt.

The need to please, to produce, to win.

To look good. To smell good.

To smile. To have a good hair day.

We hardly ever hear of their breast cancer scares, their hemorrhoids, their financial troubles, their soured friendships. Save for the celebrities who’ve publicly shared bits and pieces of their angst in well-placed magazine features, we hardly hear of their suffering.

And they all, certainly, suffer.

everyone

No matter how many times we read Everyone Poops, we still imagine that celebrities poop with greater ease, with more satisfaction, with softer toilet paper.

And maybe they do.

But, most likely they don’t.

And, as corny as it sounds, no matter how much we wish we were more famous, more successful, more educated, more experienced, we often fail to acknowledge or recognize how famous, successful, educated, and experienced we already are.

This is what I try to tell my screaming inside voice.

You are already famous.

Seriously, I can find at least three people who believe I’m famous (and yes, their last names are the same as mine.)

And I bet I could find someone out there who is not a blood relative that wishes they could have a job like mine, or a husband like mine, or write a blog like I do.

I am already famous.

Despite that: I still scream inside every now and again when somebody gets a book deal.

And I probably will until the day I finally accept that I am already famous enough.

The day I finally accept I am already famous, is the day I will finally achieve the pinnacle of my success.

Peace, love, and ease.

Behind all our secret or public clamoring for celebrity, what we really desire is peace, love and ease.

And that, my screaming inside voice, is better than a book deal.