Publishing may be the pinnacle of success in the real world, but, after a summer of working on the same long essay day after day, I think of creating a book as creating a statue—no one sees it until every part receives proper polish. When it wheels from the workshop, it will feel to me as if it has always existed, as if it’s been found rather than made. Being tangible and transferable and eternal, it possesses instant reality, instant gravity. It is a thing.
In contrast, blogging has more intimate charms. The strangest part of blogging—not really knowing who’s out there—is also what’s best about it. It can be like small town radio. You sit in a tiny room, talk into a microphone that may or may not work, and cast your voice over cornfields, seas without fish. You speak at least in part to find out what you’ll say. And, when people listen, it means something. They could easily have ignored you or missed you altogether.
I know, people can ignore books too—as I may soon discover—but I wonder if the weight of a book makes it real even when no one picks it up. Because I’m publishing this book myself, it won’t have the trumpet release party or the carnival book tour. Still, now that I’ve used the title up, the thing will continue to be real and won’t go away, even if I someday want it to.
Friends often seem embarrassed when I talk about my blog, and, tellingly, they sometimes say, “Oh, are you still doing that?” Stereotypically, blogs aren’t complete or polished, and many people seem to think they can’t be artful. For them, blogs are emotional spills, affronts to reason and insults to craft, editing, decorousness, and self-restraint. Yet part of me loves the small truth in that stereotype. Blogs often present writing as compulsion instead of Art. You don’t have to read very long on WordPress or elsewhere to discover articulate, thoughtful, and skilled writers, but you also find authors whose greatest assets are conviction, sincerity, and humanity.
Maybe the prejudice against blogs comes down to materialism. “You get what you pay for,” people say. That bloggers give prose or poetry away for free, they assume, must reflect bloggers’ skill. But a book has to be purchased. Readers (and writers) invest money and time on books assuming the product is lovingly well-wrought, worthy of endless attention.
It’s true, I’ve spent much more time crafting this book. I don’t think I can read and revise it one.more.time. Yet blogs are challenging in their own way. For all their intimate charms, blogs also make intimate demands. The next post whispers entreaties like an endlessly needy lover, and, when the only pay you receive is attention, soliciting that attention over and over becomes daunting. Where writing a book demands long-haul perseverance, blogs require bold faith you’ll find something to say today. And every blogger knows how crowded the market is. The proliferation of writing online is intimidating. A blogger’s desire to earn an audience often creates moving writing. Even when it isn’t skilled, it’s often more direct and fresh.
I’m happy I’ve had the experience of a “real author” this summer, rising to meet the same statue every day, mustering the weary determination required to court a perfect object. Yet I haven’t had my head turned. It will be months or years (or never) before I learn how successful my summer has been. If I’ve managed to entice a reader to travel this far into this post, however, I might know so in a few hours.