Blogging’s Faint Stamp of Approval

imagesMy wife and I sat at a picnic table, and next to us were three strangers eating in advance of the same outdoor Shakespeare performance we were attending.

One of them asked the other about a daughter who recently graduated from college, and she answered, “My daughter wants to be a writer.”

“Has she published anything?” the first said.

“No. Right now, she has a blog.”

I tried not to spy but didn’t need to look over to hear the message behind the answer—embarrassment, putting a positive face on the only response possible. She might have substituted, “No, not yet… but, you know, she’s pretending.”

That’s the trouble with blogging. Anything in magazines, journals, newspapers, books, or even commercial promotions comes with verification. Some authority says this writing deserves notice. In contrast, posts only require clicking “publish,” a faint stamp of approval that—most people assume—comes too readily. Based on this overheard conversation, the writer-daughter takes herself seriously, maybe thinks a great deal of her own work. The rest is up for grabs.

Any blogger’s vindication of blogs sounds like rationalization, further effort to gild the author’s own work. I felt for this girl’s mother. Naturally, a mom wants to believe, and, though blogging is hardly the same as appearing in The New Yorker or even the local paper, her daughter means to ply her craft, to pursue a dream, to practice by taking baby steps toward something brag-worthy. More than that, she may want to be read, and creating a blog assures a voice and audience… albeit a limited, often intimate audience. Which, she may think, isn’t so bad and certainly better than no readers. She might even like blogging and regard it as a distinct form with idiosyncratic challenges and potential.

Eavesdropping, I couldn’t help thinking about this blog as it approaches its 500th post. Am I still, after all this time, practicing for something real? Am I more proud (and appreciative) than I ought to be of my tiny audience? Am I alone in valuing my labor while real writers snicker? Have I, all along, been deluding myself to avoid actual evaluation and accomplishment? Does self-expression only count when someone else says it does?

This week a colleague posted on Facebook, “I’m writing everywhere else but on my blog, which means I’m finally working. I won’t be stopped.” In no way did he mean to direct the comment at me, but my spirit sunk nonetheless. My inner Rodney Dangerfield started muttering, “I get no respect. I get no respect at all.”

He meant, I’m sure, to say his blog has faded as more public writing projects took precedence, but the assumption seemed to be—or my defensiveness heard—you can’t be serious and simply blog. Blogging is what you do while waiting for anything better. In itself, as a writing genre (if it is), it sometimes seems the equivalent of copy printed on grocery-brand macaroni and cheese. Though cute, it hardly counts.

A fury of counterarguments rears: if you’re not a published writer does it mean more or less that people choose to read you (based necessarily on content rather than name, reputation or designation by Important People)? What sort of motive to write takes precedence when fame and remuneration are unlikely? Do readers from the Philippines, India, Botswana, and Latvia counterbalance having a small audience? What does it say when readers feel compelled to comment fresh from encountering ideas—can that be bad?

But those are framed questions, as all my questions are. They dig the hole (from which I shout) deeper. They evoke that unfortunate parent proffering her daughter’s blog as proof she’s a writer.

Perhaps there’s no satisfactory vindication or apology. As seriously and carefully as bloggers compose, the possibility lurks they have no place else to be writers and their only claim to the title is one they’ve asserted themselves.

Although, to me, these essays, stories, poems, and haiku feel quite real.

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10 Comments

Filed under Aesthetics, Ambition, Anger, Apologies, Arguments, Art, Blogging, Desire, Doubt, Ego, Envy, Essays, Facebook, Fame, Identity, Laments, Meditations, Rationalizations, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Voice, Writing

10 responses to “Blogging’s Faint Stamp of Approval

  1. Thomas

    I’m sure a lot of us feel this way, I know I have. It would be nice if blogging was a more commercially recognizable forum for aspiring writers, but at least it’s better than nothing. Before the advent of blogging, our only option apart from publication was the potential kudos of friends or family to whom we could show a hard copy of our work.

    I figure, “you write, therefore you are a writer.”

    • dmarshall58

      I agree writing makes you a writer, and, oddly, blogging is a lot closer to how writers disseminated their work prior to the widespread use of printing presses. Authors circulated handwritten manuscripts that readers would amend, annotate, and augment. John Donne and Sir Philip Sydney (and even, to some degree, Shakespeare) came out of that tradition, and you can argue that it has persisted in media like ‘zines emphasizing more immediate and “homespun” creativity. I prefer to regard blogs as continuing that mode of expression, but, in a materialist culture, maybe something more solid—and lucrative—will always win. Thanks for commenting! –D

  2. I whole-heartedly empathize. I struggle with the desire to “Publish” with a capital “P” with many of my poems. There is always that nagging voice that says, “sure, I have x-number of followers and x-number of active commenters whose opinions I respect (which I value far more than followers), but am I really that good?” — as if being published is the only gauge of quality, which we all know it is not. I am also currently working on a long-form (and very-long-term) project and I can’t decide if I want to share bits of it via the blog, maybe even serialize it, or not.
    Mostly I think I’m just too busy and/or lazy for the whole grind of submissions.
    Probably mostly lazy.
    Publication or validation?
    One or the other or both or neither?

    • dmarshall58

      Oddly, blogs are a lot of work too, but laziness is certainly a factor for me. Beside the wince of rejection (which is sure to come most of the time), submission means finding the proper place to send work, sending it and waiting, waiting, waiting, plus all the ancillary ugliness of networking and angling (which I know people say is just part of the modern literary scene but which I find pretty odious and just can’t do without considerable strain).

      It’s easier to write a post.

      I find myself in the same spot as you, wondering whether I should reserve things I won’t share. Reserving it means having nothing to post this Tuesday or Saturday, giving up the blogging convention of being a regular companion or columnist of sorts, and gambling on the piece somewhere, somehow finding a place (where it may not be noticed at all).

      However, the ultimate validation, especially for résumés, is still publication. The vast majority of people whose work is chosen for publication are already published. Publication brings opportunities to develop a wider and more respected voice, whereas the biggest opportunities in blogging are self-expression and self-satisfaction—a sense you may have done something good. And you’ll never know if you have or if you just think you have. I suppose you could think the same about something in The New Yorker, but it seems less likely.

      But enough on this subject. Back to work. Thanks for commenting. Company is good. –D

  3. Peter Newton

    Ah, the age old question:

    If a writer writes in the forest and no one’s there to read it, does he have an audience?

    Is it still writing? Or something else. A meditation. A proclamation. A prayer.

    I’d say the best writing comes from these quiet places far from any fan, friend or follower. There’s a certain oblivion required in the act of creating.
    Writing especially. A room of one’s own, so to speak. What becomes of the words after they’re written is a separate matter altogether.

    Blogs are the perfect vehicle for the prolific writer. Not merely as a training ground, as your picnic parent suggests, but as a platform from which truths emerge.

    There are a million blogs out there. An endless buffet. Readers take what they like. So many blogs are neglected by their creators. The blogger with nearly 500 thoughtful posts is entering master chef status.

    –Peter

    • dmarshall58

      It’s a question I’ve addressed so many times and wish I could just put to bed. Somehow it keeps rising up.

      I’m with you in believing good writing comes from quiet and personal places, whether the work later appears in a blog or a journal or a magazine or a book. The second step is separate. Not taking that second step, however, casts doubt on the first. My students occasionally ask, “Why write if you don’t want to be heard?” I wouldn’t want to discourage them and sometimes feel like a poor model for their broader, deeper, and more dramatic ambitions. Naturally, they might wonder what’s wrong with me (and my work), especially when they look at colleagues who do put themselves out there and publish.

      And very few of those colleagues (or other colleagues) read my blog. Most tell me they can’t keep up with it. Though I’m diligent, committed, and (I like to believe) thoughtful, they may assume (as most people do) anything so abundant can’t be any good. “Prolific,” after all, is often code for something else.

      I wish that weren’t so, but it seems to be. Maybe the fundamental problem is that, for me, self-assurance can’t overcome skepticism. Until it does—or until I give up blogging—I won’t be able to put this issue away. –D

  4. You write because you must – otherwise your brain bursts at the seams – neurosis is never far behind. Validation is a complicated and often slippery slope wrapped up in our obsession with celebrity culture; where the most ambitious are often the most successful. My mother-in-law works in publishing: 80% of what gets published is through connections – social, class, education…that is the facts of life.

    I see you have 2,700+ subscribers – a small town who has access to your words. No small feat. Remember that…

  5. dmarshall58

    You’re right, I write because I must, regardless of what reaction my writing receives. That makes me all the more appreciative of comments like yours.

    Validation, I’m increasingly convinced, is a trap. I’m beginning to see the best reason for writing is that you enjoy it. I tried to write a post about that this week. I’m not sure I fully believe myself yet, but I’m getting there.

    Thanks for your reply. David

    • Herman Mellville had one book published in his lifetime and died in obscurity – now considered one of the greatest American writers ever…Albert Camus thinks he is the best writer since Shakespeare…

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