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[Metaphorical Web] A Need to Blog

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  • Kurt Cagle
    I was counting the other day, and came to the realization that, over the last couple of years, I have ended up blogging in about ten different places. Yet
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 13, 2009
      I was counting the other day, and came to the realization that, over
      the last couple of years, I have ended up blogging in about ten
      different places. Yet despite that, I also made the rather disturbing
      observation that while I am regularly writing articles for O'Reilly
      (about fifteen to twenty a month, which, when you get right down to it,
      is an incredible amount of writing), for XMLToday.org (which is focused
      on XML issues), for DevX, for EMC/Documentum and elsewhere, what I
      didn't have was a place where I could just blog for myself.That's when
      I remembered this blog. It's not a Drupal instance, just a simple
      Blogger app, but I'm coming to understand that perhaps this is not a
      bad thing - I need something that I can periodically just write to
      without having to get sucked up in the mechanics of blogging. I've
      learned to really like Drupal, but sometimes you need to just walk away
      from the code and concentrate on the message.In the case of
      Metaphorical Web, that's precisely what I intend to do. This can be
      considered my kick back my feet and just write whatever I want to write
      blog. I might talk about code, or economics, or just how I'm feeling
      that day, and I make no promises that you're going to learn anything
      here, other than maybe the occasional odd rumination.Ironically enough,
      as a professional writer, I'm beginning to realize the real value of
      such a blog. One of the real challenges that you face as a pro writer
      or journalist is that overall you are always writing for others. You
      have to consider every thing you say in terms of the editorial message
      of the site, the audience involved, the needs to promote this or that
      conference or book or product. Especially in the age of tightening
      belts, you also have to make sure that what you're writing has value
      with every article.Yet here's a secret for you - no writer can be "on"
      all the time. That's not to say that a writer can't consistently write
      articles or stories or what not. That part of writing is a lot like
      what a long distance runner goes through, just building up your
      endurance so that you can crank out an article every day or two, two to
      three stories a week. Yet even the best writer (just like that
      endurance runner) will have off days, will produce a piece or two of
      forgettable crap for every good story, and the really incredible pieces
      will be balanced by the occasional article that frankly should have
      been left exposed on a rock to do a humane death.What's more, that
      writer periodically needs to write to no one in particular just to get
      the frustrations off his chest, to say the things he daren't say when
      writing for pay, to have, well, a journal. In its own way, writing is
      an addiction. The more you write, the more that the pathways in your
      brain see writing as the mechanism for expressing itself, and as a
      consequence you find that its often difficult to use the medium of
      speech because your brain is wanting to shape things into words on a
      page or pixels on a screen.I've been at a number of author readings and
      been on panels at everything from science fiction conventions to
      international conferences with other writers, and one of the things
      that I've noted is that most writers tend to be naturally taciturn and
      withdrawn, though certainly capable of speaking eloquently when called
      upon to do so. At first, my thought was that the profession tended to
      draw introverts to it, in great part because introverts tend to live
      more in their head than via interactions with others.Yet over the
      years, I've also begun to see that the process of writing reinforces
      this introversion, makes it stronger. Writers are aloof not because
      they believe themselves above other people, but rather because writing
      crowds out speaking and other human interaction, and as a consequence,
      the skills for dealing with other people become rusty and frequently
      mechanical, as writers find themselves having to remember how to do
      these things.This isn't unique to writers, of course. Creators in most
      endeavors tend towards this way of thinking. Artists use different
      pathways, and as a consequence, the way that they view life differs
      somewhat, but at the same time, most artists become artists because art
      is the mechanism that they use for communication. Musicians, good
      musicians, similarly become wrapped around their music - and find that
      the channels over which they communicate dominate their
      interactions.Once consequence of this is that there is a world of
      difference between communicating with someone in your modality of
      expression, and someone who simply "appreciates" that modality. I can
      communicate with my eldest daughter along a channel that my wife can't,
      because my daughter has the artist genes - the combination of talent
      and the overriding compulsion to draw and paint - that I have (I was
      very much the same as she was at her age -I was always drawing). I can
      communicate with my wife along the writing channel because she is a
      writer herself, which provides a shared set of referents or symbols
      (and experiences) that would be lost among non-writers.Yet the irony is
      that I'm a lousy critic, which is I suspect also true for most
      creatives. An artistic critic is someone who looks for meanings and
      interpretations in a "work of art", as if there was actual intent there
      to provide such symbolism. I remember in high school one time, an
      elderly English teacher gave us a test which included the question "Why
      did Shakespeare write Romeo and Juliet?". My response, for which I
      received a rather stern lecture, was "because he had to pay the
      rent."Writers write for public consumption not to load their works with
      deep symbols and meanings, but because they've discovered that the
      voice in their head that demands expression can be occasionally
      harnessed to pay the bills. The voice, the compulsion, to write, is
      still there, of course. They would write regardless, just as the artist
      will draw or the musician play, even if there was no audience. It's
      their language.Yet this harnessing the writing impulse to pay the bills
      has a darker side as well. When everything has a deadline, what this
      means is that the temptation will be strong to do nothing but write for
      public consumption, even if what you're writing holds no great interest
      to you. The stories that you used to write get left undone because the
      clock is ticking and you have to get three articles on the latest news
      du jour written by the end of the day, you have to get the next chapter
      to the manual completed by mid-next week, the interview you did has to
      be transcribed and re-edited before the next conference. All are
      important, all pay the bills, but the music, the creativity that you
      once enjoyed as part of the writing process gets lost - your ability to
      express yourself gets lost in the requirement of expressing the needs
      of others.There's another corrosive aspect of commercialization: you
      began seeing other writers not as people with whom you have a deeper
      understanding based upon your art, but as competitors for the same
      audience, the same revenues, the same lucrative barely minimal writing
      contracts. You don't dare do any but your best work because if you
      fail, you're toast. Unfortunately, this typically means that you also
      don't experiment or take risks, both critical for improving your craft,
      because the perceived cost of failure becomes too high.I'm not sure
      there's necessarily a morale here, though I do have a suggestion to
      writers, (though it applies just as readily to artists, musicians and
      other creatives) from a writer who is rediscovering this for
      himself:Always leave a certain space for yourself; block out a chunk of
      time in the week that is devoted to your play time, your
      experimentation time. If you write news for a living, use this time to
      work on a novel without the expectation that it will ever see print. If
      you're a technical writer, spend some time composing poetry, playing
      with the way that words sound and feel. If you're working on a book,
      take some time to write an essay about the coolness of the spring
      morning, or a random character portrait of someone you see in a
      coffeeshop.Minimize the interruptions around you during this time, and
      do not, regardless of what else you do, use this time for paid work.
      This time is the equivalent of working out at the gym (something else
      you should do, for what its worth) in that it is not time that is owned
      by someone else but is necessary for your own sanity. This time takes
      precedence over everything - even if you have a critical deadline, take
      this time for yourself, because there will always be critical
      deadlines, and just as working out physically can often help relieve a
      lot of the physical stress that you face and make it easier to get
      things done, so too is this creative exercise time necessary to cut
      down on the mental stress that you face.My suspicion, when it's all
      said and done, is that when I finally die, it will be the work I do
      during this time, rather than the marketing document for client X due
      next week, that will define me as a writer. Creativity is rare not
      because people aren't creative ... most people have a streak of
      creativity in them ... it's rare because people become so obsessed with
      the need to do their "work" that they fail to take the time necessary
      to actually be creative for its own sake, rather than in the service of
      some larger goal.Take the time, it'll make you a better writer.

      Posted By Kurt Cagle to Metaphorical Web at 3/13/2009 10:07:00 PM

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