Recently, Longreads published a piece exploring the place of the blog in the literary space. Thirty years has passed since the first blog appeared. The piece’s author, Megan Marz, seems to to argue that the blog, while garnering attention when it was new and novel, has not earned the acclaim or attention it deserves. People still prefer books, even though Robert Silvers, a founding editor of The New York Review of Books lamented, in 2013, that there was “no critical perspective being brought to bear” on blogs.
Nothing in the lit world is legitimized apart from the book, the piece notes (complains?) Pardon my sarcasm, but Congratulations, now you’re getting a picture of the literary industry. Maybe there’s a good reason that blogs weren’t legitimized: they were owned by their authors and already published. How could the mainstream book industry capitalize on them?
Gould and Hall felt deeply about what they were doing. They commanded large audiences and appeared in mainstream media, becoming national avatars for a new kind of writing. They also repeatedly referenced literary influences. But journalists categorized their efforts as sociocultural rather than aesthetic phenomena. This would happen again and again to writers who tried new things on the internet. Always a curiosity, sometimes a trend, never a work of art.–“Poets in the Machine,” Megan Marz, Longreads, Oct 24, 2023
This paragraph saddens me. We all feel deeply about something. But our feelings don’t necessitate counter-action from anybody, whether an individual or an institution—even if that institution claims to be an authority on words, and the deep feelings are funneled into thousands of words.
We really have to ask why would academics, or scholars, or anybody else, do anything to celebrate the blog of an Emily Gould, for example, who “was documenting her life in real time—books she read, thoughts she had, food she ate, daily enthusiasms and frustrations”?
Blogs were basically text-based social media platforms before social media platforms. Social media is now hyper-saturated with personal content that is surely most meaningful to its author.
Personally, I work at a screen all day every day for decades. The last thing I want to do with my leisure time is continue to load webpages, scrolling through them and reading about the mundanities of someone else’s life.
Let’s note that the two “avatars of a new kind of writing” discussed in the piece, Emily Gould and Justin Hall, are both no longer blogging.
In my blog’s prime, I stayed away from reports of my daily diet and such. I dump those details in my journals, where they’ll reside until my demise. Online, starting in 2007, I published what I’d call “literary sketches”: one-act satirical plays; faux marketing copy for fictional products; serious “odes” to asinine subjects; imagined transcripts from real courtrooms; soliloquys from the deservedly persecuted; anything that was form-defying enough to grab a reader’s attention, anything tonally too strong, zany, or whimsical to be accepted in any magazine. I knew I was publishing into a sea of 600 million other blogs. My pieces were intended for an audience of who, quoting Mr. Silvers, “cares about language, [and]…the sensibility in which language is expressed, and …the values that underlie our use of language.”
And guess what? Apart from one colleague who consumed everything on my blog during his downtime at a painfully monotonous copywriting job and called my blog “genius,” I had no subscribers, no attention, no critical acclaim, no nothing.
It’s not what I hoped for, but it came to be what I expected. Let’s not blame the critical establishment for any oversight or slight. This kind of attitude seems far too common these days. Oh, we’ve been wronged! Oh, the injustice! Yes, Marz may be right that whoever is not seeing blogs as art has a limited view of art. But let’s instead be real about what the web is and isn’t, and what we can expect from book publishers—whose products are competing for the limited attentions of a shrinking number of readers (to them: “customers.”)
The Publication Phenomenon
There’s a phenomenon for literary types where we just love publications. We love when words are put into print, and ideas exposed to open air. Even if its digital. I’m still, 15 years after first installing WordPress, infatuated with my ability to sit down in my home (or anywhere), and with a few clicks put sentences that I formed, ideas that I thought, and expressions that are uniquely and unequivocally mine–thus a lexical avatar of all-important me—and make it available to the entire planet! That’s phenomenal.
But it still doesn’t necessitate any response or action from a single person in the universe.
This attitude is the kind of a thing I’ve been working with in the past handful of years—for myself and for my clients. (My services are categorized as “editorial,” but they are often more spiritual.) In 2019, I took my blog, described above, tore it (digitally) down, and put up my new online home: a site called Aspiring Writer Syndrome.
The whole gambit is based on illness. We writers have a condition, and one of the symptoms is a feeling that our word deserve to be read. If they’re not, we suffer. I’m borrowing this particular phrasing because it’s more concise than anything I’ve come up with myself. It comes a source that struck me as unlikely to have clout with me when it arrived in my inbox the same week that the LongReads story was published; that source was the newsletter of a Christian pastor, forwarded by my brother.
“Where many writers get into difficulties is in extending this legitimate need for affirmation to become an idea that what they’ve written deserves to be read, or published, or to get praise from readers. That can become a spiritual problem that also interferes with becoming a better writer.”—“Spiritual Lessons from Writing: Your Writing Is Not About You,” Dr. Holly Ordway, Oct 9, 2023
Rather than seeking to garner the attention of any critics, my blog now contains posts of letters to Dr. Marcus Krasner of the American Psychiatric Association, publishers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The letters comprise a campaign to get AWS, the syndrome itself, into this hallowed tome of medical authority.
In the letters, authored by me, my tone is naive, arguing that the experiences I’ve had, and those experiences my clients have had demonstrate real phenomena that are as valid as anything discovered in a clinical trial with double blinds. Of course, to a Dr. Krasner, in his Chicago office, they are anything but scientific. He refutes my proposals, calls me a charlatan, and denies my requests. I persist with more letters that grow increasingly unhinged.
The whole thing is fictional. The APA and the DMS are of course real, but Dr. Krasner is not. And yet it speaks to my reality. Sounds like a work of literary art, no? I think it is. You should really read it! I’m sure someone from the Big 5 (or 4 or 3 or 2 or 1–whatever is left, 30 years from now, perhaps) will stumble upon it and give me a book deal.