Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Think, Therefore I Am...I think...

I’m a professional writer. I know this because I fill out a tax return every year and say good-bye to a large chunk of my hard-earned pay wrested from the hands of publishers and producers. I’ve been a more-or-less pro writer for a little under fifteen years and I’ve written for multiple mediums including screen, radio, print and web. For “fun” I also write this here blog (and this here blog). Recently, it was brought to my attention that bloggers are not “real writers”. To which I say, with my trademark perspicacity, “Huh?”

Now, I’m not a big fan of the word “blog”. It’s not because it’s a portmanteau word—I love those, particularly at brillig, when the slithy toves gyre and gimble in the wabe—but because it’s kind of an ugly little thing. Short for “web log”, it was shortened by mankind’s need to abbreviate things. To me, “blog” always seemed too close a relative to “blob” and “bog”, both shapeless mires in which nouns (persons, places and things) get sucked into and trapped. So out of sheer pretentiousness, I usually refer to these here blogs as “columns”. Because that’s what we used to aspire to back in the days when we were still “print journalists”, back in the days when there was still print. My journalistic heroes were many but my top favorite was Harlan Ellison, simply because he insisted on filling his columns with whatever he wanted to write. Harlan did that because his interests and opinions were many. I wanted to do that because I’m lazy and easily distracted. But I digress… Oh, and I like to digress.

So I’ve always treated this “blog” as a full-fledged legitimate “column” for which I am not paid therefore must adhere to no restrictions. This is the freedom all writers yearn for. If only there was some money attached…

But as an acolyte of the written word, I tend to read as many web articles as print. If it’s well put together and thought out and the letters are placed in the correct order to form sentences describing something I’m interested in, I’ll read it. I’m a little more anal than others of my demographic—I’ll spell-check texts and email before sending; I use full words in my Tweets (another word I don’t particularly care for)—but I’m not a media snob. Print, web, film, video—whatever. The message is what’s important.

So imagine my surprise when I was informed, by no less than a dozen sources within a single fortnight, that “bloggers” were not real writers, and should therefore be ignored.

Granted, there is no shortage of semi- to sub- to il-literate “blogs” out there, that read as if written by many monkeys short of an infinity, typing with their elbows, but you had that in the print days too. Ever try to slog through US magazine? There have been full issues printed without vowels, for Chrissakes! What makes a blogger less of a writer than a print author? Is it all about money? I know a goodly number of web writers who are paid for their work. Are they “real” writers because of the paycheck? What if they’re subliterate lesser primates but still land some dough from indiscriminate employers? Still valid because of the dollar sign and decimal?

Which is not to say that I haven’t ranted and raved and flapped my arms about how subliterates stormed the web with the intensity of the Normandy Invasion and devalued the written word. That those willing to write for free have shoved us “professionals” aside and unless you were already Neil Gaiman when the tide came in you’re out of luck because the “talent gap” has narrowed to the width of an unbent staple and the battle cry of agents has become “Not Accepting New Clients At This Time Unless You’re Stephanie Meyer”.  Or Dan Brown (oh how I long to secure a position to pick fleas from their prose).

But the jealous and/or frustrated howling aside, what makes a print writer “real” and a web writer “not real” ? And does that mean they’re actually imaginary? In which case, can I get my job at Cinefantastique back? Obviously, talent was removed from the equation long before Harold Robbins hit the best-seller lists, long before Ain’t It Cool News was launched, so what are the qualifications? I’m still a “professional writer”, but the majority of my writing is done for either non-paying publications, websites or, even more often, my own gratification. But if so much of my work appears here, in “blog” form, does that devalue my status? And, if not, why not? What yardstick are we using here? The late Daniel Robert Epstein ran his own blog and conducted high-water mark interviews for Suicide, a site that was popularized by women wearing only tattoos and facial jewelry. So was he not a real writer because of the blog? Was he a real writer because of the interviews? Or does it really not friggin’ matter?

I think I’ll continue to smugly judge people by the quality of their work. Crap is crap, whether it’s virtual or print. The reverse is true too. If you care enough about your work to ensure it’s worth reading, then, I think, that’s what makes you a “real writer”.

I return you now to your “real” life.

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