Things writers want to punch in the face: Bloggers

April 10, 2011 · 25 comments

Today’s guest post comes from author Caitlin Kelley. A regular contributor to The New York Times since 1990, she has written for USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, More, and other publications in Canada and Europe. Her newest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career In Retail” is out April 14th.

If I woke up tomorrow with the persistent belief that,  because I love using words like medulla oblangata or “stat!” or like how I look in a surgical gown, I was now — shazzam! — a neurosurgeon, many people would be quick to disabuse me of this notion.

It would instead, require years of study and practice and oversight by extremely demanding teachers, and passing exams to prove my competency, before I would be legally and safely allowed to start cutting open people’s heads.

But anyone anywhere can flip open a laptop and decide, after banging a few keys, they’re A Writer.

Not only is everyone now A Writer, but they howl en masse in wounded outrage when people like me – author of two non-fiction works published by major commercial houses, veteran of three daily newspapers, winner of fellowships and awards – suggest it’s actually, you know, work.

Becoming a writer worth reading actually requires skill, training, editing, self-editing, revision, reflection and often discarding entire chunks of material.

I’m all for enthusiasm and passion and new ideas. Book publishing would die without all of these. But how many of these soi-disant Writers network daily with dozens of other skilled, accomplished writers and ask for their feedback and advice?

And what happens when it’s negative? Do they give up?

It’s not fun having your ideas and skills examined and questioned, or your assumptions — whether about word choice, point of view, character or historical context — challenged.

Yet hundreds of bloggers are convinced they have a book – a whole shelf of them! – in them. And every day I find another few dozen whiny or moaning blog posts about “I don’t feel like writing today” or “I want to sell my book!” Or how they totally don’t intend to negotiate the pesky obstacle course of commercial publishing, as if it were for, you know, losers.

If so, why are the most successful writers still doing it?

If you seriously want to get your book published, here’s what we all did:

Find and impress an agent, write a book proposal, work on it for free for months until s/he thinks it’s ready, submit it to publishers, who may reject it with really snotty emails, and pray someone somewhere finally says, Yes!

(Like surgery, this is not a risk-free business. For all its terrific pleasures – Great reviews! Your book in stores! — it’s also routinely filled with last-minute surprises and unexpected costs, rejection and revision and self-doubt.)

Newbies’ naivete about all of this drives me crazy. It won’t be like that for me, they insist.

In the world of commercial book publishing, there’s no single-digit “publish” button.

For every book now in the marketplace, a dozen or more people, each with very strong opinions – and their professional reputations and future income riding on their selections – chose those books from among the thousands, literally, each month competing for their attention and investment.

Talking about writing is often a lot more fun than actually writing.

ninja’s notes: I have posted numerous times that I don’t feel like blogging on random days, but I’ve also never claimed to a) like writing, b)call myself a writer, or c)have any desire to publish a book….unless said book can contain a bunch of stick figure drawings.

1 Dan

That’s a good post! I’d write more about it but I don’t really feel like writing today – I’m taking the day off to think about my trilogy of sci-fi novels that I’m going to self publish. Wish me luck.

2 Dan

(this was a joke btw)

3 Julia

I wrote and ended up self-published a children’s book a few years back so now everyone comes to me to ask how to get a book published. I tell them about query writing, agent pitching, rejection and all the stuff that goes into being a published author through a mainstream publisher and why I chose to self-publish. It is seriously an insane process, but no one believes me. I just tell them what I’ve learned and let them do what they may with the info.

4 Alyssa

I agree that there is a big difference between being a blogger and being a writer. I have no delusions about being a writer. I blog for fun but I would never think I could or would write a book.

5 Larry

The Internet is like a wild-west show where anybody can “publish” their own “work” without the slightest fear of rejection or criticism (other than the comments that trickle in if the “author” allows feedback from his or her “readers”). But there’s a big difference between blogging and legitimate publishing, where at least some peer review is required before one’s masterpiece sees the light of day. Self-publishing a book is not the same either, as anybody can do it who’s willing to pay the fee. (This is a little like the vanity art galleries where the artist pays to have work exhibited with no guarantee that the dealer will make any effort to sell the work.) But at least self-publishing requires one to have finished a manuscript.

A blog, however, or an Internet forum, is little more than a collection of impromptu sketches rather than a book that has been shaped and thought over. At best a good blog entry is like a newspaper column, but one rarely finds blogging performed at the level of skill and integrity one should expect from a legitimate writer.

On the plus side, however, blogging has gotten many in the Internet world to communicate with others and for people to express themselves and try to persuade others through the medium of writing. I think on balance that’s a good thing.

6 momninja

DN you actually have CousinNinja who self published the 1st book of her trilogy through Borders electrnoic books where the whole ninja family purchased it at Amazon to support her efforts. Ani is young, finished a book and had some cool artwork done for the cover….so while you may have no delusions of writing a book it is very impressive to have finished such a thing at such a young age…….her book can be found here if anyone is interested in a fantasy love story (yes I plugged her book here.) Shout out to CousinNinja!

http://www.amazon.com/Half-Breed-ebook/dp/B004UWPHCA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1302534410&sr=8-1

maybe the 2nd book will require some stick figure artwork………

7 David

This guest post comes across as elitest ranting.

It says that the standard of being writer is determined not by the quality of the output. Not by the studying, learning, preparation, and experience used as input. But instead, depends solely on the means used to publish?

To give a related example, that’s like saying someone is not a musician unless they put out an album through a major record label.

I’ve read utter crap published in mainstream media and through traditional publishing means. Writing in the traditional sense doesn’t guarentee quality.

Maybe we’d all benefit by asking ourselves “what makes writing good?”, rather than asking “what makes someone a writer?”

8 Larry

David: “It says that the standard of being writer is determined not by the quality of the output. Not by the studying, learning, preparation, and experience used as input.”

Well, not entirely. The poster says: “Becoming a writer worth reading actually requires skill, training, editing, self-editing, revision, reflection and often discarding entire chunks of material.”

Agreed that there’s a lot of “utter crap published in mainstream media and through traditional publishing means.” And (though I’ve read nothing published by the guest poster), I’m not greatly impressed by what I read above. (Whatever happened to real paragraphing – the quaint, obsolete notion that, with infrequent exceptions for emphasis, a paragraph is not just a single punchy, snarky sentence but a group of coherent, related sentences?)

I’ll also agree, however, that some self-published works may well have merit. A good friend of mine, J.B., wrote and self-published a travelogue of his trip to India that I consider as good as anything I’ve seen published by a “legitimate” house.

9 Smoochagator

As a graphic designer, I can TOTALLY relate to this post. It really irks me when someone downloads an illegal copy of Photoshop, watches a couple of tutorials on youtube, and then decides they’re a designer. Often – not always, but OFTEN – self-taught “designers” don’t have the understanding of art history, color theory, and composition that truly good design requires.

10 krantcents

Blogging should not be confused with published writing such as magazines, books or newspapers. Published writing is edited, fact checked and rises to a certain level of scrutiny. To me, blogs are opinions, some good and some bad. The reader determines which is which.

11 Bored

This post was lame.

12 Ninja

Even if you thought the post was lame, at least there is a picture of a gun toting kitten! Doesn’t get much more exciting than that :)

13 Larry

“There,” not “their,” Ninja. We ex-English majors have to do something to justify our existence.

14 Ninja

Your two good Larry :)

15 Larry

Four mistakes in a four-word sentence . . . .

16 First Gen American

I still describe myself as an engineer, not a writer on my blog. Everyone has different personal reasons to start a blog and most of the time it’s not to proclaim “I’m a writer”. One of my reasons to blog was to document my mom’s story, however unrefined it may be. The other is to use the other side of my brain. If someone decides it’s entertaining and worth reading, then all the better.

I think a lot of people would love to have a book published and it’s great that people have those dreams despite not having that formal training. Heck I think it’s even more impressive when the someone amongst the slew of English majors out there manages to make a living wage with a humanities degree.

17 adfj

I watched a episode on the animal channel called 101 cats the other day and thought of you. How can you hate cats???!?!?

18 Financial Uproar

I don’t think any blogger despises a writer when the writer suggests writing is work. Any blogger who posts on a regular basis knows it’s tough to keep churning out stuff day after day.Any blogger who does actual research into an article knows it’s work. Hard work isn’t just restricted to writers. Researching a topic and getting their stuff right isn’t restricted to writers either.

What upsets bloggers (this blogger anyway) is when a “writer” suggests that no one can contribute something without having some sort of formal training. How dare someone want to add something without going through the process of being rejected by a publisher.

I enjoy how the writer takes herself so seriously that she compares herself to a doctor. She just wrote a book about stocking clothes, which is totally comparable to being a doctor. One person saves lives. The other makes sure clothes are folded right. Congratulations on tackling such a life altering topic.

Self publishing has finally made publishing a book available to the masses. And for the most part, self publishing won’t see the huge blockbuster hits that come from the traditional publishing houses. Self publishing fills an important niche, letting books get published that traditional publishing houses wouldn’t touch because they don’t have a wide enough appeal. Why again is self publishing bad?

Then there’s the feedback argument. If I read a blog post that I disagree with, I can comment on it in about 4 seconds. I can tell the writer that I think their post is crap. How am I supposed to do that with a book or newspaper article? Where are the author’s comments on this post? Most blogs not only allow comments, but actually encourage them.

I can continue, but I won’t. I have to go dream about those dozen books I’m going to self publish. At least she didn’t make a “mother’s basement” joke.

19 David

I agree with everything that you said.

20 DonCarlos

Perhaps if the quality of writing in English mainstream media wasn’t so amateurish, people would be able to better differentiate between the “real” writers and the bloggers…

21 David

As an addendum – Snooki is now officially an accomplished and accredited writer because she published a book, right?

22 Jen

I didn’t really care about most of the post (about how to publish, etc).

But I strongly agree that the average quality of writing out there in the interwebs/universe lately has dropped dramatically. As an avid reader, it’s almost painful to read poorly written articles, blog posts, and stories. I read fictional stories on fictionpress.net occasionally, and I have to sift through mountains of crud to find one or two stories worth reading. Yet I still reread the original “Heidi” (my favorite book from childhood) just to indulge in the brilliant pictures the author paints with words.

There is a reason my husband and I pay for the Economist and ignore the news commentary on most of the more “popular” news websites. The Economist always has high quality articles that present facts and information in a clear, concise manner, instead of sounding like the mumbo-jumbo that comes out of Sarah Palin’s mouth. And as Jon Stewart recently pointed out in his interview with Bret Baier, “popular” doesn’t necessarily equal “good”.

23 Mike Holman

This post was just plain dumb. The term “writer” is way too broad for one particular group of writers (published authors) to lay claim to.

I’m a “writer” because I write. If Ms. Kelley wants to differentiate her particular style, skill or success with writing, she should do that. But come up with a more specific term so that the masses can put her on the appropriate pedestal.

24 Sandy @ yesiamcheap

There are errors in absolutes. I know of a little non-writer that wrote the first of her books when she was ppor and struggling with no formal education as a “writer” and she went on to sell millions of books which were then made into movies. Soudn familiar? The story has happened to multiple people, but I was thinking of J.K. Rowling.

Alas, she who looks down her nose at bloggers because they are not “writers” should perhaps go beyond blogs that contain just pictures? Many of us spend precious time researching, writing, vetting, and editing before posting…and we do this multiple times per week. We meet each other at conferences, discuss ways to market ourselves more, and actually sometimes publish real (gasp) books.

But it doesn’t count because, you know, I am not a writer.

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