"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Monday, August 30, 2010

Food for Thought

Writing’s been hard this summer. I’m no longer working for the U.S. Census, but I’ve been caring for my 97-year old mother along with my nine- and ten-year-old grandchildren, sometimes separately, often together. I love doing this, but time for myself is reduced. My reading has also been affected. No novels, just short things like magazines, TV Guide, or catalogs. In spare hours I’ve managed to work on my novel synopsis. Time is at a premium. Speaking of time and energy, I found some food for thought in a couple of articles, one in Newsweek, the other in Time.

Time did a cover story on bestselling novelist Jonathan Franzen. I haven‘t read his latest book, Corrections, but I’m curious now--he writes in a spare rented room, with only a computer and bare walls. He works at removing distractions from his writing life, including disabling the internet connection on his computer. I admire that kind of discipline.

Which brings me to the other article, one on blogging that appeared in the August 16, 2010 Newsweek, “Take This Blog and Shove It!” by Tony Dokoupil and Angela Wu. At our recent picnic we were talking about our own Blue Sage blog. Should we keep it going? Have we lost steam? If so, why?

Here are some quotes from the article on blogging and other internet writing in general:

“Amateur blogs, the original embodiment of Web democracy, are showing signs of decline. While professional bloggers are a rising class … hobbyists are in retreat, and about 95 percent of blogs are launched and quickly abandoned.”

“A recent PEW study found that blogging has withered as a pasttime with the number of 18- to 24-year-olds, who identify themselves as bloggers, declining by half between 2006 and 2009. A shift to Twitter … partly accounts for these numbers.”

“Thousands of volunteer editors, the loyal Wikipedians who actually write, fact-check, and update all those articles, logged off--many for good. For the first time, more contributors appeared to be dropping out than joining up.”

“Naturally as some energy goes out of the Web, sites that depend on enthusiastic free labor are scrambling to retain it.”

So maybe our concerns are reflecting a national trend. The article went on to discuss the “free” aspect. Maybe it’s all gone sluggish because now that the glow is gone, writing for free is no longer appealing or cool or fun. It’s certainly not compensated. Some smart sites are now offering incentives or contests for their contributors to keep momentum going. The article suggests cash might be next to engage weary bloggers and keep internet submissions coming.

But (my thoughts here), does everything we do have to be tied to capitalism? Isn’t blogging a way to write for writing’s sake?

Maybe we should ask ourselves: is the exposure we’re getting in return for our free blogs a fair exchange? Are we diluting energies that should/could be going into our novels (which hopefully will pay off in hard currency)? Is a bestselling author like Franzen telling us something by turning off the internet? You may disagree. I hope you’ll comment.

I’m off now to find my own corner without distractions. By the basement window works. A table at the mall where I can be alone in the crowd? Maybe. First, I’ll make lunch, swing by the grocery store, and …well, darn, my to-do list keeps growing. But school has started and Mom has a big pile of books to read. My chunks of free time have increased, so no excuses not to write. That includes an occasional blog or letter. Still, I need to keep my priorities straight and keep my novel at the top of the list.

--Karen Finnigan

Karen is the recipient of the Idaho Writers League Writer of the Year Award. She is the author of seven novels and several novellas (published by Berkley and Harper under the pen name Karen Lockwood), as well as numerous articles and poems in various publications. She lives in Idaho Falls.