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Sunday, May 16, 2004

On friends and writing

Over sushi last night I mentioned to my friends that I had just started a blog.

"What's that?" they asked.

"Er...It's short for a web log, a sort of daily online diary...well, it doesn't have to be daily, and...it's like a sort of editorial page that you create for yourself, where you can post your thoughts, opinions, whatever." I had forgotten that not everyone of my advanced years is as hip and with-it as I am, and that people from my own peer group might not be aware of something I've been fascinated by for two years.

My friends are very important to me. I have friends who are engineers, teachers, college professors, students, writers, musicians, analysts for the State Department, cops who have worked with the FBI, ex-Marines, and former Peace Corps volunteers. They travel to places and have adventures and then come home and tell me about them, and I add the experiences that they have related to me to my own store of knowledge and experience. Many of the people I am closest to I met in college, a few date from my high school days and before, and some are people I have met through friends - starting out as provisional friend-of-a-friends, but eventually blooming into full-fledged direct and personal friends.

I have a few friends who are excellent writers but who, for the most part, have gone unpublished. This is not for a lack of talent on their parts, but generally due to an unfavorable alignment of publishers' desires and agents' efforts. After several years of this I suppose it gets a bit disheartening.

Once upon a time I dreamed of becoming a writer myself, but three realities intervened:

One was the realization that writing, for most writers, pays very little, and money is a fairly important and necessary thing.

The second is the fact that I'm not a very good writer, and I tend to lapse into the bloated, pompous style that I'm inflicting on you right now. With some effort I can "Whittakerize" my writing (a ruthless form of self-editing and sentence reconstruction named after my old Logical and Rhetorical Analysis professor, who would thoroughly tear apart our writing assignments until we learned how to preemptively tear them apart ourselves), but this results in a style that is sharp and crystalline and far from my own internal voice.

The third is something I read in Gene Wolfe's collection of essays and short stories, The Castle Of The Otter: a writer is someone who cannot not write, who writes every day because they have to or they will burst. If you can get along with not writing, you are probably not really a writer, and you should go happily along your way with the knowledge that you have just dodged a bullet. (I don't think he put it that way, but like both of my copies of The Salmon Of Doubt I have temporarily mislaid this book, probably under a pile of dozens of other books I have bought since I bought this one.)

The neat thing is, I have been writing every day since I started this blog. I won't pretend that that makes me a writer - as far as I'm concerned, I'm just vomiting words onto the keyboard - but the reality is, I'm writing, and my writing is getting out there. No agents, no editors, and no publishers to deal with. Quite possibly no readers, either, but that may change in time. I have contacted three bloggers whose blogs I like and have been posting comments to for a while, and have invited them over to have a look around. I have also been telling friends about this, so they may stop by, and maybe I'll get some visitors the way that most blogs get visitors. But I think I'll also contact my frustrated writer friends and suggest that they start blogs of their own as a way of getting their writing out there. It will give me an opportunity to read their writing again, and it will be a lot less expensive than my Plan A, which was to arrange publication of their books myself. Now, if I can just find their e-mail addresses...

(Erratum: I originally spelled Gene Wolfe's name incorrectly. Sorry.)

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