Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Are we losing trained writers?

I'm all for young upstarts bursting onto the literary scene, novelists shocking us with a new perspective or non-fiction writers picking an overlooked scab to find something fascinating and unspoken and important. Okay, admittedly I'm not the one to ask about fiction - please note the "now reading" on the sidebar. Yes, I'm going through a kind of noir phase. Just finishing The Grifters and am anxiously awaiting my next visit to the library to get another Thompson book.

But still, I have to wonder where great new writers will get their training, when there is so much garbage in the way. What do I mean by garbage? Read a bit of this Sunday Times Magazine article by blogger Emily Gould and you may understand. Maybe I'm shooting myself in the foot here, people, but bloggers! Omg, bloggers. But I don't mean pinheads like me who go on here and speak about an issue - publishing, green design, fabrics for skirts, webkinz, whatever - but those who blog about themselves, their lives, their goings-on, every gory personal detail for anyone to see. Journaling, which to my mind became a verb around 1993, can be a good way to work on one's writing, that I can see. The posting, on the other hand, is a different animal.

I read the article, even though it went on and on. And Gould seems like a fine writer. She anticipates attacks, thereby in part shielding herself from criticism, but really I'm not here to condemn her personally, as others have done. (She even posts examples.) Instead, I'm criticizing the trend this article represents, which got it into the Magazine. And while I appreciate that it speaks to issues of online identities in today's world and privacy, something I find fascinating, I also fear it speaks to many members of a generation and their collective definition of a writer. A writer is one who writes.

But I have to intercede here and ask: doesn't it matter what one writes? I mean, yes I appreciate the discipline it takes to maintain a blog, even about oneself, but that's only half the battle. Take the discipline, fine, and add knowledge, research, understanding, analysis. A friend recently complained that his employees - he's very corporate and he manages others - were just giving him information right back without explaining what the data meant. They were merely descriptive. This is often the case with such bloggers. They are not just self-obsessed - the best was when my partner found a blog by someone who honest to christ reported dropping a can of veggies on his foot - but they are also simple, reporting for reporting's sake. And going from "I'm going to tell you what happened" to "I'm going to tell you how I feel about what happened" is not what I mean. Can these bloggers step back and put their experience into context?

The fact that so many cannot is particularly frustrating given the advantages of the internet. (Watch as I try to connect this point to the larger point of this blog...) The internet allows you to network, right? Great. When you write in a journal, you scribble down your thoughts about your mom, your dog, your ex-boyfriend, how annoying your homeroom teacher is, and you shut the book, maybe you share it with someone. But online, you can embed links to other sites. This ability should be used, not just to say "as I told cutiekitty29" with a link to cutiekitty29's own blog. If you are thinking about how depressed you are as a freshmen in college, google some crap and link it up! Wish you had a dog? Link it. At least if someone finds your blog and recognizes your feelings, they can click through.

So all these people talk about books turning into electronic rooms which people will enter and with which people can interact. This has some promise. But from their idealism to this reality in a generation of people so used to internet access, and I just don't know. I know it's luddite thinking to suggest that things becoming too convenient will lead to laziness, but I also worry about the next generation of writers. I worry for writing when people have 0 attention spans and are so self-obsessed.

What should I look to in hoping to assuage my fears?

I suppose MFA programs, and great literary journals, and places like Grub Street. I just want to know that people are working at their writing, and reading good writers, and learning about stuff that isn't just what's in front of them in their lives.

These bloggers got me a little de-pressed, man. Some blogs are just like horrible overheard cellphone calls typed up. What bothers me most? Some of them, due to the inherent voyeuristic thrill, are such easy reading, they go down like sugary candy. But then? You get cavities of stupidity.

Yeah, I said it. But at least my rant's done.

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