Playing Writer God With Bloggers

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Yesterday, Lisa Barone danced my attention over to a post on Modite that claimed bloggers are not writers.

I read through it. Twice. Actually three times. I marveled at how the post managed to squeeze the words “disintermediation, cadre and myriad” into a single 67 word sentence complete with snarky parenthetical. There are some interesting points, and I get that the post was largely linkbait, designed to ruffle feathers and get attention (which, by the way, would make the author of said post not a writer, too).

But it made me wonder…(FYI, real writers never go dot dot dot)

  • Where do you get the card that gives you the right to annoint anyone else, blogger or not, a writer?
  • Is it really smart to label someone a writer based not the talent they wield, but on the medium they leverage? And;
  • Is writing for an audience a sure sign someone’s not a real writer?

Okay, so let’s get this out of the way first.

Yes, there are plenty of blogs out there with bad writing.

But, to say that’s a product of the medium and not a lack of commitment to the craft doesn’t sit right with me.

Blogs are just another outlet for the written word. As are books, ebooks, magazines, scripts and screenplays. And, guess what, most of those suck, too. Not because they’re books, magazines, scripts and screenplays, but because they are the creative output of folks who aren’t all that concerned with studying and practicing the art and the craft of writing. The only difference with blogs is they’re far more easily discovered.

Bad writing exists in every medium. Always has. Always will. That’s not a function of the blogosphere.

So, what of the charge of rampant pandering as proof that blogging isn’t for real writers?

Does it exist? Yup! All over the place.

But, again, blogging didn’t create the situation. Artists have been doing that dance between giving people what they want and creating soulful output for millennia. And, I’ve got to wonder…what’s so wrong with finding the sweet spot between what you love to share and what your audience loves to read?

Hell, even James Patterson, who’s got more than 50 New York Times bestsellers to his name and, according to Forbes, generated nearly $500 million for Little, Brown over the last two years, has been labeled a populist, throwing down formulaic thrillers and mysteries that pander to the base enterntainment jones of the mass market.

So, what, now he’s not a writer because he deliberately creates the very content his audience wants?

Knowing it’ll be ten times easier to market and the pass-along value will go through the roof? You may not like his style. You may say he’s sold out, gone commercial.

But, not a writer?

When tens of millions pant to read his every word?

C’mon.

Are we really supposed to believe only those who madly pursue literary excellence under the tutelage of masters, guided by j-school degrees or countless nights chasing stories about lost dogs without regard to the marketability of their work are worthy of the title “writer?”

I blog AND I care deeply about language.

I break every rule Strunk ever conjured and White ever dared. I turn phrases with an awl, split infinitives with an axe and chum the waters with bloody metaphors. All in the name of engaging my readers, titillating the senses and inciting conversation.

That, and it’s just plain fun!

And, I do the very same thing, whether in books, magazines or blogs.

To say that I or anyone else is not a writer because of either the medium we’ve chosen or the fact that we write not just for our own edification, but for an audience…is just plain silly.

And, to proclaim the right to stand in judgment is equally absurd. Especially when that proclamation comes in the form of a juicy straight-up link-bait post on a blog (with lots of fancy words).

Who is anyone to say when and why any other purveyor of prose crosses the line between slinger of linguistic hash and wordsmith? Especially when so many, who by the above criteria would not be writers, regularly sell the hell out of so many others who profess lifelong devotion to the craft (and, yes, like it or not, sales IS one benchmark of literary impact).

Sorry, I don’t do the holier than thou thing. Yes, even though I live in New York City.

It clashes with black.

I’ve been moved to tears by tweets and bored to sleep by classics.

A change in vehicle wouldn’t have changed the impact of either.

Oh, and by the way, I still think some of Picasso’s paintings suck…

And he was a REAL painter!

So, what do YOU think (doh, there’s me pandering again)?

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46 responses

46 responses to “Playing Writer God With Bloggers”

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by remarkablogger: RT @jonathanfields Playing Writer God With Bloggers http://bit.ly/4UsAMm (pls RT)…

  2. Hayden Tompkins says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Whew! Ok. I’m sorry, Jonathan, but I find the supposition that bloggers aren’t writers actually hilarious. HI-LARIOUS. Unless they are video bloggers the bloggers in question are writing their content.

    a la Random House:

    1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., esp. as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

    2. a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.

    3. a person who writes or is able to write:

    Clearly this person is going with definition #1 as the only valid definition of a writer but really? Really?? Take away the “r” and we are left with the word “write”.

    And, if you’ll notice notice, there are no caveats in even in definition #1 for quality of writing or non-panderness of tone, etc.

    Maybe bloggers aren’t always PROFESSIONAL writers but that wasn’t the premise of her stated case.

    Anyway, I’ve actually ‘quit’ my blog so I guess I’m not a writer right now but what I always found interesting were the compliments. People always told me what a phenomenal, awesome (do real writers use “awesome”?), fantastic writer I was.

    And I found that weird because I didn’t consider myself a ‘writer’.

    But I do now. I mean, I do in retrospect. I wrote 300-1200 word articles 3-5 times a week for almost three years! And maybe those articles weren’t actually fantastic and awesome but it doesn’t change the fact:

    I write, therefore I am…a writer.

  3. Werner says:

    Bravo Jonathan.

    I agree wholeheartedly with this post.

    Writing on the whole is about connecting with people and relating to them.

    BTW: Picasso’s later stuff does suck. Toward the end of his life he was churning out paintings just for the money. His best works were those he did prior to the 1960’s.

  4. Mark Tosczak says:

    Chris – I agree with all of this. I have an English degree (undergraduate) and I always thought the popular=bad approach to literature was completely off base. I’m also an ex-journalist, and can tell you that most journalism does not rise above the level attributed to blogging in the Modite post.

    A literary example: Shakespeare was successful writing for the masses. And anybody who’s read a large portion of his work with a critical eye will tell you that some of his early work was not that great, especially compared to the later plays.

    But no one in their right mind would ever claim that Shakespeare wasn’t a writer. Most of us (maybe none of us) will ever write at the level Shakespeare did, but it’s helpful to keep his example in mind when people start judging who is and is not a writer.

  5. Finch says:

    Excellently put.

    I got the same impression that it was a shoddily thought out piece of linkbait with little substance to it. Good linkbait though.

  6. Everyone has a story to tell. I’ve been to “personal growth” seminars where, it seems, half the participants want to write yet another personal growth type book.

    I’ve read blogs that tell personal stories with the worst grammar and spelling one can imagine. The stories can be poignant and relevant and interesting to read or they can be dull as dishwater. I’ve read blogs purporting to help me live life more fully in one way or another. Some good. Others, not so much.

    Whatever you call people who share in the blogosphere doesn’t matter. If people want to call themselves writers, that’s ok with me.

    BTW, this blog post doesn’t suck. 🙂

  7. Sean Platt says:

    Pffft…

    I love language to my core. I am a writer and a blogger.

    Here’s what’s cool, and I actually wrote a post about this over the weekend, though it went into the bank and probably won’t see light for a month or two.

    You know what was the final nudge that actually got me writing? Reading a Newbury award winning book that was marginal in every way. I remember reading it, thinking the entire time, “Man, if this is good enough for the anointed, then it’s time for me to play ball.”

  8. Gil Reich says:

    Sorry. The semi-colon after the second bullet unmasked you as a faux-writer. And please stop taking my name in vain.

    On a serious note, great post, completely agree.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Ha, totally busted on the semicolon, couldn’t decide whether I wanted to use that or a comma or, the horror, yet another elipses. Could’ve consulted Strunk but life’s too short

  9. Debbie Ferm says:

    I always wonder why people are so threatened by those they consider to be lesser than themselves.

    Bloggers who are struggling with self confidence should not pay attention to such drivel, and should just keep trying to improve their own writing.

    I read the article too. What a waste of time.

    Oh, and Strunk and White call out “myriad” as one of the words writers should never use. Ha!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Wonder they’d say about one of my favorite words–fungible?! LOL (Cuz real writers aren’t afraid to LOL)

  10. Christopher Masiello says:

    While I actually agreed with several of the points in that article, it was just blatant pot stirring.
    By the way, some of us bloggers actually are real writers who use blogging as another outlet.

    Kind of like how professional musicians still love to play cover songs or sing in the car.
    Nice rebuttal though,
    Chris

  11. Dude, I couldn’t get through your post because there weren’t enough big words.

    Just kidding. 😉

    I appreciate you posting your opinion. Always informative to see what others think.

  12. Gordie says:

    Flexible writing style, yes! Poor spelling and proofreading, no!

  13. Jonathan, your post as well as the one you linked to got the wheels in my head turning quite a lot.

    Contrary to what most commentators said so far, I actually agree with a great part of what the lady (Rebecca Thorman)says. I think a lot of bloggers do have low writing skills. Since anyone with some spare time and an Internet connection can set up a blog, it’s easy for a lot of 2nd class writers to get into it.

    And a lot of bloggers do play to the crowd. I know how tempting it can be. I was pretty tempted to do this when I saw the posts I wrote which got most attention were often not the ones which gave the most valuable information, but the ones which were the most scandalous. But I decided not to.

    However, I don’t think this has any relevance. Because that’s just a general affirmation. It does not mean there are no bloggers who are also good writers, who provide real, valuable content.

    I think some of the bloggers who get all defensive about that post just take it way to personally. If you’re not one of those bloggers with bad writing skills, then the that post is not about you. Chill…

    Eduard

    • Sean Aiken says:

      “I think a lot of bloggers do have low writing skills.”

      “I think some of the bloggers who get all defensive about that post just take it way to personally. If you’re not one of those bloggers with bad writing skills, then the that post is not about you. Chill… ”

      A person’s writing skills is not important. The question is what constitutes a “writer”? And is it dependent upon the chosen medium?

      If a blogger wants to call themselves a writer, great, go for it. I write a blog, and I wrote a book to be published this spring. If you’d like to call me a “writer”, I’m okay with that. If you don’t, I’m also okay with that.

      Why are we so attached to the label?

      It’s our attachment that causes us to take a post like this too personally. Bottom line, if someone wants to label themselves a writer, who are we to cut them down? What good does it do us?

  14. Well, bloggers are definitely writers. They just aren’t necessarily *good* writers. They run the gamut, just like any other writers.

    In my initial attempt at blogging, I spent too much time worrying about what others think. I didn’t enjoy it, and it wasn’t long before I decided to quit. I still try to write well, but now my motto is “Go with it!” I don’t worry about being perfect. It’s much more fun this way. 🙂

  15. Do we really have to argue about semantics?

  16. Dude, this post is great, mildly sarcastic and very passionate! This blog was a great find, you always have something good to read. I love the line I’ve been moved to tears by tweets and bored to sleep by classics. That is so true and who has the power to tell us which of those will do what.
    keep at it brother, you are an inspiration to some of us newbies
    Justin

  17. Christine says:

    Anyone else find it ironic that Lisa is publishing her thoughts about writing vs. blogging on her modite blog?

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Christine, just a quick correction, Lisa didn’t write the post, she just let me know about it. 🙂

  18. A writer is someone who writes. If you want to define it more narrowly than that, there are these things called ‘adjectives’ which one writer used to modify the associated noun. It’s a cool concept.

    So, a writer who does it for a living might be called a ‘professional’ writer. A writer who writes on a blog might be called a ‘blogger’ (wait; it’s broken already. Where did the word ‘writer’ go in my adjectival phrase? Is there such a thing as an adjectival phrase?)

    I’m looking forward to someone telling me I’m not a writer so I can tell them they’re not a person; at least, not by my definition.

  19. Patricia says:

    Anyone else struck by the irony of that blogger “playing the crowd” to generate discussion? Wonder what kind of profile Modite got from this post? (And I think it’s a ridiculous argument, personally. Just because I don’t *like* a particular form of expression doesn’t mean it isn’t valid…)

  20. Hi Jonathan – Good rebuttal! I happen to like Rebecca Thorman. I thought her recent series on the value of higher education was thought-provoking more for what it left out (no mention of ideology dumbing down the learning that goes on, but that’s my lens). Confusing certain media in which a writer might play as having a lesser rank on a hierarchical scale is more of the same. There’s a missing piece or more to the logic. Pretty rare from what I’ve seen of her work as a whole.

    The irony here is Rebecca is a good writer who blogs. I wonder how she would describe this activity in context of what she’s written.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Betsy – I’m with you, I usually like Rebecca’s work, too. She gives you something to say yes or no to. And, that’s cool. Often I say yes, this time not so much.

      You’ll also notice she swung by and dropped a comment above, cuz she’s classy like that! 😉

  21. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by johnhaydon, Chris Garrett, Jonathan Fields, Lisa Barone, remarkablogger and others. remarkablogger said: RT @jonathanfields Playing Writer God With Bloggers http://bit.ly/4UsAMm (pls RT) […]

  22. Brilliant. I’m blogging, tweeting, FBing this all over the place (at least in my tiny corner of the Western desert).

    Blog on, my friend!

  23. Karanime says:

    Haha, that’s really taking you for a spin, isn’t it?

    Ever read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand?

    Blogging is Peter Keating. “Writing,” the real writing talked about on the post you linked to, is Howard Roark.

    Keating is not an outstanding architect. He simply survives on PR. Roark’s intent is completely different. It doesn’t matter whether or not he’s a “success.” He simply keeps his integrity to himself.

    Not to say you don’t have integrity, only that the medium of blogging is designed for PR. It’s all about how you look, not what you’ve actually said.

    Fortunately, we can change that. 🙂

    /<3

  24. “I write, therefore I am a writer.” great quote Hayden Tomkins.

    Thanks to you I have nothing more to say other than:

    I completely agree with you Jon (can I call you Jon?), and great post.

  25. Laura B says:

    There’s good writing and crappy writing. You can do the crappy kind and still be a writer. Hell, we don’t make that weird distinction with any other profession, do we?

    The guy who renovated my apartment did a shit job, and the wood on the cabinets he built is now so warped they won’t open. But he’s still a contractor.

    Even the worst, most out-of-work actors I know are still called actors.
    Except when they’re called “waiter.”

  26. LisaNewton says:

    I think one of the best ways to answer her article is with a recent post by Seth Godin:

    My definition of art contains three elements:

    1. Art is made by a human being.
    2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
    3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

    Enough said!!

  27. […] really aren’t writers) has stuck in my mind like the linkbait that it probably was (as per Jonathan Fields’s assessment of the post).  On the one hand, many bloggers are not fiction writers (or maybe they are, especially the ones […]

  28. Bill says:

    As I just commented elsewhere, if “Bloggers are not writers” that’s okay because online people are not readers. We tend to skim. And that sweeping statement is just as silly as the first.

    It strikes me that writing is about communication which, surprisingly, is what blogs and tweets and all those other social media tools are about. Writing well is pointless if you don’t communicate well through it and I’ve known a number of people who were great writers but couldn’t communicate through it to save their lives.

    As far as being popular goes, Shakespeare was a pandering populist and I’ve heard from a number of reliable sources that he still managed to be held in fairly high regard, as was some guy named Dickens.

    It is incredible hubris for someone to think that because they write for an elite group of self-anointed “real” writers that their work will somehow manage to escape history’s trash heap.

    That is my long winded way of saying I agree with you. It’s also my pontificating rant for the day. 🙂

  29. […] then…(real writers don’t use ellipses) I heard from one of my friends that she was at a craft thingie with another woman we went to high […]

  30. Jack says:

    I don’t care whether people call me a writer or a blogger. Neither label will affect my ability to earn or a living. I write because I like to blog and I blog because I like to write.

    I am the egg that created the chicken or the chicken that created the egg. Damn, can’t ever remember which came first.

  31. You forgot, terse rejoinders…. (3 dots, plus one, from a real writer)

  32. Linda says:

    If you write for public consumption in any form, that basically qualifies you as a “writer”. You don’t need to be paid for it, and it doesn’t have to be good. The word writer, like the words plumber, doctor, President, singer, and nuclear physicist, is basically a description of your primary activity—it doesn’t begin to answer how good or bad you may be at it. Many plumbers suck at what they do, and get paid well despite that. Many writers suck at writing, and continue to collect huge paychecks. Does that make them any more qualified than a blogger who may actually be contributing something to the ongoing human dialogue?

    When you talk about writers, technically Dickens and, as someone mentioned, Shakespeare were hacks of their day(s), quickly producing written works meant to entertain the masses. There are always gems in the rough, and the blogosphere is likely to yield some truly memorable writing. The trick is finding it. Personally, I’ve found this blog (and the book) to be very engaging and extremely useful. It’s helped me to open my eyes to a new world of communication, since I come from the 2.0 model. With your encouragement, I’ve joined the blogging masses, and hope that some of my writing will find its way to a new audience—and teach me more about what I have to say.

    Bottom line is, discussing whether a blogger is a writer is kind of like asking if a Pekinese is a dog. If you’re a Doberman or a Lab lover, it may not be the kind you like, but it is still a dog. And many people love them!

  33. amanda says:

    Below is my comment I posted on Rebecca Thorman’s blog (http://modite.com/blog/2010/01/19/bloggers-are-not-writers/):

    Well, I post this to you and the link from which this came to me, through Jonathan Fields @http://www.jonathanfields.com/blog/playing-writer-god-with-bloggers/

    First off, I think you both can turn a phrase pretty.

    That said, you have missed what to me is the more salient point: “It’s as if culture froze just before it became digitally open, and all we can do now is mine the past like salvagers picking over a garbage dump,” Lanier writes. “Creative people — the new peasants — come to resemble animals converging on shrinking oases of old media in a depleted desert.”

    This, what Lanier points to, is not about writing per se. At least that is not how I am reading Lanier’s quotes. It is an indictment on society, culture and values. He uses blogging and writing to point us to a bigger topic: how we create value and ourselves socially.

    I find it interesting that the he said she said about blogging and writing digressively clouds us from speaking to, envisioning and creating digital culture that values expression, creativity, connection that is sincere, creative and not merely market driven. Instead, we are lost debating whether or not blogging is writing.

    So, to us all:
    “… (L)et’s give credit where it’s due – to the true writers, journalists, novelists, reporters, columnists, and others who inspire us to boil their ideas down in an effort to hold onto them just a little longer.”

  34. LOL, interesting post. Blogging is the warm up for many people that decide to go in to a professional writing career, because they learn that they are actually talented at what they do, or that they stink on ice.