what i write, how i write, and why i write it
a reader emailed me a few weeks ago and asked me if i could explain how i approached my writing. i thought about the answer for several days, but, then, as it so often does, life got in the way and i put the subject on the back burner... until an upsetting phone call i took part in this weekend brought the subject back to the foreground, but in an altogether new light. in a familiar route march down memory lane, i was being judged for what i said, or, perhaps, more pointedly, what i hadn't
said on my website; it was a line of attack that was angling towards my having to justify my "thoughts and feelings" and how i choose to relay them on the internet. what i've realized is that to anyone not familiar with the role blogging plays in the realm of "new media" (as backed up, to my delight, on this weekend's episode of npr's studio 360
and guest terry teachout
) might easily misinterpret what i say here, and how and why i say it. (as a point of reference, here
is what i said a year ago about why i blog.)
it might perhaps be simpler for me to explain what i don't
write. what i write is not meant to be taken up as legal testimony. it is not a series of facts meant to shed cold light on the specifics of any given situation. were it to read like that it would be free of "creative" language and emotion. had i sat down today to write such a piece it might read as follows:
today i got up and made scrambled egg whites and boca meatless sausages for breakfast. i did not have time to shower, because i was running late for work. so instead i freshened up, got dressed (i'm wearing jeans, a tshirt and a cardigan sweater) and drove to work. on my way to work i listened to cds by nellie mckay and the postal service and i enjoyed them both. i arrived at work at...
ok, you get the point. pretty boring, right? (though i did give "a day in the life" a shot in october
...) now, don't get me wrong. many folks run blogs, livejournals or websites with similar diary-esque content. they read their friends' pages, and leave comments like "i like the postal service too." this approach to blogging is perfectly fine for those people. personally, though, i don't write that way (writing that blurb was painful!) and i don't like to read that style of writing. i like to read something with a little bite. something anectodal, something with a resonant theme. take the work of sarah brown
, this fish
, or le petit hiboux
for example. they all have their own signature style and flair, and they tell a damn fine story. but when i read one of their pieces i don't walk away with the belief that they're giving me the quote-un-quote full story
--i know they are not including all the details, for whatever reasons they might have. i know they are using their creative skills in tying an episode in the present to an episode in the past, or to a song lyric, or to a painting, to a mood, to a funny one-liner and so on.
it is that creative skill that i consider to be "the craft." and while my writing style is not the same
as theirs, it's in the vein
of theirs; i--we--write in a genre called "creative non-fiction" (and, no, i did not coin that phrase, it is a legitimate literary term). when i write a piece it has a shape, a tone, a theme, a beginning, a middle and an end. it's not "poetic license" in the lifetime television "this-film-is-based-on-the-life-of-so-and-so" way; i don't lie
, i don't 'make things up' and it's not
fiction. what i'm writing is true
, but it's been crafted.
i have to use a piece called full circle
that i published in january as an example, because it was a post named specifically to me over the phone this weekend as a case of my allegedly "not having told the whole story." the caller seemed to take offense or objection as to why i didn't tell what he feels "really happened." he felt there were details i'd left out, and those details happened to have been the ones that related specifically to him. and he's right
: those details were
left out. not because i wish to deny them as fact, but because those details, and his role in them actually had nothing to do with the story being told
. to him i told an incomplete and inaccurate-by-means-of-exclusion story about a week i spent in toronto after being let go from a job. but look closely at my story and its themes
: it is about returning to new york. it is about the month of january, and it is about being cold. it is a story about having grown up past the stage of being too naive to know better. and therein lies the craft
. am i asking my readers to take what i say here as testimony? no. and bloggers are aware of that delination, while many non-bloggers are not. non-bloggers (or, to be fair, those not familiar with the concept of blogging, as many readers do not themselves blog) perhaps don't realize why blogs are written, for whom they are written, and to what purpose they serve.
so if that's what i don't do, what is it i do? well, most importantly, i write my blog for myself. for me it combines the art of creative writing (meaning the skill of using language, not the skill of inventing fiction) and having a journal. the fact that i have about 250 folks a day who stop by to see what i have to say, well, as a person who wishes for a career in writing, that does nothing but tickle me. and, yes, i look forward to comments, and to emails from readers. yes, i am aware of my audience, and yes, that causes me to censor myself. i don't use real names (with some exceptions: laurie
--because she is a blogger who uses her real name, certain ex-boyfriends--because i couldn't think of witty pseudonyms, and celebrities--well, for obvious reasons). i don't name where i work. i don't even use my own real name, though if you tried hard enough you could figure it out. as an aside, a small percentage of you know my real name, a smaller percentage of those people know the last name i use professionally, and the tiniest percentage of those people know my actual real last name. be flattered to be in that last group; not even my last boyfriend--whose real name i never used here--didn't even know my real last name. i don't furnish every piece of information that relates to an event because this isn't necessarily the place for it. i know that some people in my personal life read this, and that is probably my biggest regret, because i do have to watch what i say. but i'm an open and honest person, so that part of me is happy that i have a place, a forum, a platform where i might express my thoughts and feelings.
and that is what they are. they are my
thoughts and feelings. they are my stories, and they are, in fact, all entirely true
. if you happen to see yourself in one of them and feel misrepresented, i'm sorry. i do my best to limit myself to telling my stories and no one else's. it's not my place to tell you how anyone else feels or thinks or about elements of their life. if you want your
story told "right", by all means go to blogger
and sign up for an account; it's free and i'm not stopping you.
so i craft what i say. sometimes it comes to me in the shower, or while i'm driving, or while i'm as far away from either a pen and paper of my computer as possible. that's how i end up with sentences scrawled on receipts, envelopes, napkins and magazine pages. usually a theme becomes self-evident, or most often, just the title of a potential post. sometimes they're an obvious play on a movie, book, album title; sassy in the city
is clearly a pun on sex and the city
. look at my last post: humor me
has a double meaning--yes, i'm looking for laughter and positivity, but also humor me meaning understand that there are things going on that have my attention, that have me a little down lately.
it's taken me a couple of sessions to write this particular post; i had to step away from it saturday night, and as i was in the shower sunday morning more thoughts arose, and even more at the end of sunday evening. i know it won't be posted until i've given it several careful re-reads and edits. this is my work, and i stand behind it.
standing behind my work is excruciatingly important for me. it's taken me a lifetime to learn how to be proud of who i am, what i do, and what i represent. at best, i represent myself, and at best, this website represents a portion of myself. those of you who know me in real life know other aspects of myself, some more than others, some surely know different aspects of me just as would anyone who falls into distinct relationship categories: mother, housemate, lover, friend, acquaintance, for example. and i would hope that those of you who know me, the real
me, know that our private, off-screen relationship is worth more, and encompasses far more than the confines of this webpage. and that you should know how i feel, or even more specifically, how i feel about you, by how we interact on a one-on-one level. that, readers, is a real
relationship. those of you whom this equation leaves behind--you've got your idea of me, and chances are i'll never know you face to face to alter that opinion. and i'm okay with that. it's part of living a (for lack of a better term) public life.
i had a conversation with a boss of mine--it was in late 1997, for those of you on the self-appointed historical accuracy board--where i came to the realization that life was too short to keep things secret, private or to myself. i don't mean that i choose to betray confidences, but that i choose to never hold back telling how i feel, to never lie. and i don't lie. here, and in my life, i tell the truth.
am i perfect? no, far from it. are there parts of my 27 plus year life that i've forgotten or misremembered? sure, and when you mention those moments i tend to laugh and say "really? wow!" and go on with life. do i want to dwell on or live in the past? no. am i honest? some might say to a fault, or that i'm downright blunt. but, yes, i'm honest. but know that though i tell the truth, there will always be that line between us wherein my truth differs from yours. it's called perspective, and it's both a curse and a blessing. know that i write first for myself, and second for you, the collective audience. and most importantly, know that no one, least of all me, is forcing you to read this, is forcing you to agree, concur, validate or vouch for this.
...but you're reading it anyhow.