The Unselfish Writer

Selfishness

A while back, I came across a comment that posed the question of selfishness as it applies to writing and writers. It was a bit of a two-parter that morphed around the subject. The first part of the question asked whether or not an unselfish writer should give away his or her work for free. The second part wanted an answer to the bigger question of “what is a selfish reason to write?”

I think there was more to these questions than met the eye when I first read them. The comments were posed as a challenge more than an observation. Still, they were interesting enough. How does selfishness and writing come together? How does selfishness, or lack of it, play into chasing word art?

A few readers may need to don the crash helmet for what follows. It’s purely an opinion piece, so don’t get too worked up over it. Geezer-writers get to stretch their mouth muscles from time to time.

The first part of the question, whether or not a writer should be paid, is pretty simplistic and obvious. I’ve written a number of posts about this topic. Since I’ve been writing all my life, I also have pretty strong feelings about it. If you’re a worthy writer, you should be paid for your work, period. The only exception is when you choose to offer your work for free, for some personal reason that makes sense to you. There’s an entire section on this blog, along with several individual articles, that speak to the need for writers to be compensated for their work. It’s a no-brainer.

But getting paid for your words is a tough business. Few writers ever achieve that goal. As I’ve mentioned many times, some of the best writers I’ve known never made it in a financial sense. They were great word artists but they never had the chance to make their work pay. This is one of the reasons that I’m such a strong proponent of self-publishing, to level the playing field for writers who would otherwise sit it out on the sidelines for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent.

Pay as You Exit

Should you be paid for your work? You bet, so long as your work is worth the money. In the end, your readers should be allowed to make that decision, not publishers or alleged “publishing companies” that populate the Internet. It’s all between you and the reader. The only way to know if you can make writing work for you is to get your words out there and hear what readers have to say about it. Readers vote with their money, which is just the way it should be. Publishers have lost their importance through their own greed and immoderate behavior. Get your words out there, and do it on your own terms.

The second part of the question is a little strange. I’ve never been asked the question in the past but it’s worth a thought. What is a selfish reason to write?

I don’t find much selfishness among my fellow writers. However, they mostly write books, novels or nonfiction. A few of my writer-friends are journalists. I do see a good deal of selfishness among bloggers, though. I find lots of attention-seeking behavior out there.

Now, to some extent, attention-seeking behavior is inherent in anyone who writes seriously or as a career. We want to be noticed, one way or another. We may write for ourselves, at first, but we publish to be read. At some level, that’s attention-seeking. I doubt that any seasoned writer would argue against this relationship.

attention seeking

But it goes beyond that acceptable level with so many blogs. There are endless posts directed at only one purpose – driving readers to the blog. There are so many words that have this sole purpose that it’s a day’s work to just get through them to the true nuggets of good writing. This kind of behavior is so obvious and transparent that virtually all readers recognize it when they see it. It operates at a level of commercials on TV, except that every so often you run across a really funny, entertaining TV commercial. Not so often with most blogs.

This kind of writing is selfish. It is not intended to convey valuable information, entertain, enlighten, share or contribute to others. It is designed to point back at the writer and do nothing more. It’s a way of putting notches on a virtual blog-belt that says, “Hey, look at me! I now have 34,534 followers!” Well, if you’re into quantity as a writing goal, it surely serves some purpose. It just doesn’t work for me.

If the blog is commercial in nature, I get the point. However, if it’s intended to be a personal blog, and the whole point is to drive readers to the blog, it shows up in the posts and in the writing style. This kind of writer is not trying to share. He or she is trying to collect. In my view, that’s selfish.

So, are writers selfish? The good ones, those who work it out as a living, the journalists, the worthy novelists, and even the occasional strong blog writer are not selfish. They are sharing something of who they are, what they think, how they are feeling, what they’ve learned along the way. They are not selfish. They are writers, even if they remain undiscovered for a lifetime.

Asking if writers are selfish is like asking if a writer is any good at what he or she does with their art. The best writers move well beyond their selfishness and find reasons to create words that are genuine and tangible, meaningful in some way to their readers. Those who cannot get to this point simply don’t make it in the business. There’s too much competition from good, genuine writers for the purely selfish to survive the cut.

Writer-selfishness has nothing to do with money, with getting that advance and royalty check. It has everything to do with sharing that part of yourself that may touch your readers.

Anything else is selfish.

Why Don’t Blogs Die?

Blog of the day once again

Not everything dies. Most things do, I guess. I suppose even a rock dies, although it might take some time. But, it seems to me that blogs never die. They go on forever, suspended in the timeless clutches of the infinite Internet. This troubles me, a bit. It just doesn’t seem natural, not in accordance with the ordained order of the universe.

It’s creepy.

Since I’ve been a writer my entire life, I’m naturally drawn to the blogs of other writers or blogs that discuss their work. For whatever reason, I was surfing with one thought in mind: Why are so many writers considered eccentric? A strange search, yes, but not so uncommon. It was something that caught my interest for the moment. I’ve been accused of eccentricity, often by my literary agent as well as family luminaries.

While drifting around the Internet, I stumbled across a post entitled, Are All Good Writers Eccentric? The title was enough to get me reading. However, what I read took me off in an entirely different direction. I was left wondering why blog posts don’t have a shelf-life, a discreet period of time after which they die and are forever forgotten. Where is the self-destruct button, just in case? Some posts, some blogs, just shouldn’t go on forever, despite our wonderful, powerful technology. They should succumb to the more natural course.

This post didn’t answer my original question about eccentric writers. Rather, it gave me yet another reason to really be sure about what I publish, in any form.

Here is the post, which is short. I’ve left it unedited:

I think that all real writers are eccentrics and loners even when they have familys. Not all bloggers are writers some fill there pages with pictures of there friends and family or places they have been. Some are clever with the graphics that melt out hearts to look at and make us want to go back to look again. I would like to combine graphic art and my poetry but at the moment this will have to do. But waiting in the wings is some one i know who does magical graphics who as told me when i am ready i can download some of her magic onto my pages and how proud i would be to do that hopefully in the near future. Thanks mary. To work together with some one like Mary to add the beauty that she creates to my pages of poetry would make for a magical site i would be proud of. 

To be a writer you need a good imagination you just have to look at jk Rowlings, pages full of exciting things nothing dull, always some thing new and exciting, C.S Lewis and Narnia another wonderful example of a great imagination with a spiritual lift to it. Catharine Cookson my favourite author of adult stories writes from real life, earthy deeply involved stories of life in the north of england.

So, you tell me. Are good writers eccentric?

Gregor Does Blog Barfing, Again

GregorGregor likes to reinvent himself. His keepers tell him this is the best way to overcome his failed lobotomy.

A while back, Gregor started barfing on blogs. See Gregor Barfs on Your Blog for the details. Since then, Gregor has had a few moments of lucidity. He wants to fill in the details for you.

Gregor has a 5 point scale for blog reading. A blog with 0 points gets passed over. A blog with 5 points gets a comment. It’s also possible to gather bonus points, but it’s rare. This system keeps blog reading simple, and Gregor likes simple.

Here’s how it works:

0 Points. Gregor encounters a bad title and a boring opening sentence. He moves on and takes no notice.

1 Point. The title is a grabber. It’s unique and captures his interest. Unfortunately, the opening sentence or two tumbles down the boring hole. Gregor moves on.

2 Points. Good title, interesting opening lines. Gregor pushes the button and looks for gold. The first paragraph is a fail. Maybe it’s poorly written, maybe it just bores him. Gregor can bore easily when not on his meds. Anyway, Gregor closes the window and goes back to trolling.

3 Points. Gregor gets halfway through the post and his mind begins to wander. Is it Gregor? Is it the writer? Hard to say. Gregor loses interest and looks elsewhere.

4 Points. Gregor gets through the entire post. He is happy. It’s a good read, interesting, fun, whatever. Gregor will come back to this blog from time to time. He hits the LIKE button. Gregor never hits the LIKE button unless he has read the entire post. He wants to be fair to the writer.

5 Points. Gregor is hooked. He hits the LIKE button and adds a comment. Maybe it’s just a short, one-liner. Maybe longer. Gregor wants the writer to know that he or she did a really good job. It’s hard to please Gregor so he chooses carefully.

Bonus Points. Gregor is blown away by the post and goes on to read a few others. LIKE is not enough. A comment is not enough. Gregor hits the FOLLOW button and looks forward to the next post. Gregor celebrates.

Gregor lives here.

Blog Spam Swamp Gas

@gnat SMS Spam? I got it.

Blog spam (swamp gas) is entertaining, so long as you don’t take it seriously. You’ve got to love the literacy of it all.

Here are a few gems with my intended retorts. All those annoying links have been removed and sent to doo-doo land, along with my fantasy replies. I was on a rebound flash-back while reading the spam and just had to say something.

Let’s keep it to just a few. Too much of this stuff gets really boring.

Spam: This is a message to the admin. Your website is missing out on at least 300 visitors per day. I discovered this page via Google but it was difficult to find as you were not on the first page of search results. I have found a website which offers to dramatically increase your traffic to your website:(spam-o-link). I managed to get over 10,000 visitors per month using their services, you could also get lot more targeted traffic than you have now. Hope this helps. Take care.

Reply: So, how come your spam-o-link site isn’t on the first 300 pages that Google showed me? Take care.

Spam: It is common inside developed countries such as the look into the prove that there much like online enough to stop paying it (spam-o-link). Decades earlier, if one acquired a three to percent idea, it was a fantastic tip.

Reply: Urg. Forget “developed countries.” You need an introduction to English if you’re going to try to communicate in English. Decades earlier? Huh? You should be congratulated, though, for achieving your own three percent literacy quotient.

Spam: I was reading this article and find it very informative. I admired the writer’s effort as he beautifully selects the most appropriate words for his post. The choice of his words has made this article unique and interesting. While reading this article I was feeling that I can completely understand the theme of this article and writer has written exclusively for me or for my school of thought.

Reply: Wow! Well, I have to admit that I wrote the post just for you and you only. Sadly, I lost your email address. Now, lose my blog address.

Spam: Greatly lucrative! Therefore… I nevermore search what I ask for. Much far more ideas and much even more nonconformity… a comment, I will actually do this.

Reply: Suchforth happy to please you and will far look to your vanishment.

Spam: This knowledge requires toady up to definition and is intended primarily for use by way of salubrity regard workers and facilities/organizations providing haleness care including pharmacies, hospitals, long-term heed facilities, community-based health regard care providers and pre-hospital pinch services.

Reply: Huh?

Spam: I used to be able to find good advice from your articles.

Reply: Thank the Spam Gods you found someone else.

Blog Comments and Knicker Hitching

AmarcordWhen it comes to blogging, I’m still trying to get my knickers hitched up properly. I’ve been at it for less than a year. Since I’m an old fogy, blogging came very late to my game. After 45+ years of writing, it was something new to try, a fresh way to exercise and exorcise my muse.

I’ve come to really enjoy the experience. Reading other blogs is fun and doesn’t take up much time. I’ve seen some great talent out there and, well, some lesser luminaries. My collection of “must read” blogs is tight but the quality is outstanding. When I don’t have the time to cruise through my blog list I feel as though the day has slipped away too quickly.

My favorite part of the blogging experience is reading the comments following my posts. I’m not much of a stats person. It’s not the kind of thing that yanks my tail much. The “likes” are fun because they give me a chance to check out a new blog. But it’s the comments that always make my day. They are pure prime rib for this carnivore.

AmarcordMy blog is meant for writers, mostly. I have a secondary character (Gregor) who makes social commentary and tries to deliver humor. But Gregor also talks to writers. So, most of my visitors seem to follow suit. They are typically writers, and some very good ones. When these readers are moved to leave a comment, I feel as though I’ve done a good job and that my fellow-writers have found some value in my words. It’s easy to push the “like” button but it takes a bit more effort to leave a comment. When a reader leaves me with a word or two, that’s a big payoff.

I’m also very impressed with the quality of comments. These are sharp folks, who can express themselves clearly and in a limited space. I like that. They often bring a big sense of humor along with them, especially when it’s a comment to one of Gregor’s blatherings. They banter and tweak, which makes my day. They thrive on fun and they’re not afraid to show it out loud. It’s a feel-good thing. I appreciate the smiles and chuckles.

Then there’s that geography thing.

Call me naive in the ways of blogging but I’m blown over by visits from across the world. OK, I’m severely provincial, so it’s a big deal in my quiet life. Better still, these folks can handle English with aplomb. Hell, I could never get past Pig Latin 101. The truth is that I’ve never been that good at my native language. I’m impressed that so many of these commentators are bi-lingual and so articulate. They remind me how small is my world, how absent my grasp of languages and other cultures. I admire these folks.

AmarcordMostly, these reader comments show me a strong sense of community, a gathering of people with similar interests from different places and perceptions. I like that. Since I live in a very rural area, these commentators open up my world in a big way. I suppose I could gain much by traveling more frequently, but I’m an old geezer and lazy by nature. Home is just fine. So, I travel through the world with the folks who take the time to comment on a post. They share their unique view of things, they give me a chuckle, they tell me about their world through their words. They are my teachers.

I thrive on these comments and appreciate them. The bottom line is that these short sentences are my reward for writing. They are gifts given freely and with a genuiness that is inescapable. There’s no better way to begin the day.

Thanks to all of you who have commented on my posts. You’ve made my blogging journey fun and endlessly interesting.

(Images from Fellini’s Amarcord. If you haven’t seen it, you have a real treat to come. It’s a writer’s movie, a lesson in real character development. It’s also very funny.)

The Long and Short of Sentences

English: SVG rendition of the infamous Gonzo fist

I’m blogging. Give me a tight, snappy sentence. Let me move on, quickly.

I’m working on a new fiction novel. I need those longer, more polished sentences, the ones with choice, moving descriptive words and a tantalizing flutter that carries me deeper into the story line.

Get it?

They’re both good. They both have their right place. It’s one of the profundities and pleasures of writing. You can change it up, mix it around, make the sentences keep a rhythm and count that pulls your readers along the story line. Both work well. It all depends on your audience and the kind of reading experience you’re offering.

I’m not an experienced blogger but I am an experienced journalist. I thrive on short sentences. I enjoy the rapid movement, the pitch of motion they imply. I want my reader to move along quickly, get the point, heave a chuckle, whatever. I’m not looking for the lingering reader when I write an article. That’s for the novel.

Either way, tight is right when it comes to any sentence. Give it just what it needs but no more. Each word should count. If it doesn’t, blow it out of there and stay tight with your reader. There’s no bigger turn-off than a sentence that ho-hums around, drags itself on for too long, bores the reader. Reading cannot be work. No matter how deeply you’ve fallen in love with your words, be a vicious editor. Slice and dice with abandon.

On the journalistic side of the business, short sentences set the pace for your article. If the sentences move quickly and easily, so does the reader’s mind. Content and motion are the key elements. Set a quick pace, a snappy tune, and carry it through to the end. Make your point and move on. No lingering.

I suspect this also works best for most blog posts, excluding poetry or longer pieces. When I cruise through various blogs, which I do often, my eye is caught by the snappy, tight first sentence or two. If it moves, I jump in. If it drags, I pass on the post. Perhaps this is nothing more than a journalistic hangover. Not sure. But, for me, tight writing and quick sentences make all the difference for blog reading.

For longer fiction pieces, I tend to dump the snappy rule. Longer sentences work, so long as they feel snug and meaningful. My favorite writers mix and match both short and long sentences. When the writer wants to move me along, the sentences become shorter, the read quicker. I can feel the tension and pacing pull me along. When the story line calls for it, the same writer can let me catch my breath with longer, more polished and intricate sentences. They dance together well. They keep me following the story line.

So, is one better than the other? No, of course not. But, from a traditional blogging point of view, from the eye of a journalist, snappy, well-paced sentences will always catch my eye. When I want to get into a serious novel, the rule changes a bit, though I’m still looking for the shortest way home.

See Tight is Right for a little more about this subject. It’s a predictably short read.

Hydra and the Blogosphere

The Hydra

This blogosphere universe seems like a Hydra beast. So many heads, so many tentacles. Lop off one head and two more grow back.

Take a look at this image of Hydra. Look familiar? Looks like the blogosphere to me.

I’m not thinking about commercial blogs. That’s a world I don’t frequent and really don’t give much thought. I’m talking about personal blogs – those blogs that are generated for, by and about real people. These fascinate me. I really want to know what’s going on behind the scenes.

Why do we pour our time and effort into this infinitude of blogs, adding ourselves to the tsunami of the blogosphere? Where’s the Hydra head-group that makes the outcome worth the toil? What’s going on here?

I want to know more about the motivations, yours and mine. I want to understand the thinking and feeling that lurks behind the words, and usually leaks out somewhere along the line.

Do any of these make sense?

Check me out. I suspect this one is universal. We all have this urge or we wouldn’t be writing blog postings in the first place. Seems OK to me, most of the time. The ugliness surfaces when this motivation takes over the entire blog. You know what I mean, right? It’s the “I am the next big thing” type of blog. These are easy to spot and really hard to swallow. Their entire purpose seems to be shameless, naked self-promotion.

Now, self-promotion is also OK, so long as it’s not injected directly into my reading brain, force-fed to me without my endorsement. In other words, you can’t be the next big thing unless you’re a little subtle about it. I really have no problem believing you are the hot tamale of the known universe, but I’d rather discover that truism for myself. Somewhere along the line, somewhere among your words, I need to find something for myself to enjoy. It’s not just about you. It’s also about me, the reader. Remember me?

So, tell me about yourself. That’s fine. But please, please don’t shove it down my throat. I’m sufficiently intelligent to come to my own conclusions about you and your words. Share carefully. Sell with a subtle touch. That’s fine. Anything more can make me gag. If you can’t be subtle, you need to go back to writing school and try a little harder.

self portrait of sadness

Feel my pain. Wow, those depressing blog posts! OK, I see the value of expunging, purging, working out the back-flow of life. It’s healthy and we all need to do it from time to time. But, this is a mighty hard pill for me to swallow. You know what I mean, right? Those dark, heavy, completely downer posts that make you feel like yesterday’s doo-doo when you’re finished reading.

I’m fine with folks sharing their pain, so long as they don’t pump it directly into my bloodstream. I suppose it’s a tough line to walk. Purging is good. I get it. But it sure can bring me down, very fast. Maybe those kinds of posts should have an opening warning line that tells the reader a heavy dump is looming. Proceed at your own risk. Maybe I’m just not strong enough to work my way through this kind of writing. I’ve never enjoyed sad stories of any kind so I really don’t like sad blog posts.

It’s a dealer’s choice, I suppose. Perhaps it has a good place in the blogosphere. It just doesn’t work for me. Put a warning label on it and let me know what’s coming. That way, I’ll at least be a bit prepared for the purge.

Buy my stuff. This is near the top, or bottom, of my doo-doo list. It’s the allegedly personal blog that exists for only one purpose – to sell something. I understand that this type of blog is popular and probably necessary for self-published writers. In fact, it makes complete sense. However, that doesn’t mean the blog has to beat me over the head with your sales pitch.

OK, you wrote a book, I get it. You want to sell that book. Makes complete sense to me. I’m with you on the basic thrust and I actually have no problem with the strategy. Anything you can do to free yourself from the traditional slavery of a publisher is fine with me.

But, please, stop jabbing me in the sides with your pitch! Sell me softly. In the meantime, put something on your blog that I can read and enjoy. Show me your talents. Teach me. Entertain me. Make me smile. Then, sell me.

Think like me. Woops. This is a big bug-out, too. I like hearing other opinions. In fact, I thrive on it. I suppose lots of folks feel the same way. What I don’t enjoy is a fixed attitude, an inflexible, preachy style of expressing a view. In other words, I don’t want you to tell me I’m a complete idiot because I don’t think the same way you think. By all means, tell me what you think or believe. Give it to me as straight as you can make it. Create a forceful argument and push the limits, if you choose. However, don’t jump on me for not buying the program. Just lay it all out there and let me mull it over.

Don’t preach at me, ever.

Weird

The truly weird. There are some blogs out there that are very, very strange. These are fun, for sure. They don’t fit any description. I can’t come up with a reason why they even exist. Still, they’re fascinating and entertaining. Usually they are very creative in an inscrutable way. Most of the time, I can’t understand what’s going on. Maybe they are secret message stations for alien contacts. Maybe the blog creators are just nuts. Whatever their purpose, they defy reason, at least for me. They aren’t great in number but they’re often unexpected treasures. You’ll know them when you find them. They are, to me, mystifying but regularly worth a visit or two.

The blown blog. It gets posts for a while then goes completely dormant. It falls into silence. I wonder what happened to these folks? Are they OK? Did they just get bored? Did they turn a page in their life and move on? I hope so. I hope they went silent in a good way for everyone.

I prefer a story with a good ending, or at least an ending of some sort. If it’s a blog, I suspect it’s also a story. So, end it in some meaningful way, please.

Some of these blogs should have died anyway, I suppose They were just boring and useless. However, some of them had great potential, interesting material, fun reading. Did they just end without planning or did they accomplish some goal that got lost along the way? I wonder about these.

Guess what? This was a pretty silly exercise. You just wasted a few more moments with the many-headed beast. Another story without a decent ending.

I don’t understand the Hydra blogosphere at all. I need to do more reading, think about it a little harder. I can’t even give you a good explanation of why I blog. Maybe it all comes down to a writing addiction.

Could it be that simple?