Spoiled Rotten

The beauty of blogging is twofold. First, there’s no waiting. And second there’s no editing. Both of these turned around and colored with a different crayon become ugly things.

Not every piece should see the light of day thirty seconds after it’s written and lack of editing means that ugly prose will stay that way.

The fortunate thing about blogging is that a piece can always be fixed if the writer has enough sense to know it needs to be fixed. A blog post can be edited on one’s phone standing in line at the grocery. There is an endless opportunity for improvement if a writer is committed to making something better but the nature of blogging is the nature of flitting. The buttercup I landed on yesterday is replaced by today’s zinnia. I’m so done with the buttercup.

And besides that, people are telling me that I’ve got a pretty cute zinnia so why would I go back and try to buff up the buttercup? Right there, right in that sentence, is the addiction of blogging.

I look at my numbers all the time, the number of likes, the number of readers, what countries the readers are living in. I wondered one day last week why I was suddenly getting a bunch of readers from Germany and then thought it was probably one reader who decided to flip through a bunch of posts at once. What did I write that would appear to a German? What does it matter? But it does. Every day has new news. A blogger is always reaching for the new news. Sometimes it impresses me that I am wondering too much about the Germans or the Australians. For a while, it was all about the Australians. Where did they go?

There is something unholy or at least ‘unwriterly’ about blogging and I think it’s the lack of struggle about the process. The immediacy combined with the lack of review, the absence of criticism, almost makes blogging more of a hobby than an honest writing endeavor. I say almost because there are so many bloggers who are terrific writers, very careful and thoughtful, their writing is sharp and smart, funny or sad but unique. It’s not “I tried on bathing suits today and it was so, so traumatic.”

I’ve had two pieces that were professionally edited – one published in Newsweek and the other in the New York Times. Both editors made some changes to the prose and both grilled me on the facts. In both cases, a condition of publication was that the stories be true. In the story about the 10-year estrangement with my parents, the Newsweek editor insisted on knowing what my mother had said to me on the phone that set me on such an extreme course. When I saw the editor’s email and contemplated my response, I realized how insignificant and meaningless it had been, what my mother said. It was small, trifling, a sliver made into hunting knife. When I told the editor, after repeatedly asking why she needed to know, I worried that she would think I was lying. No one would start do such an extreme thing based on such a small, small snide remark. It made my own story unbelievable to me.

The New York Times editor asked me the same detailed questions. He wanted to be sure everything was true. We went back and forth about naming my granddaughter who plays a prominent part in the essay that was the topic of our discussion. Can’t we just give her a fictitious name? “No,” he said, “This is the New York Times. We don’t use fake names.” I apologized. He asked me more questions and I answered and I realized that if I’m going to write personal essays, especially when they involve other people, I need to be honest, no taking license with the truth, no making something happen in a way that makes me look good and everyone else look like chumps.This is very hard in blogging because fundamentally people are bloggers because they want to star in their own movie. But doing that while being careful about boundaries, what can and can’t be said or attributed to other people, is very tricky.

I know all this – how egotistical and precious blogging can be but also how educational and motivational. I know how addictive the readers and the likes can be. But I also know how exquisite it is the feeling of turning a beautiful and truthful phrase, of saying something interesting or important in a different way, to color something with a different crayon.

I love that. I want that sweet tiny triumph every day. I’ve become spoiled rotten. I have.

51/100: 51st in a series of 100 in 100



10 Comments on “Spoiled Rotten

  1. This African is checking in. Sorry to disappoint, but I have pale skin, a suburban home and the only lions I ever see are in the Game Reserves. Jan, I look forward to your daily posts. And as a fellow blogger, yes: the numbers and comments are addictive!
    but so is chocolate, and the world is still turning …..

  2. So true . . . I’m amazed sometimes by overseas visits. And numbers (mine are small). But mostly I like my blog because I can write about something I want to say and no one rejects my little story! And I love that I can edit a mistake or modify something that’s awkward after the fact. But don’t disparage your blog writing. I look forward to it every day. You have a way of saying something about the small and big things in life that is both a joy to read and makes me think about things.

  3. Yes, this one was worth repeating. I loved hearing about your conversation with Newsweek and The New York Times. And, I’m impressed. I always enjoy reading your prose.

  4. Great post, Jan. I’ve followed you for a while (under another identity) and so enjoy your insights and writing style. I look forward to every new post and that has to be the best compliment a blogger can get. This particular post gives me the opportunity to ask you several questions I’ve always wanted to ask. I hope you’ll take the time to answer. How has blogging enhanced your personal growth? How has it changed you? When you sit down to write a post, who are you talking to — yourself? one other person? or a group of people?

  5. I remember, when I was freelancing for a major metro daily, an editor calling and berating me b/c one of my sources mentioned a school that this editor said didn’t exist. I politely pointed out it had been closed years ago and showed her the documentation. It was annoying, yes, but she was doing what so few online editors now do. Fact check! I may sound like a dinosaur but writing for the masses used to be something you did with training and talent. Now, I’m not sure it takes either . . .

  6. A lovely read, as ever, Jan. I like to look at my little map of readers too. I particularly like my African readers. Every once in a blue moon I get a peep from the Dark Continent. I imagine that it is some lovely, dark, muscular, untamed man, sitting under a tree, stripped to the waist, with a fire to keep the lions and tigers away. Very different to my Raymond. But then again.. He hardly ever reads anything that I’ve written, which is probably a good job.

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