Monday, July 23, 2007

Why I Blog

Ian tagged me for this meme, and I must say, it's had me a bit puzzled, which is why I've been doing things like writing about hangovers and hotdogs instead of tackling it. (In fact, I almost ignored it for another day in favor of one on my favorite reads of the first half of 2007, but that one will have to wait.) I mean, should I pretend there are all kinds of really good, sane, altruistic reasons I blog (after all, I wouldn't really be pretending. I've got some hidden away in a dusty box somewhere that I could drag out if they're not too pissed at me to let me), or should I just come right out and say blogging has been one of the biggest ego boosts I've ever gotten in my life? Well, now that I've said it, and I haven't had to go in search of it, I might as well go with the latter.

When I was in high school, I didn't have much of a reputation for anything except maybe being one of the most quiet kids in the school. However, I was considered to be a good writer, as evidenced by the fact that I was chosen as the copy editor and writer of our yearbook; all the kids in my creative writing class praised what I wrote (although we all praised everything everyone wrote, so that's not the greatest evidence); and my English teachers encouraged me to enter writing contests. But I was in a very small school in a small city in North Carolina, not New York or Paris or something. We've all read plenty of stories of people who thought their talents were greater than they were due to a lack of any real competition.

College was much of the same. I worked on the literary magazine for a semester, but quickly became very disillusioned by the rather nasty ways in which this small group of people, all full of themselves and pretty convinced they would have been sitting around that round table at the Algonquin or something, had they been alive at the time, approached the efforts of their fellow students. I wasn't about to let them see anything I'd written, despite the fact they kept asking if I planned to submit something, and I don't think I even lasted a full semester with them. My professors praised my writing ability, which was something, especially in what is regarded as an excellent English department, but once again, this was still a pretty small world, and they were comparing me to other students. I knew full well what kind of efforts some of those students were putting into their work.

When I worked at the library, I would write tributes to retiring colleagues and humorous columns for our staff newsletters, and everyone, once again, told me I was great. Now this made me stand up and take notice somewhat, because, you know, librarians read. A lot. If they thought I could write, having all that material for comparison right at their fingertips, well, then, maybe I could start taking myself seriously as a writer.

What does someone who takes herself seriously as a writer do? Why, she joins a writers' group, of course! I did. I chose a group of women writers, thinking this would be a nice sympathetic bunch with whom I could comfortably explore my craft. I have no idea why I thought this. Looking back over my life as a "writer," with a few exceptions, it has almost always been male friends and mentors who have encouraged me most to write. I should have known it would be disastrous, and it was. You know those all-so-earnest, intellectual-poser types who wear thick glasses, not because they have to (like I do, which I don't. I wear contact lenses), but because they think it makes them look more studious and serious, and who try to make those who don't have degrees from Ivy League schools feel like idiots? Well, we had four of those in our group, and then we had me. Needless to say, nothing I wrote "rang true."

Writers are nothing if they're not sensitive. I struggled along with this group for a while, thinking all this criticism was good for me. Eventually, though, it wore me down, and I didn't stop to think something was wrong with the group. I just decided it was me and my lack of talent. You know, maybe a woman really shouldn't try to write a ghost story with a sympathetic male character and a touch of humor.

One night I had dinner with my former boss and another colleague, and they slapped me around a bit for paying any attention to what that group had to say. Without actually coming right out and saying it, they made it clear the problem had been that group, not my writing. I was once again buoyed, so when people then started encouraging me to blog, I decided to give it a try.

That first try was unsuccessful, but then I tried again, and here we are. Maybe it happened because I had absolutely no expectations, but I've now found the sympathetic, encouraging, and wonderful support group I was seeking when I joined that horrible writers' group. And in a world where the competition is fearsome (not to mention international), I'm getting praise for what I do. So, yes, my head is growing, and that's not a pretty sight, but it's worth it to have this new feeling of talent.

And then there's the other reason I blog: it's just so much damn fun.

Tagging: Dorr, Hobs, Becky, and Courtney.

Tom Brown's School Days in a nutshell: this was not one of my better choices for my 2007 children's classics challenge. I'm happy there was more to it than that awful fire scene I so vividly remember from my childhood, but it was an odd little book, never seeming to be able to quite make up its mind what it wanted to be: social commentary, a wistful look at boyhood, a lesson in morality...Still, I stuck with it to the end, and some of it is fascinating from a historical perspective.


Anonymous said...

I think I am going to take a page from Charlotte and do both this and the compliment meme at the same time. But what I wanted to say is my writing progess quite mirrors yours except I did find a wonderful group of female writers to belong to. I agree, though - blogging is just fun!

Rebecca H. said...

I'm so bad at doing these memes! I still haven't done the compliments one, and I know you tagged me for it. And here's another ... okay, I'll think about it. I like your answer that blogging is an ego boost!

litlove said...

Loved this, Emily! And yes, we're all here to tell you that you are a fantastic writer - warm and witty and wonderfully insightful. Keep on blogging!

Emily Barton said...

Court, except you actually pursued writing as a profession, which I find so admirable.

Dorr, no pressure. I keep forgetting whom I've tagged for what.

Litlove, the head is growing even more...

Rebecca said...

Whatever started you blogging, I am glad for it!
Tagged again, eh? I'll give it some thought.

Emily Barton said...

Becky, loyal readers like you keep me going.