Stillman Brown is furrowing his brow in a literary manner.
Candorville, a webcomic by Darrin Bell, says it perfectly.
Have you followed the link? Honestly and truly? Good.
In college I decided to be a writer, to just go for it, balls to the wall (sounds painful, whatever it means), and put all my energy and ingenuity into crafting a collection of short stories that would snowball into a highly praised, semi-obscure first novel that would lead to an adjunct teaching position at a small liberal arts school in New England, a second novel (a flop), then a period of retreat from the world in a cabin with a wood-burning stove, the pouring of my soul into words, the honing of my craft, and like a big, ungainly human butterfly, my emergence two (or three) years later to an adoring public, critical acclaim, and more money than a medium-rich C-list celebrity (i.e., not bad for an author).


That was the fantasy, and like any alluring dream it distracted me from actually doing what was most uncomfortable, difficult, and risky: actually writing.
These days, I spend an equal amount of time blogging and writing, and while I value blogging for it’s spontaneity and the chance to connect directly with readers, the question dogs at me: Is blogging “real” writing? Am I building my chops? Or just seeking instant gratification in fire-it-and-forget-it style journaling
College writing programs taught me a few iron-bound rules, chief among them: Great writing requires reading the greats. I spend a lot of my time enthralled by the exploits of Captain Richard Sharpe in Bernard Cornwall’s series about the Napoleonic wars, so I’ve already failed that requirement. And I feel guilty about it. I’m never going to be decent, I think, if I don’t read great literature.
This is the tension an aspiring filmmaker might feel between popping Anchor Man in the dvd player for the fifth time versus slogging through the latest, newly expanded cut of Metropolis. The Candoville strip encapsulates this tension – I enjoy this, but am I getting any better? Is this how I should be spending my time?
The fiercest argument against blogging as legitimate writing practice involves editing. To become a better writer, you have to learn to edit your work ruthlessly. Blogging removes this inconvenience, and so kills the crucial development of self-criticism. I’m not even going to edit this post, and that does me no good.
Let me preempt: I’m not saying blogging isn’t legitimate writing. In fact, bloggers are getting book contracts, and the best of the blogosphere is as innovative and entertaining as the best art in any medium. One City maven Eva has written about this here.
Still, the guilt worms in my brain. Is blogging like doing your easy homework before digging in to the frightening complexity of calculus? Is it a welcome distraction from the very real fear of rejection?
Answer: Yes and yes. But here I am, blogging away, looking forward to the instant gratification of your comments, both nice and mean-spirited. Ultimately, I’m dithering. Hendrick Hertzberg (amazingly) and George Packer and many unpublished, non-great writers find the time to blog and write. Why can’t I?
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