I love it when writers I enjoy get reflective and journal their process — when they slice open their artistic arteries and bleed out on the page, revealing what courses through their hearts. That’s why I enjoy [reading] writing books like Stephen King’s memoir on writing, as well as David Morrell’s, Ray Bradbury’s, Anne Lamott’s, Frank McCourt’s (though more about teaching than writing), Nancy Kress’s, a collection of essays on writers and their public mortification and, of course, Orson Scott Card’s excellent work.
While amazed at how many active cat-bloggers there are in the world, I’m also periodically impressed by high-quality writing by folks who aren’t well-known for having dozens of lucrative book- and syndication-deals. I mean, I expect, say, Malcolm Gladwell to be endlessly fascinating (emphasis on endless!), or Teresa Strasser to be engagingly snarky and uncomfortably funny. They do not disappoint.
But I don’t expect the average blogger to craft entertaining and interesting blog posts. So, when I do find one — especially one of Pentecostal bent — I sign up as a fan. If they had tee-shirts for sale, I’d probably wear one. A very large one.
When I first started building my PneumaBloggers list, I sifted the blog-swill for “viral” blogs by Pentecostal and charismatic writers. Searching for terms common to our faith-ghetto, I’d check out the resulting hits and surf away shaking my virtual head more often than not. But once in a while, every couple hundred hits or so, I’d occasionally dredge a shiny jewel from the slimy morass.
When I landed on the Lone Prairie Art Works site operated by Julie R. Neidlinger, I really wasn’t sure what I had in hand. What I found didn’t look all that “churchy” (I wasn’t really clear what I needed for my list of bloggers yet), and it wasn’t obvious that Julie was indeed Pentecostal or charismatic. But I liked what I was reading and I dug deeper until I found her religious leanings … and was sold. (It’s in her FAQ.) Sadly, no tee-shirts. I was probably frustrated trying to pin Julie down because right about the time I was checking out her weblog in late 2005, she was in the process of shutting it down, and rising from the ash-heap with a new vision of herself as a writer. And a new blog.
Whether Julie’s blogging about Jesus Camp, Charlize Theron, funny family tech support, or multi-farc dementia (!?), it’s almost always an interesting read. She’s snarky (whatever that means, but it feels right), sassy, completely unafraid to call “bullsh*t!” (which I am obviously afraid to do), reflective, self-critical, and thoroughly faithful.
Julie’s not a corporate blogger.
I bring all this up (writers writing on writing, good bloggers, and Julie) because yesterday Julie posted a great, thoughtful piece on why she blogs, why she’s quit (or nearly quit) several times, and what she gets out of it now:
Lone Prairie Blog
Losing first loves in the blogosphere
I highly recommend it, not only because Julie’s a good writer, but because this post highlights two things I think make a great writer in any field, whether blogging or not:
- Write for a reason
- Write for yourself
Write for a Reason
I’m not talking about finding the right subject matter, or the right theme here. I’m talking about understanding what you’re getting out of writing. Sure, in the early days, you may not know why you are compelled to write— to draft lengthy emails, to discourse in heated forum exchanges— but if you can lift your head out of the virtual swirly of words you’ll clarify some things in your head and heart. Do you write to learn more about yourself, about your world, and about great ideas? Do you write to exorcise inner demons? Do you write to lay down a personal history, to examine your life more fully, to deepen your devotion to God? Do you write for the sheer joy of lex?
The maxim that “writers write” is true. I’ve always believed it to be true, but I had not thought it actually applied to me, because I hadn’t published anything until relatively recently (I’ve done some light freelance work by now). But around the time I finally started this blog just over a year ago, it dawned on me that I’ve been furiously pecking away at my keyboard, turning out hundreds and thousands of words every week. Only, I was doing it on email discussion groups, emails to friends, and emails to co-workers. When I realized what I was doing and, more, understood why I was doing it, I knew I need to be more intentional about my writing, to be more structured, and to work harder at learning through writing — not just expounding what little knowledge I had already acquired.
Julie had a similar epiphany, only it came after creating and growing her “divisive hot topic” blog. She writes:
“That really sucks the life out of a person, writing about what creates anger, constantly regurgitating some other news or blog article and throwing out opinions on already old news. The fact that what passes for news is so small and that it is only made larger by thousands of opinions piled onto it did not escape my notice.
“I changed this blog before it changed me. I decided I’d had enough of that”
“I want to put something original out there, something that a reader might take with them and think about, instead of more opinionated rehash. I want to learn to write better, to challenge myself, and not just link and deconstruct. It’s no longer enough to just get an opinion out there because every idiot has an opinion and about 90 percent of them have a blog. Every idiot has an opinion, but not every person takes the time to translate what is observed before shouting out an opinion. I want to help with the observation”
Write for Yourself
I’m not sure who I got this idea from first, maybe it was William Zinzer or (more likely) Joseph Williams, but I believe in writing for yourself as the primary and most important audience. If you write for yourself, you’ll connect with your prose in a much more visceral and passionate way. Maybe it won’t be “deathless prose” but it will be life-giving. You will be so much more present in your writing than when you are tempted to pander to an audience that doesn’t know you. It’s much harder to impress yourself, so your writing is more honest. And if you fall in love with your own writing all the better, because you’ll constantly want to improve it for the love of it. (Dirty Little Secret: Many writers enjoy re-reading their own work, not for the narcisism of it, but because they are surprised by it. These same writers, though, also find reading their own work painful, because the writing is never really finished. And neither is the writer.)
Writing for yourself is a paradoxically selfish act. By “paradoxically selfish” I mean that what looks like a self-centered or selfish behavior is actually good for others in the long run. Like, say, choosing a good spouse. Sure, it’s selfish to want a great lover, a good communicator, and someone who truly understands you. But the best part of being selfish in love (in this way, at least) is that it creates an opportunity for two people who want only the best to craft a union that can really give the best in nurting children, creating a hospitable home for guests, and contributing to the community in unexpected and joyful ways.
Writing for yourself is like that. As Julie demonstrates: instead of writing to impress others, writing to make a point, or writing to demonstrate intellectual superiority, she now writes to learn, to accent her observations, to be challenged. And the end result is something that actually does impress others, makes persuasive points, and demonstrates that Julie is head-and-shoulders above many of us when it comes to brain-power and wit.
Thanks for the lesson Julie, may we learn as well as you have.
[tags]blog tips, blogging, blogging advice, BlogRodent, charismatic, Christian, GodBlog, GodBlogger, Julie R. Neidlinger, Lone Prairie Blog, on blogging, on writing, Pentecostal, writing advice, writing tips, writing well[/tags]
Rich, you have been very kind to me in your column…not sure I deserve that. However, your observations on things writers do (reread their own work, etc.) and the process of writing is right on; at least, I identify with it very much. This post has been fun to read (once I can block mention of me out of it).
:: grin :: Thanks for stopping by, Julie!
I hear you. But, secretly, deep inside, you must be at least a little tickled that someone actually paid attention when reading your post? I know it tickles me when it happens. Come on, admit it. :: LOL ::
I know not a lot of writers seem to talk about the joy of re-reading their own work. I do, all the time, especially when it’s still fresh. And then, later, after some time has passed and I’ve forgotten what I’ve written, I rediscover a post, an old email, or an old forum post and I’m surprised again.
I say surprise, because my writing is, really, a stream-of-consciousness thing. I don’t always know where I’m going to go when I start writing â€” even the stuff I’ve written for paid publication. I may have a general idea, I may even have a sort of bulleted list of topics I want to address or a conclusion I want to reach, but really, I don’t write from an outline. I don’t do multiple drafts, I don’t do a heavy re-write (except when it’s really called for). I just open a vein and start bleeding.
Later, after the words have dried and left their indelible stain, I rediscover the thing I have created and I’m surprised. I often think, “Gee, I wrote that? That guy was a lot smarter on that day than I am now. How did that happen?” I mean, this happens all the time. Because I learn by writing, I process my thoughts through words. So I am even taught by what I’ve written before and am caught unaware by whatever inspired me.
This is probably what many writers mean when they talk about their “muse.” It’s inspiration, really. Something breathed into us by our unconscious, by the Holy Spirit, or â€” for those less-fortunate â€” by other powers perhaps.
I haven’t faced writer’s block yet. My biggest problem is inertia. Once I start writing, though â€” anything, anything at all â€” the words come. They just flow. And I get a huge kick out of seeing what comes out.
Anyhow, now I ramble. Thanks, again, for stopping by.
Interesting post, Rich. I like Julie, and reread myself, as well.
In your first paragraph, you write, “Thatâ€™s why I enjoy writing books like Stephen Kingâ€™s memoir on writing…” I’m guessing that you either meant that you like reading books like that, or you’re breaking some contractual agreements for ghostwriting.
Yes, Keith, I am the ominously secret force behind many of today’s best sellers. I’m not really unemployed, just contractually obligated to pretend to be.
:: grin ::
I noticed my writerly gaffe after I had written it. I suppose I should hyphenate it to “writing-books” or use the more stodgy “books on writing,” but I kind of like the double-take it requires.
Of course, that’s mere rationalization for bad writing. But, I have to leave it like it is, now, thanks to your erudition because, otherwise, your comment will no longer make sense.
:: mock put-upon sigh, mixed with a gallic shrug ::