Monday, October 30, 2006

Writers Driven to Distraction, Part I

For quite some time, I've been amused by the often-irrational defensiveness and downright paranoia that pervades the conversation, at least in some quarters of the writing community, about the subject of blogging. I keep thinking I see a new high water mark with this or that vituperative anti-blogging article, at least until the latest irrational screed is quickly topped by an even more bizarre specimen.

So I figure, what the hell.

Why not start putting them up on the display counter, where we can all see them, read them, and perhaps take turns speculating on their underlying pathology. It might be fun, and who knows, maybe we'll even spark some comments that will help explain the phenomenon. I thought this following piece really took the prize--a screed by a bad novelist whose main claim to fame is having helped develop one of the icons of lowbrow '70s television, Hollywood Squares. I especially enjoyed how this guy speculates over how perhaps his exquisitely bad novels are being discussed by various blogs (not to worry, Les, I can't say I've ever seen a single mention of your work in any online discussion, but then I don't tend to frequent the kind of places where lowbrow-TV-writers-turned-exquisitely-bad-novelists would come up for discussion). Anyway, the piece appeared in Currents, a paper that offers up all the celebrity photos one could ever desire of Chagrin Valley's hunt country set. Since the paper doesn't seem to be online, I thought I'd reprint the piece in its entirety so you can enjoy it in all its delightfully snarling virtuosity. Meanwhile, I'll promise to return to this theme occasionally, bringing you other similarly entertaining rants against blogging.

Daily Blogging Just Can't Be Good for Your Mind

By Les Roberts

Bless me--I have sinned. Well, not really sinned--but I have not always told the complete truth--about several things. Now I'm ready to confess all. Um--almost all.

For instance--in the past quarter century, I've been very vocal advancing my disapproval of illegal drugs, and I'm sticking with that. I never mentioned that 10 times during my early adulthood I did try marijuana, given to me by someone else; I've neer spent a nickel of my own money for it. I believe someone should legalize marijuana for medical purposes, but otherwise I'm against it.

I've often said--for a joke but with a razor's edge of meaning--that the only two things which really taste good are sugar and fat. The line still gets a good laugh, but I don't mean it anymore, since in the last two years I have lost more than 20 percent of my weight and am much happier for it.

Lately I've been witheringly contemptuous of television, with the exception of one or two prime-time programs. Here comes one of my biggest confessions: I faithfully have watched Survivor at least until the new edition came on TV practicing the flaunting segregation of ethnicities and I decided I'd view it no more.

There is something, however, that I have never done--and not much is going to come along to change my mind about it, no matter what. I don't BLOG.

For those of you ummovable Luddites who don't even own a computer, blogging is the simple act of millions of people who get online every day and write whatever they feel like, expressing their feelings, relating the boring minutiae of their days and talk disparagingly about others they might never have met--and they install it on the worldwide Web so that everyone else can read their blogging. Sometimes their online "fans" blog back to them--and entirely different kettle of fish than emailing--and wave their thoughts around in the wind like a pennant for everyone else to see.

For all I know, someone out there is blogging about me, perhaps favorably or unfavorably about my books, my columns or my podcasts in their own private blog. I have no interest in looking around in cyberspace to see whether it's true. I don't care.

I don't get it. Why should I be blogging, and why does anyone else, either? I spend a good eight hours a day at my computer, writing. When my work is published, I hope somebody who has spent a few cents on me will take the time to read it, because that's how I make my living. If I spent an hour or two of my precious time blogging to strangers about whatever pops in my head, it will suck away my time and energy from what I've trained myself to do for the past 40 years. Then I'd have to spend another hour reading the blogs of perfect strangers commenting on my blogs. There are those days when, after giving up half my time blogging, I'll be too tired to write what I get paid for. Then all of a sudden I'm not a writer anymore--I'm a blogger.

And what should I blog about every day? 'This morning we did our laundry. Then we went to Wal-Mart, Giant Eagle and a health food store, picked up our dry cleaning and lastly patronized a filling station to gas up the car. After that, I came home and had a bit (non-fattening and with no sugar, by the way: see above) and finally got down to the business of writing, which I stopped long enough to blog this and titillate and intrigue any of you silly enough to read it.'

Not enought to keep the mind alive, is it? I'd rather write than blog. I'd rather read books or newspapers than read blogs. I'd prefer you reading my writing than my blogs. There are no blogs in my future; I promise you that.

Oh, yeah--one more confession. When I take a mid-day writing break for lunch--I sometimes watch the Jerry Springer Show. Now I've confesssed everything.


At 3:53 PM, Blogger Jill said...

Wow - I am SO glad I missed that issue. Thanks, John. :)

At 4:10 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

As I suspect you know, Jill, that pub is not without interest. I always learn three or four small useful facts from browsing it each week. But I do feel a little bad, though just a little, for kicking the poor guy so. I try not to be negative here, and I especially don't want to abuse my elders, if only verbally. And when it comes to other writers, I generally try to follow the equivalent of Ronald Reagan's famous dictum for Republicans--thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans. But his piece is so idiotic and ill-considered that my better nature just got put on hold for a moment. I promise to be better.

At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Jeff Hess said...

Shalom John,

This is a good thing. We don't need another boring blogger pulling down the overall quality.



At 5:56 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good point, Jeff. But are there really any boring blogs out there? Gee, I hadn't noticed...

At 11:35 PM, Anonymous Sarah said...

Oh, there are.

At 1:44 AM, Anonymous Phil Lane said...

"This morning we did our laundry."
Subject: Impacts on water resources in Great lakes region

"Then we went to Wal-Mart,"
Subject: Globalization

"Giant Eagle and a health food store,"
Subject: Locally grown foods, safety and epidemiology in mass distribution models

"picked up our dry cleaning"
Subject: Volatile organic compounds as ozone precursors and current Northeast Ohio EPA non-attainment status

"and lastly patronized a filling station to gas up the car."
Subject: Traditional energy consumption models in an increasingly carbon-constrained world.

"watch the Jerry Springer Show."
OK, now I'm bored, back to work.

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Daniella said...

I did not read the whole thing, it was so predictable and I like the unexpected but it is interesting that he felt compelled to even touch the subject.

Obviously there is something about "blogging" that he is not getting but wished he did...poor guy is left behind but let's face it "Hollywood Squares" was one of the most boring game show I ever saw, why it lasted so long probably has to do with the nepotism factor so prevalent in entertainment.

We could use a little more diversity in that area. Let's see original scripts written by good writers and presented with a cast of talented people who are not related to someone else in Hollywood.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

In the interests of full disclosure, Sarah, editor of Northern Ohio Live, has run admiring articles on the fellow in question. So she naturally, and perhaps rightly, rises to his defense. And you may or may not have picked up on my irony in the earlier comment, Sarah. Obviously I'm not remotely contesting the idea that there are plenty of boring blogs. But then that doesn't spoil the entire format for me any more than meeting a dullard human being makes me think that a genius Nobel-prize-winning physicist is an idiot. The fact that the two merely happen to share a status known as humanity doesn't mean they have much else in common. Thinking people make distinctions, or at least they should.

And Daniella, you of course pick up on the deeper theme I'm getting at here, which I hope to expound on in subsequent posts. The blog format's ubiquity and popularity, its utterly democratic destruction of former barriers of entry to publishing, tend to drive at least some traditional writers nuts, because they seem to interpret it as a challenge to their once-loftier status, as people who had risen above the common writing rabble. Many, I think, are driven to distraction because they rightly sense that now their only path to reclaiming a lofty status is to simply write well. Naturally, good writers have no problem with that. They rise to the challenge because they're already good. It's the hacks that have sudden pangs of status anxiety, and they're mostly the ones roaring in righteous indignation about all the new competition.

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Phil Lane said...

John, this thread piqued my curiosity and while waiting for the second pot of java to finish, I did a little search. This guy's okay with me, for what that's worth. I don't read detective novels but I have heard of Milan Jacovich because of the Cleveland connection. Les gets points with me for digging Cleveland and being part of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the airing of which would cause me and my brothers to abandon outdoor activities in Old Brooklyn to gather around the Sears Black & White 19". John, as you know, I don't have cable but I just caught a rerun recently, check it out, the eye candy that surrounds Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), uber-cool agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, is staggering. Small wonder that adolescent boys in the hood would vaporize minutes before the episodes began.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow, Phil! That's an important addition to my knowledge about Les Roberts. I never knew he played any role in that show, which I also REALLY loved as a kid. I even received some cartoon books of the show at Christmas, which I wish I still had, because I can see them in my mind even now. Anyway, his stock just went up with me. As for detective novels, I must admit to some shameful snobbery about the whole genre. I don't give any of them a chance, no matter how well-written, just like, I suppose, he writes off blogs entirely. So we're equally at fault.

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Daniella said...


How can you snub mysteries? I can't tell you how much imagery I see in the work of Michael Connelly and his detective Harry Bosh who says so well "everybody matters or no one matter."

When I read James Lee Burke's novels taking place in Louisiana, I experience the heat, beauty and hardness of life in a poor state ravaged by time and corruption but with burst of nostalgia that can only be unspired by great writing.

I must confess that I just finished reading "Silence" by Shusaku Endo. The book was recommended by SteveG and it was not my type of book but I finished it with a feeling of loss which always is a sign that I hated to part with it like I do from good friends.

You can always borrow from my mystery library even though I was raised by a mother who said" A book is like a husband, you don't lend them out because they won't come back."

At 9:08 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Daniella, that last line from your mom made me laugh so hard I almost choked. I see now where you get your spunk and humor. And point taken on the mystery front. Good writing is just good writing. If there's any overarching principle that Working With Words is about, it's that. So I thank you for making that valuable point.

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Chris McVetta said...

Perhaps Les Roberts could spend more time writing than boring my Sceenplay writing class (dressed as a modern-day Ted Baxter) with tired old wannabe-anecdotes like: "I took Wilma Smith to lunch the other day and every head in the room turned to witness the most stunning woman in Cleveland on my arm..."

Maybe it was just a room full of hungry plastic surgeons or just a bunch of people thinking: "Who's the dork hanging on Wilma Smith's arm...?"

I don't know. But I do know THIS...

John, you are a fanstastic writer. Don't buckle to the Cleveland psuedo-hillbilly ladder-climbing-wannabes who gush over Dennis Kucinich and what's-his-name's wife like they are Jerry Springer "royalty."

Just my meager opinion... but you're better than that.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That Les Roberts tidbit is a classic. Thanks for adding it to the mix. And as I think you know, we'll reserve our gushing for those whose work really deserves it.


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