Monday, May 17, 2010

To That Most Intimate of Strangers

So many times an author starts, “I write because . . .” Despite the esoterica that follow, the question seems almost hackneyed. I’d rather ask, “To whom do you write?” For if we truly answer that, will we not also find the reason why, seen though a different lens?

Tens of thousands of older Americans would write their memoirs. Nines of thousands will never publish a single page. Yet still they write from within the autumn of their lives, hoping that their words will live beyond them, bring who they are and what they’ve been to others. Most say it’s for their kids.

We write for those whose feet have followed other trails. With them we share our wonders seen or devastations, the joys we felt – our agonies. From sharing comes an inner warmth, a sense of felt community.

We also write to those who’ve wandered down the same life paths as we, encountered those self-same brambles, borne the scars of flesh or psyches torn. “You’re not alone,” our stories offer them.

And as for me, I write to you, my reader – my most intimate of strangers. I don’t even know you but I will assume our intimacy for now. For if we are bound that closely I cannot lie to you, and that will keep me grounded. The stories that I tell must then be true.

I must assume a bond of trust for we are going exploring, you and I. In my words, and in-between my words we’ll seek out unknown places. I’ll capture wisps and freeze them in a lattice work of words. Then, tremulously, for they reflect my secret self, I’ll hold them out to you.

To Whom do you write? And Why?

Friday, May 7, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog

That, indeed, is the question. Six months ago, I would have laughed derisively. Blogging? Never! Not me. Then, coincidentally on the day I quit Facebook, I gathered with other writers to share aspirations and agonies over coffee. In an earlier, more earthy life, I would have called this a bull session. The conversation turned to writers’ platforms. The technorati nattered on about virtual presence, FB and Twitter, blogs and websites, page hits and unique visitors until they grabbed my reluctant attention. Words like “indispensable,” “critical” and “gotta have one” hit me like a cold shower.

Still skeptical, I attended the Northern Colorado Writers Conference and found whole sessions touting platforms. Coffee breaks flowed with chatter of blogging and tweeting, and something called “driving visitors” to sites. They weren’t discussing stretch limos either. To Ben Barnhart, editor of Milkweed Press, I asked, “Ben, you can’t really expect to measure my marketability using social media populated largely by the under 35s.” Ben replied simply, “Sorry, but it’s a major trend in our industry today.” The coup de grace, however, came with Google’s response to my search for “writer’s platforms.” From hundreds of relevant pages, two stood out. Christina Katz, in The Writer’s Digest, makes a persuasive case for “Why All Authors Need a Platform.” Then Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen reduces the challenge to 10 essential steps toward “national visibility” via a platform.

So I cave. Ten steps – National visibility? I can do that! Kerrie Flanagan, CEO of Northern Colorado Writers taught a blogging class. I joined. I was so far out of my league that I must have seemed a sluggish student.

Yet the doubts persisted. With a blog, there is no editor to weed out the crap. And the blogosphere (I so hate that word) is liberally tainted with unmitigated excrement. But there are pearls to be found, and it is getting better – virtual Darwinism at work. Blogs do connect people and provide metrics on those connections. Because blogs link people, blogs can market things; an author or her writings for example. A good blog spawns dialog, and that exchange begets new ideas, creativity, personal growth. These several things, then, transform blogs into a positive social force on balance. And make me believe that I should start one. But the most persuasive logic of all may be in a Terry Tempest Williams quote: “I write because you can play on the page like a child left alone in sand.” Perhaps that is reason enough.