I came of age when writers were still at the mercy of editors and when getting published was a long shot. In my 20s, when I tried my hand at writing short stories, I sent my first effort to The New Yorker. It was an audacious thing to do, but I considered myself lucky that the rejection letter I received was written by an editor who appeared to have actually read my manuscript.
Getting rejected was a drawn-out affair, what with the mail making its rounds in slow motion, at least by today’s standards, and with the tacit understanding that you would submit your work to one publication at a time. Why, it could take a few years before you discovered that no one was interested in what you were selling.
I recognize that my idea of what it meant to be a first-rate writer was shaped by the times and by the narrow literary tradition that reared me, but at least I had a pretty good idea then of what good writing was supposed to look like.
I’m not sure anymore what it means to be a good writer, much less a great one, when publication is literally a keystroke away and when getting published in the traditional sense is just one of any number of options for those who want to showcase their work. If getting someone else to publish your writing is no longer the decisive, if flawed, measure of your talent, what is?
One way to measure it might be by tracking how many people visit your blog, if you have one. It’s not unlike counting how many messages you had on your answering machine when you returned home from work. Your sense of self-worth rose with the numbers. So it might be with the number of visitors you have at the end of any given day. The more visitors there are, the more talented you believe yourself to be.
A little more than a month ago, I started my blog because I wanted to begin writing again and because I wanted to do so in a way that imagined an audience. I had hopes that some would be drawn not only to what I had to say but also to how I said it. It’s too soon to know anything about my success or failure, but, so far, only a few have visited: my daughter, a couple of friends who wanted to show support, and those who no doubt stumbled upon it by accident.
Although there’s no lack of advice on the Internet about how to build a following, much of what I have read can be boiled down to this: create headlines that grab, use plenty of white space, keep your paragraphs short, include numbered and bulleted lists, provide plenty of pictures, have a friendly theme, and proofread. Of course, if I weren’t so wary about promoting myself in a cyber universe where revolutions have been launched and politicians have been brought down, Facebook and Twitter would probably be helpful, too.
One piece of flourishing advice that really throws me, though, can best be summed up by a blogger whose site I visited recently:
Each one of us has got our favourite bloggers. These blogs are written in a natural conversation style that resonated with us. They don’t try to be professional writers. When you write, envision yourself sitting with your best friend and having fun. How would you speak to him? That’s the way you should write….Let people love coming to your blog cos you speak with them, not write to them.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to use the word “cos.”