One of the things I talked about in my long screed the other day was that I don’t really give a damn how well someone writes on the web, as long as they have something interesting to say. This is, of course, only partly true. It’s always more complicated than that, as annoying people are known to say with exasperating regularity.

More accurately, what I was trying to say was that passion and energy can be more important than accuracy — it was true for punk rock, and I think it can be true with writing on the web as as well. When I teach English (as a foreign language), I talk to my students about the differences between ‘fluency’ and ‘accuracy’ and how, although both are important, spoken communication depends more on fluency, at least for their purposes. There are differences between the types of language you use, depending on where you’re using it. You know, register.
That isn’t to say that if someone writes execrably, that I have the time to read them, usually. I love good writing, and I knows it when I reads it. There’s just too many textsongs being howled into the void out there to waste too much time on bad writers, at least when they are both bad and boring. There are plenty of ‘good’ writers out there that would bore the tits off a medicated monkey, too, if the monkey in question had them (and health care insurance). But there are also plenty of unpolished writers who through their madcap, determinedly-amateurish bang and crash manage to transmit some of their enthusiasm and sweet madness, regardless of the clumsiness with which they wield their tools. Now these folks, I like. I’m one of ’em, at least on this site.

The best of all possible worlds is great writers who have interesting things to say, and who say them with passion and creativity. There are more of those around than I ever thought possible, before this weblogging thing took off.

This is, of course, obvious.

A couple of people (it could possibly have been the same person, but masked under an all-too-easy InTaRWEb pseudonym, but I suspect not) took me to task for the following paragraph from my long rant the other day :

I’ve been casting about for a way to frame my thinking about weblogs and weblogging lately, as I’ve watched with a mild dismay apparently shared by others down the street about the way in which the tang and tenor in our neighbourhood of neighbourhoods have been changing in these post-blogdiluvian times. I hadn’t found the key I needed until this morning, and it was, amusingly, courtesy of Dave Winer.

One of my critics, after I sent an email asking why he had decided the writing wasn’t that great (though he liked my site design and ideas), offered a useful editorial-style breakdown of the things he thought were wrong with it (“Maybe x instead of y?”, “Do you really mean ‘mild’ here?” and so on) to which I responded with sincere thanks for the input, but also with an arrogant comment that I knew exactly what I was doing when I wrote the paragraph, and a suggestion not to teach his grandmother to suck eggs, basically. That I appreciated the input, but there was nothing there I didn’t know already.

The second critic (‘Fozzie Bear’), if indeed it was a second, popped into the comments thread to offer, all in caps, the following commentary, after quoting that same paragraph :


with no real reason why it might be THE WORST THING he or she EVER READ, and no explanation of either what was wrong with it, or why he or she was so exercised over its clumsiness. Double-posted the comment, even. I imagine my interlocutor so quivering with apoplectic rage that an essay containing so egregiously crappy a paragraph could receive so much praise and attention ’round the web that their finger was all a-tremble with barely-contained fury as they clicked the ‘Post’ button.

So I deleted it. f–k that noise. If you can’t be reasonably civil, you’re not welcome here. And if you’re going to say that sort of thing, civilly, you’d better back it up with some examples of your own senses-shatteringly glorious prose. Walk the walk. Jaybird ass, alligator mouth.

I regret deleting the comment, but it was first thing in the morning, and my actions tend to be a bit… precipitous before my first coffee. See, though, I bring it up again because it’s amusing to me, because it dovetails so nicely with what I was actually saying in the essay, and what I was quoting, and reinforces one of my points. I’m compelled to pull out my Eggers rantquote again (and I know some people seem to hate Eggers, for some reason – I’m looking at you, Steve) :

What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who’s up and who’s down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say. Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a f–kload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.

and I myself said

Write well, write badly, whatever, just create. If you are saying things that stir people, they will respond.

If you can’t write well, write with such passionate muscularity that people stand back and go ‘whoa!’ Make things, reach out to people. If you write well, keep doing it, and get better, and don’t kiss ass for personal gain. If not, just go, bash that keyboard, make a hideous, amateurish squall, one to which, if it has some kernel of glorious truthtelling, people will respond. The mass amateurization of nearly everything is good. If you’re a gifted amateur, the world will beat a path to your, er, door.

(That paragraph could have used another editing pass, too, maybe, but so what?)

It amuses me that after posting an essay in which I tried (amongst other things) to make a point that passion is more important than style, there were those who would criticize me for the style in which I wrote it. That’s the way of these things, though, isn’t it?

I wrote that long piece in one two-hour coffee-fueled sitting (after reading the comment I linked to about parties and publication at Joi Ito’s site), off the top of my head, after a week or so of thinking about the topic occasionally, ran it through two editing passes, and posted it, all before lunch. It wasn’t meant to be a polished, long-pondered think piece. I don’t do those on my website, much. It’s a weblog, for christ’s sakes! I shoot from the hip, pardner. I ain’t no citified essay-writin’ girly-man! You know, all that crap.
The paragraph that my two critics took issue with was clunky, though, I admit. I’d probably rewrite it, if I gave a sh-t.

But this is a weblog-thing, see, and although I have nothing at all against editing after-the-fact for my worst offenses against clarity or readability (and I might yet go back and fix it up a bit, since thanks to the massive response it looks like it might be something that won’t just disappear off the radar forever once it’s below the fold) normally I wouldn’t bother. I write on my weblog the way I talk, for the most part, and I made a conscious decision to do so. I can write in other styles and registers, and have, for money and everything. For the most part I choose not to, here.

Although the money wouldn’t suck.

I said what I wanted to say, for my own benefit and no one else’s, to be honest, even if I am happy, again, that it struck chords in people. Although I am confident that I can (at times) kick texty ass, I know that I have many weaknesses, blind spots and outright failings as a writer, too. I’ve never studied this sh-t. I’ve read everything over the years, basically, but I never done did no text-larnin’ about the litterchur and stuff. I’m trying to become a better writer, because it’s something I love (and I think I have gotten better after 3 years of writing in public), but I’m not trying all that hard to write deathless prose, here.

If the paragraph that people quoted and criticized did suck, and I agree that it wasn’t exactly, er, optimal, that’s fine. It didn’t matter. The essay was one of the most popular I’ve ever written, even with a clunker or five (that I might have fixed up if I’d done a third editing pass), and bang hoopla! there’s my point about passion and commitment over spit and polish again.
When a band is up on the stage, they don’t stop when the guitarist hits a sour note, go back, and make him get it right. It ruins the experience, kills the party, puts out the fire, interrupts the flow.

Weblogs are all those other things I mentioned the other day, and a million more besides, including, sometimes, a performance. Don’t let the critics and parasitic parsers of other people’s passion put you off, friends. Write from your heart and gonads about things that you care about. If there’s a clunker or three in there, forget it or fix it fast, move on, and keep the song rolling.
Your audience just may love you for it. Mine seems to†.

When I (or you) write the great Canadian (or whatever) novel, we can do a little more editing and rewriting then. Maybe.

[†Opinions to the contrary are welcome, as always, as long as you don’t step on my dick too hard.]


Join the conversation! 11 Comments

  1. It is a truth that something written well is taken more seriously. A thought explained in a concise form that is digestable to the majority is what I believe a good writer should strive for. I myself have never had any classical training in writing yet I’ve gotten a few compliments over the last couple of months over the quality of the writing in my blog. I wish I could say as much about the ideas I present, however any praise is good praise. I praise you and the quality of your writing, although I’ve only been here twice now I see there is an exceptionally high level of quality in the elucidation of your thoughts. It is a hard skill to master but writing is very influential as a social tool.
    Keep up the quality material!

  2. Quality writing, erudite, passionate and opinionated…all good stuff. I find it amusing, but unfortunately not surprising, that some readers took you to task for some of the “clunkers” as you put it in your essay. I found it quite interesting and not being a grammatical pedant, didn’t give a rats arse. A performance is right, and if someone is stopping to pick apart every aspect of it, then they are perhaps missing the wood for the trees. Go with the flow and enjoy the ride, the gig, the trip, whatever ~ don’t suffer from a paralysis of analysis. I for one will try in future to write from my heart and gonads about things that I care about a bit more than I perhaps have…I’m sick of being Mr Insipid! This little punk’s as mad as hell and he’s not going to take anymore!! Write on…errr yeah!

  3. When he was dying of cancer last year the singer-songwriter Warren Zevon wrote, in one of his last songs (“Blues Are Gonna Rub Me Raw”): “To all the greenhorned chi ckenhoppers / I say ‘Get yourself a trade’ / Or go back to the chatroom / And fade in the shade.” It’s not Zevon’s greatest lyric, but given the context, it packs a punch. And isn’t packing a punch what it’s all about. So, to your critics, I’d just say, Get yourself a trade.

  4. Another possible retort from another let it all hang out writer: “What’s it to ya, Moby Dick? / This is Chicken Town.” (Bob Dylan, “Please Mrs. Henry). Particularly appropriate given your nom de blog, I think.

  5. “What’s it to ya, Moby Dick? / This is Chicken Town.”
    That’s perfect, Joe. I’ll be usin’ that one.

  6. Who’s that looking at me?… Oh, hi Chris! You know, whatever problems I have with Eggers, the bastard can write, and I’ve liked a fair number of things he’s said — I just don’t trust him. As for your paragraph, it may amuse you to know I’ve been quoting it to people who are worried about their writing style, something you don’t need to do. (Worry, that is, not quote. I’d rewrite, but screw it, it’s only a comment.) Keep giving ’em hell and calling it as you see it.

  7. your navel is not too interesting. can we have some more stuff about korea?

  8. All in good time, my friend, all in good time.

  9. Don’t listen to the fuckers. I came to your post from Bob Mould’s blog (recommendation enough in itself) and that piece rocks.
    Two editing passes is a lot more than many bloggers would bother with: I’ve seen plenty of posts that are much worse written, and have typos as well.

  10. korea is not too interesting. can we have some more stuff about your navel?

  11. Shouldn’t it be ante-blogdiluvian? Other than that, I’m with you on the punk/blog writing analogy. You go, Bottle!

Comments are closed.