Sunday, April 29, 2007

Writers blogging?

Except for a few, most established writers don't blog. Why? I'd like to think that they already are famous, they have a fan following, and anything they write can be monestised through their agents. Lack of time, in a honed set pattern of nocurnal or diurnal writing, can be a good, classic excuse.

Also, many writers, like Neil Gaiman says in a Time Out interview, would not like to give away in the blog "the raw proto-material that may eventually melt down into a story." That is definitely not helpful for a writer.

But yesterday, as it emerged during a discussion with friend and fellow blogger Deepika, one more reason was added to this list. Many writers, as she put it (and you have to trust her words because Deepika meets on an average a writer a week, if not more), are still living in the age of fax machines. So, blogging would be a little too much for these technological luddites.

No offence meant to these writers. To each his own, and as long as they keep writing those lovely books, we are not complaining.

However, all old or established writers are not nay sayers to this technological marvel. Some have in fact found a rebirth through blogging. An example is Penelope Farmer who writes on her experience in this Guardian blog, 'Getting published through the blog door':

Old writers don't die these days; they write blogs...

I wrote anonymously, as Grannyp - a spur of the moment name, stolen from the Archers: (oh the irony - having declined to be called granny by my grandchildren, I am known as Granny across the web). I had no expectations of a wider audience. But as I wrote I began to wonder about other blogs and to look them out. I added comments to some. The writers of those blogs began adding comments to mine.

The book I'd been writing, like its predecessor, was turned down - that this happens frequently these days to writers of my generation was no comfort at all. I felt too discouraged to start another. But I am a writer still; my blog's audience may not have been huge but it had one; it wasn't like writing to the wall, the way I was beginning to feel.

I dared put one short story on my blogger site. Still bolder, I began putting up, chapter by chapter, over several weeks, my most recently rejected book, Lifting the World, about a child who lives next to a building site and becomes obsessed by tower cranes. Though this obsession had baffled the editors who'd turned it down, it too gradually drew an audience.

Meantime I'd started corresponding, blogwise, with your own wonderful Dina Rabinovitch, to whom I'd confessed my real name. She promptly outed me on her blog - something I objected to at first. But when the last chapter of the book went up, I outed myself with the permission of my family. Here I am, I said, author of Charlotte Sometimes and all that. (And no, I don't mind that book being my calling card, though written so long ago. After all this time I'm grateful to have one.)

And I've started on another book. Old writers may not die, but they do have to move on. Thank God for the internet.

I also thank the internet, because, without it, fledgling writers like me would be seen and heard nowhere. All my initial short stories were published in online journals, and now they are finding their way to print. And most importantly, I have been able to connect with some likeminded people through this medium. What more can one ask for a start?


Read@Peace said...

Hi Zafar
We never got to the end of this discussion but there is an umatched beauty to the faxes you mention in this post. Since I don't have one at home, I usually end up asking a friend for a favour. You never really know when it would arrive or what it would say. It's almost like that letter through snail mail. Keep the fax long enough, you can watch the ink fade, the message becoming a blur, but I still keep them - can't say the same about email.

The other point we were talking about is how much should a writer give away when a work is in progress. While I love reading writers blogs, I find the finest don't give away too much of their work in progress. Some of them are even reluctant about discussing what they are working on, afraid it "might break" what they haven't yet finished. Personally I like it that way, it keeps the mystery about the book intact.

But once its out there, its great to learn about how a work was created. On that note, I think Amitava Kumar's piece in The Hindu on the making of his book was sheer brilliance.

More when we get to talk.

Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks for your thought-provoking comments.

Unmatched beauty in the faxes: That's an interesting way to look at them. I personally prefer emails which can be kept for ever and are searchable too.

As of blogs, I think everybody, including well-known writers, has a different approach. Some keep it theme-based while others mix their personal details with the theme. But mostly, for writers, it is one of their PR tools.

When blogs were not there, we would want to know more about a book after having read it and enjoyed it. And more could be found about it in trade or lit mags or through author interviews. Or we would have to wait for the author's biography. Not any more. Now if the author has a blog, he can well use it to share some of those secrets (of writing the book) with his readers. But most of them rarely do. Like, even Amitava Kumar used the space in The Hindu, and not his blog, to firsthand write about his novelistic experinece. And it tied up nicely with the launch of his novel about which he was writing in the piece. I suspect it was a PR tool but sure nothing's wrong with that. That's the way of the world.

I guess there are largely two kind of writers, who could be classified like the pre-war and post-war generations: the pre-blog and post-blog generations. I don't expect the pre-blog writers to blog about their books (some of them might still do it), but the post-blog writers would mostly do. For example (taking some Indian examples), when bloggers like Jai Arjun Singh, Amit Verma, BS's Hurree Babu (I keep forgetting her name), etc, write their books (I bet they would--even David Davidar and Tarun Tejpal could not resist the temptation) they would blog about it in great detail. It makes reading all the more interesting, instant and immediate--the hallmarks of the current zeitgeist.