Writer’s Desk: The Not-So-Solitary Art

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Anybody who knows anything about writing knows about that the gig requires a lot of alone-time. Unless you’re one of those people who can compose lucid prose on a crowded subway train, most writers need to have that space they can get away to in order to put their minds in the right space and put together something that won’t entirely embarrass them.

There is, though, always the problem of the outside world. It intrudes on some writers in the simple matter of making a living. The day job, whether writing-related or not, by definition puts the writer out in the world whether they like it or not. Most writers put up with this because, well, rent.

But these days, it seems like the actual practice of just plain writing, not working to be able to afford to write, has been getting awful social. Part of it is that tic of the modern age where every activity must be shared and turned into an online discussion group. But part of it is simply the business of writing. Attending workshops, participating in panel discussions, even getting up in front of people and teaching a class.

Meghan Tifft laments this turn of events:

History has typically not been generous to the writerly recluse. It’s usually only a lucrative position after the fact of your success—and it works best if you’re a man—Salinger, Pynchon, Faulkner all have that esoteric aura about them that’s quite different from poor old Emily Dickinson, that self-imposed shut-in, or Flannery O’Connor, whose excursive limitations were a sad matter of physical ailment. Even Donna Tartt has to go on 12-city tours. And then there’s me. I’m not Donna, or Emily, or Flannery. I’m not getting anywhere as a young, reclusive, female writer….

So, keep that in mind all you introverts and recluses as you write the Great American Novel. At some point, if you’re lucky, you’ll have to go out there and stand under glaring lights and read your prose to a dozen or so people half paying attention to you over the hiss of the nearby cafe’s espresso machine. It’s a reward, of sorts.

Writer’s Room: Make It Hard on Yourself

The scarecrow was made of straw ... so it applies

Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a piece in The Atlantic a few days back about how to be the best kind of political-opinion journalist. His advise is well-suited for those many who make their livings opinionating throughout the Beltway mediaverse and blogosphere, but is also a good rule of thumb for writers in general:

…To paraphrase Douglass, a writer is worked on by what she works on. If you spend your time raging at the weakest arguments, or your most hysterical opponents, expect your own intellect to suffer. The intellect is a muscle; it must be exercised.

He’s talking about the bad habits of political writers, who tend to pick the most obvious strawmen to go after as a way of formulating their own beliefs. This is an attractive way of operating, but ultimately lazy.

But everybody who puts pen to paper or key to blog is well served with this advice: Don’t do what you’ve always done. This isn’t to say that all writers shouldn’t identify their areas of strength, but to never venture outside those safer realms is to risk creative calcification.

 

In Media: ‘Newsweek’ Going Web-Only

In one of the less surprising media announcements of late, Newsweek said last week that they were ceasing publication of their print magazine at the end of 2012. The magazine, which has already been merged of sorts with Tina Brown’s web site The Daily Beast, will go to an online-subscription model next year. According to Paid Content:

…the magazine is slated to lose $40 million this year and has seen its subscribers fall from 3 million to 1.5 million in the last decade. More broadly, the company faced a more existential problem in that a “weekly news” magazine has become an anachronism in the digital world.

It makes sense ultimately, as Newsweek hasn’t really been able to keep up with the relevance of publications like The Economist,  Time or The Atlantic, which have shown the ability to keep a very vibrant web presence while not damaging the print product. Brown has tried to tart up the magazine of late, with dubious results:

Readers and media analysts have been puzzled by some of the covers Ms. Brown had chosen in an effort to distinguish Newsweek from other magazines and make it a talked-about publication again. Last November, she featured a cover story about sex addiction, and in May President Obama was shown wearing a rainbow-colored halo with a headline that read ”The First Gay President.”

And while Daily Beast is an interesting creature, mostly for its mix of rehashed news and original opinion plus the handy daily Cheat Sheet aggregator, the design is somewhat atrocious, navigation a pain, and the writing, well….

Founded in 1933 or not, this is a magazine whose time may have passed. See the cover shown at right for proof.