Truths to be self-edited

Because this blog was a birthday present it is traditional around this time of year for me to post a state of the blog-union address.  Past editions of this post have been like:

“I need this blog! And I own that. I am not ashamed to need or to have a blog. Blog blog blog. I love you, Emily Magazine.”  turning one, October 2006)

“it’s amazing to see this little stop-motion portrait of your former brain. My obsessions and observations and jokes seem so alien and so familiar at the same time.”  (turning three, October 2008)

As Emily Magazine’s fourth birthday approaches, though, I am not feeling so sanguine about this blog’s present, or its future.  I bet this will change!  I hope so.  But for the moment, my brain is so cluttered with strange and conflicting ideas about what a blog should and shouldn’t be and what I’m trying to do, in general, with this kind of writing — because, I do think that blog-writing is a different kind of writing than edited printed-matter writing– that I’m having trouble figuring out what I even want to say.  I keep doubling back and second-guessing and tweaking my word choices and my grammar in even the most basic (i.e., m-dash-free) of sentences.  I’m rereading everything to see how it looks through the eyes of some half-imagined critic — a critic who, no matter what I do or say, will always think that I got here, wherever he supposes that to be, by dint of something other than hard work and skill.  There is no pleasing this critic, I know. Also, he is (half) imaginary.  But I can’t get him out of my head.

As you can imagine, this is not a very fun way to write, but it’s how I’ve been writing for the past few … weeks?  Months?  I am trying to figure out when it started, so I can try to diagnose the cause of the disease.  It might have something to do with the fact that, over the course of the past few weeks, I have read my book from beginning to end some fourteen billion times. (This sounds impossible but you have to keep in mind that my book is not very long!)  At some point during this process, which also involved being heavily and skillfully line-edited by both my actual editor Amber and my trusted best editor-friend, I began to feel that I was no longer capable of having a coherent thought, much less writing a coherent sentence.  I lost the heedless confidence that is necessary to blog-writing.  This heedless confidence, you may have guessed — or if you have a blog, you may already know –  is the blog-writer’s Achilles heel, and also his greatest strength.  (That’s where his strength is! In his heel! OH FUCK IT ALL TO BITS.)

The thing is, I really do like being edited. I think it is a privilege, even though it can bring you into cripplingly close touch with your (“actually” “really,” “disgusting,” parentheticals) worst bad habits.  And I get what people are saying when they bemoan the fate of the generation of writers that’s currently growing up without ever knowing what it feels like to have someone reach into your piece of writing and wrest out what feels to you like one of its still-palpitating organs and throw it carelessly into the organ-bucket on the floor.  No, it doesn’t feel good. But it’s good for you.  That showy sentence, that reblog-worthy turn of phrase, was probably not serving your overall point.  Possibly it was just reiterating something you’d already said better in the previous paragraph!  It was a cancer in your piece, and your piece is better off without it.  People are writing lots without ever knowing that feeling, and their writing is the worse for it.

Or is it? I’m not sure.  There are some blog posts that any editor in his right mind would take a scythe to that I love to read in their natural state.  I would rather, no offense, read thoughts as they pop into Choire’s crazy brain rather than read them after they’ve been steamrolled into something still lovely but a bit flatter by the Times’ house-stylizer.   It might be that I am looking to have my attention grabbed in a certain way when I’m reading on a screen, or it might not — after all, I am talking here about actually having more patience for circuitousness and idiosyncratic syntax when I’m reading online, not less.  I don’t know! I don’t know what it is!  I love blogs!  I love reading blog posts. I hope someday to once again love writing blog posts.   But I don’t think everything in the world should be a blog post; I’m glad that I made it so that my book is something different than a long printed and bound blog post.

At first I typed “better” instead of “different,” but actually — ACTUALLY — I think the point is exactly that “better” is not what I’m talking about.

18 comments to Truths to be self-edited

  • Rachel

    When does your book come out? I’m looking forward to it.

  • emily

    It comes out May 10th! I would link to the Amazon page but I think everything about it is wrong, including how the title is punctuated. Certainly the page count is wrong.

  • Anon

    Happy Birthday.

    Blogs rule. You’ve inspired me to start one – FOR BETTER OR WORSE… lol

    Giving someone a blog is kind of a wierd birthday present, especially for a writer. I’m glad he/she did though. I’m sure the book will be great but I love this form as well.

  • I’m having the same problem with my blog/book (blok?). I’m so neurotic about beginning a sentence with a noun that I find it impossible to write about the latest microtrend casually.

    Also, your struggle to stay loose reminded me of the struggle to be simple in this old school classic:

  • SF

    I’m just a random passing through, but I used to edit, and would still love to (are there going to be any of those jobs left? *sigh*) and I appreciated what you said about the craft.

    I’m also three months away from my own book’s deadline… Can I just say, I *wish* I were at that stage with my book, rather than sitting here with 30,000 rough words of a 90,000 word total, and no idea how it will end. I do at least have a great, old-fashioned editor whom I trust, but also can’t let down.

    If it makes you feel any less disoriented by re-reading and editing, just relish the thought that you’re not 60,000 words away from finishing!

    Congratulations on book and blog!

  • Sincere Sincereson and the Sinceresonsens

    Hey! Writing dysmorphia! I also have it! Dysmorphism?

    Whatever. This comment is ugly! This is an ugly comment?

  • Oh for chrissake link to the book. I want to see it. I’m excited to read it and I know it will be brilliant. Congrats and happy birthday, Emily.

  • I have nothing to add to this really, just wanted to give you snaps for your courageousness.

  • arthur

    I really enjoy your work. Keep doing it.

  • ow a paper cut

    Happy Birthday!

  • Rebecca A

    Happy Birthday (late?) Emily! Hope you wake up loving your blog again soon.

  • I love your writing, Emily, and I think you’re rad, but the Amazon editorial description (not that you had any control over it?!) is silly! “Essays by media darling, former editor of, smart, young and hip new female voice of her generation.”

    Still, congratulations. And happy birthday!

  • emily

    Oh god. Media darling! HA. Ha ha! Urgh. Yes, please avoid looking at that. Thanks!

  • Embrace it!

    If Howard Stern can be the “King of All Media” why can’t you at least be the darling of it?

    Emily “Darling” Gould.

    I feel the love.

  • Mel

    I like that you are humble about the editing process. What is that proverb – God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble? (Well, not always in this life, obviously.) Happy birthday & I hope your heart is warmed by the fact that so many people love l’il, imperfect you (and don’t seem to really care abt your perceived imperfections)!

  • I thought I had a lot to say on this subject, and I probably do (the fact that I have a lot do say doesn’t necessarily mean I have anything interesting to say) but I’m getting lazy in my dotage (writerly for OLD) and then I just ran across this book which seems to address these issues, and who am I to judge? So I’ll just punt: Booklife

    Please, someone less lazy than I, read it and let me know if it’s any good?

    Then come and clean my house.


  • I wonder how I screwed up the link!


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