Shaped by the Audience

When introducing the audience as a key component of weblog writing, Steve wrote:

We’re not writing an account of our lives just as a record of our lives, we’re trying to say something about our lives, and that can’t be done if we stick only to ‘facts’: the facts that will speak to me about my life—me, with all kinds of insider knowledge and secrets—is hardly going to speak to you in the same way.

We can’t read weblogs the way we read other literatures—it isn’t appropriate. They aren’t the same as novels or memoirs or what not, because of the play of time and because of other factors that would only serve to muddy the waters of my present point.

In this excerpt, Steve makes two assumptions: that we write in these weblogs to say something about our lives; and weblogs aren’t read in the same manner as other literature. He has surrounded and captured the spirit not only of the debate about truth and weblog writing, but also the expectations readers bring with them when they read our weblogs: we’re here to tell people about ourselves, and weblog writing must, above all else, facilitate this effort.

For many long-term webloggers, and for the majority of this generation of webloggers, this assumption works fairly well. However, let’s pivot our understanding a bit and ask, what if a weblogger does not see their weblog as a way of describing their life? If we change this one underlying assumption, what does this do to the rest of our assumptions?

I am a writer. I created my first story when I was too young to put it to paper and would tell it to my cat and any adult foolish enough to listen to my prattle. No matter the obstacles, the criticism, or worse, the silence, I’ll remain a writer until I return to that same state of being unable to put my stories into words.

When I started this weblog a long time ago, when it was originally called “Bridge-to-Bridge”, I did so because I wanted to use this new medium to reach a different audience; to try writing something other than technical articles and books. Somewhere along the way, the Twin Towers happened and I wrote about it and my anger against the Arab world and someone left a comment at my weblog. I was astonished! This changed the equation of my weblog — from being a new way to write essays, it now became this interactive forum, a virtual neighborhood. A way of connecting with people all over the world, and I was delighted. In that time when all of us were reaching out to each other, for comfort and for companionship, the conversation weblogging brought was welcome.

But I still remained a writer.

During the tenure of this weblog, thanks to my virtual neighborhood and the people who’ve stopped by and stayed awhile, I’ve been able to try different things and to get feedback and suggestions. Because of this, I’ve grown: as a writer, a photographer, and as a person. I am no longer afraid of exposing myself through stories and parables, or of writing fiction as well as non-fiction. I’ve even discovered poetry, to my astonishment. I am half again more than I was before starting this weblog.

At the same time, though, I’ve become aware that there are expectations associated with weblog writing. There is an assumption that ‘I’ will exist in everything we write, as well as an assumption of honesty and an acknowledgement of of the mechanics of the medium. In the last few months, I’ve come to know that there is no place in Burningbird for some of the writing I want to do; however, thanks to the support I’ve had with my fledging efforts into new territory, I’m now willing to take that writing, and the photography, elsewhere, to give it a chance on its own out there; to learn and grow in new arenas.

Would you listen to me going on about myself? If I continue, someone will think this is a weblog or something.

Steve made an important observation when he wrote:

When we read an isolated essay, by Annie Dillard, maybe, we read it as a discrete, ‘closed’ unit—there is no context unless we set out to find that context elsewhere, in biography and criticism. A weblog, on the other hand, is all context—every post we read is read through the lens of the other posts we’ve read, and if you only read one post from a blog you’re not reading the blog—which as a whole is the text, not the individual post.

We could take this farther and say that every post we read is read through the same lens of posts from other webogs, too. We don’t write these things in a vacuum, and unlike a book, sitting down in an evening and catching up our favorite weblogs usually means that we’re reading more than one weblogger’s writing at a time. Compound this with RSS aggregation tools, and other webloggers can form a context for our writing that even supercedes our own posts over time. When we experiment or tell ourselves that we’re going to write what we want to write, our audience is till reading us within context, and they will comment accordingly. Not only can this abrogate our bold ventures in writing, it can discourage them.

However, the context that discourages non-format aware writing enourages writing that enables conversation. In particular, if our weblogs contain verbal cues that fit in with other posts of the day, particularly those relevant to a specific virtual neighborhood, we’ll most likely have more comments, as well as comments more focused and relevant to what we’re saying. Think of it as fishing, and the posts are hooks. Our readers are all little fishies swimming past, and the context cues form bright little lures calling out, “Here fishie, fishie, fishie.”

A comment that Stavros (Chris) wrote to Steve’s posting would seem to corroborate this:

But must say that if there’s a schism that I find it hard to leap across, it’s not between entertainment and truth, but between entertainment and conversation, or to use slightly different words to better express what I was trying to say, between a showman and a friend, between being amused and being schooled, between passing time and carpe-ing the bloody diem, if you get my meaning.

Not to say that it’s not possible to glean a deeper understanding of who I am and what people are about from a carefully woven blogfiction, but I’ve always found (as has languagehat, I’m inferring) that the raw stories of a life teach me the most, about others and myself equally. Thus my relative valuations of the two. Like I said at Shelley’s, about you and Jonathon, but it applies equally to many others in this neighbourhood of ours, with a strong enough writer the distinction doesn’t matter as much.

…with a strong enough writer the distinction doesn’t matter much. With a strong enough writer, no distinction matters.

If we see weblogging as more conversation than literature, then we can see how the injection of ‘artistic license’ into our writing generates so much resistance. There’s a difference between reading a book or essay from an author we don’t know, and sitting down to shoot the breeze over coffee with a person who we’ve come to know as ‘friend’.

In my comments, Dale Keiger wrote the following about mixing fiction and non-fiction:

I believe there is a problem, though, when a writer presents work as nominally nonfiction, but it contains imagined material that goes unlabled. Annie Dillard is an estimable writer, a writer I teach to undergraduate and graduate writing students alike, but when she writes in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek about a cat walking about with bloody paws, and it turns out that the incident never occurred, she has broken a covenant with the reader because she presents the book as nonfiction, as verifiab. That book contains a wealth of scientific information about the natural world that the reader takes for factually accurate. How am I to regard all of that after learning that she fabricated the cat with injured paws?

In Wolf Willow, another work of nonfiction, Wallace Stegner invents a long narrative to convey the experience of a brutal Saskatchewan winter. But he tells the reader at the outset of that chapter that he’s creating the story based on historical record. He declares that he’s going to write fiction for a while. To me, this allows him the creative latitude he felt he needed for the work, without deceiving the reader.

Dale’s point about the writer breaking covenant with the reader matches closely with the pushback we’re seeing about adherance to facts within weblogging. I can understand what he’s saying and his points are good, but I don’t necessarily agree with him. At least, not in all instances, with all due respect.

The ‘bloody paws’ story of Annie Dillard’s that Dale mentions is the following passage:

I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I’d half-awaken. He’d stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as thought I’d been painted with roses.

I found the following comment associated with this passage:

Not long ago, Annie mentioned in print that this didn’t actually happen. She told this story as a kind of metaphor to set the tone for the book. Many people got angry, saying that nature writing should be based on FACT. But I understand why she created this story. What could better bring together the child and her wonder and acceptance with an example of wildness, of nature’s violence blended with beauty. Sometimes to tell the truth you have to lie a little.

Sometimes to tell the truth you have to lie a little.

Dorothea writes:

I know I am vulnerable to deceit, as both deceiver and deceived. I am easily fooled, and if I let myself, I could easily fool people, could easily come to accept the benefits I could gain in so doing.

In its way, deceit is even more insidious than alcohol. It has plenty of innocent uses. In some contexts it is all but impossible to avoid. It has infinite guises, tastes, appearances, whose quality and utility can be endlessly argued about. Many people manage it with ease, brilliance, audacity; it is their tool and not their master.

Yet one can shut the door on alcohol, as I have, in a way that one cannot with deceit. As Jonathon’s sly quotes point out, deceit is part of language, part of life. All truths are partial, all statements deceptive. Honesty too is a pose, is unreal.

I cannot run away from lies. Cannot shut them out. Must try to find purchase on the slippery slope. This only makes deceit all the more frightening.

Dorothea’s forthright statement is understandable and hard to deny — deceit, especially among friends, is very frightening. I would rather face upfront rejection than deceit from those I care for.

But at the same time, and without any intention of being critical of Dorothea, who I care for as friend, she also puts a burden on those webloggers whose writing she reads. I’m not sure any of us can measure up to the level of Dorothea’s honesty, because it is Dorothea’s honesty, and unique to her. D, it comes as part of a burden you’ve put on yourself.

When Jonathon wrote

That’s it: where my own interests lie. In other words, hardly anything to do with telling the literal truth; and everything to do with fashioning an authentic persona from bits of alibis and consistent lies.

he wasn’t making a statement warning people he would be deceiving them from that point on. He wasn’t breaking covenant with his readers. The key to his statement was the word authentic, but so much focus since this was written has been on the word lie. Jonathon is a friend and one of my favorite people; rather than feel betrayed by his words when I read them, I was relieved. “Thank God,” I thought to myself. “I’ve missed the real Jonathon’s writing.”

Sometimes to tell the truth, you have to lie a little.

Someday when I write a book, a real book, I’m going to start it off with Assume everything you read from this point on, is a lie…

When Truth Conceals, Lies Reveal

So many excellent comments associated with my previous writing, Shadow Talk, as well as exceptional writing in other weblogs such as Jonathon’sDorothea’sAquarionicsElaine’sLaura’s, and (soon to be) Chris’s. I only wish I could do justice to the debates because there’s a rich story unfolding among all the different views, but I’m not sure I’m the one to tell it. All I can do is give my own understanding of the topic of ‘truth in weblog writing’ and that’s difficult enough as it is.

When I tell a story from my past I try to describe events accurately; however what results is inevitably ‘tainted’ by my personal viewpoint of the event. Someone else reading my story might say, “I don’t remember it that way”, and I’m sure they’d be equally correct. Chances are a videotape would prove us both wrong.

The important part of the story isn’t necessarily any individual fact; it’s my experience of the event, my image of it, which I then share with my readers; to me, the image is the truth, though the facts, if recorded, might not completely agree.

Am I practicing a deception if my view of the events differs from the actual facts? No, because what I’m writing, my feelings and responses, they are very real. They are the essence of what I’m trying to convey with my stories.

Of course, one could say that this isn’t the same as deliberately creating a story and putting oneself into it. After all, the former is nothing more than writing from our own personal perceptions of an event, while the latter could be said to be writing from a lie. From …bits of alibis and consistent lies, as Jonathon would say. Still, I’m not so sure the two are that different.

A few weeks back I wrote about two essays — one by Virginia Woolf the other by Annie Dillard — that had enormous impact on me when I read them in college years ago. The subject was the same, a first person narrative about watching the death of a moth; but each writer’s written description and interpretation of the event differed enormously. In Woolf’s the moth dies nobly, quietly, and with dignity, while Dillard’s moth died with passion, with a fierce resistence, burning brightly at the end.

I would give anything I own, including the soul I don’t believe in, to be able to write as well as both of these women did in these particular essays. However, if you were to tell me that the incident of the moth really didn’t occur for either author, that they ‘made it up’, it wouldn’t matter a bit to me. I would still love these stories as much, and they would still have as profound an effect on me.

In my comments Language Hat brings up a very valid point about the introduction of fiction into our personal narratives:

Most of us, on the other hand, use fictionalization as a means to make ourselves look better or somehow impress others, and since we don’t have the insight and imagination of a Joyce or a Faulkner, the results tend towards a homogenized “story-telling” mode that can be mildly amusing but doesn’t hold the attention for long.

I agree with Language Hat, this type of fictionalization becomes all too obvious at some point and rather boring, even embarrassing. I saw this once with another weblogger, someone who I haven’t read in a long, long time. But then, I’ve also seen this happen with webloggers who have no idea that they’re ‘fictionalizing’ themselves. They cast themselves as the heros, the shining knights, in their own stories and they are no less sad for all their belief that they are being ‘honest’. (I have a lowering thought that I’ve done this a time or two myself.)

If another weblogger tells me that they’re an agent for the FBI, working undercover to hunt terrorists, but in actuality, they’re a security cop at a mall, I would be furious, and they would be foolish, because that kind of lie will out. The same as saying you’re not married when you are, or that you have children when you have not, and so on. Even saying you have a cat, when you don’t, is a foolish lie that has nothing to do with writing, literature, or weblogging for that matter. A person pretending something they’re not isn’t writing, but a sad admission that they think little of themselves.

This type of lie, this personal fictualization as Language Hat so aptly calls it, is completely different from the subtle storytelling in the essays about the death of the moth I mentioned earlier. In these, it doesn’t matter if the event was real or not because what the writer was feeling, the thoughts and images they wanted to communicate with these stories were very real. More so, the stories reveal rather than conceal the author. They didn’t seek to hide behind the story of the moth — they sought to use it to tell a story about themselves, and how they experience life. Both writers used the moth to describe their own fears of death, their own views of how they see themselves dying. And that’s as authentic as you can get in writing.

I think this is the point that Beerzie Boy was making when he said:

I like to think that for myself, when I change facts it is fairly superficial as far as the “factual” aspect, and the purpose is usually to make the underlying meaning (theme? message?) more concise or clear. In my view, changing facts for self-aggrandizement is intellectually wrong, but it really hurts the writer more than the reader; generally if writing is insincere it undermines a work’s artisic qualities.

I’m not sure if the story of the moths is the same as Jonathon’s bits of alibis and consistent lies. He’s the only one can answer that and I am looking forward to hearing his answer, and exploring the concepts further, if he chooses to share them. Regardless, I have a feeling that Jonathon’s ‘consistent lies’ are closer to who he really is, and far more authentic, than recent posts that focused on the war in Iraq, for all their truthfulness.

Death of a Moth

Years ago I worked in a large modern building with dark grey glass doors and windows. One morning when I was out smoking, I noticed a bright spot on the wall next to the door — a white moth, with soft, furry body and silvery antennae. It was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen—delicate and fragile, highlighted by the darkness of the glass and granite building. It was held there against the wall by a grip frozen in death.

I was reminded of this moth when I read W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz with his references to moths; subtle symbols of the lead character’s search for the truth of who he is, like the moth’s obsessive desire for illumination, regardless of the cost. And in the book, memories are tipped out into words forming stories as fragile as the wings of a moth preserved in a jar:

None of the containers was more than two or three inches high, and when I opened them one by one and held them in the light of the lamp, each proved to contain the mortal remains of one of the moths which — as Austerlitz had told me — had met its end here in this house. I tipped one of them, a weightless ivory-colored creature with folded wings that might have been woven of some immaterial fabric, out of its Bakelite box onto the palm of my right hand. Its legs, which it had drawn up under its silver-scaled body as if just clearing some final obstacle, were so delicate taht I could scarely make them out, while the antannae curving high above the whole body also trembled on the edge of visibility.

In college I was introduced to another story featuring a moth, Virginia Woolf’s essay, Death of a Moth. In it, Woolf writes about a moth flying about a window pane, its world constrained by the boundaries of the wood holding the glass. The moth flew from one side to the other, and then back again, as the rest of life continued ignorant of its movements. At first indifferent, Woolf was eventually moved to pity of the moth:

The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic.

The moth settles on the window sill and Woolf forgets it until she notices it trying to move again, but this time its movements are slow and awkward. It attempts to fly but fails, and falls back down to the sill—landing on its back, tiny feet clawing at the air as it tries to right itself. The author reaches out to help when she realizes that it is dying and draws back, reluctant to interfere with this natural process. Somehow in the brightness of the day, the power of death was seeking this moth and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

Still, she watched the moth as it fought against the inevitable:

One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life.

However, after the moth had righted itself, in the instant of its victory, death descended:

The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.

In Woolf’s essay, the battle between life and death is somehow seen as both pathetic and noble. Pathetic because death will always win regardless the desire for life; but noble in how one faces death — on our back, defeated, or on our feet and in dignity.

Another essay also called Death of a Moth by Annie Dillard is often compared to Woolf’s essay, most likely because of the similar titles and subjects. Unlike Woolf’s moth, Dillard’s meets its end much more dramatically—caught within a candle’s flame, it’s body on fire, which Dillard details in unsentimental detail:

Her moving wings ignited like tissue paper, like angels’ wings, enlarging the circle of the darkness the sudden blue sleeves of my sweater, the green leaves of jewelweed by my side, the ragged red trunk of a pine; at once the light contracted again and the moth’s wings vanished in a fine, foul smoke. At the same time, her six legs clawed, curled, blackened, and ceased, disappearing utterly. And her head jerked in spasms, making a spattering noise; her antennae crisped and burnt away and her heaving mouthparts cracked like pistol fire. When it was all over, her head was, so far as I could determine, gone, gone the long way of her wings and legs.

Compared to Woolf’s moth, with its quiet dignity and brave fight against death, Dillard’s moth was caught in a torment of fire and died violently, one could almost say grotesquely. Death isn’t veiled in the struggle; isn’t seen through the same type of grey silken glasses worn by one of Sebald’s characters to mute the landscape when he paints. Death is stripped bare, exposed in all of its hideous indifference.

Yet where Woolf’s moth leads one to accept death, to embrace the nobility of death, Dillard’s moth flares out at death, defiant, and unaccepting. Its death says to me, “I do not go willingly, I do not give up on life easily. You must rip it from me and I’ll fight to hold it.” In the end, rather than form a noble and dignified corpse, Dillard’s moth becomes a second wick, causing the candle to burn that much brighter:

She burned for two hours without changing, without swaying or kneeling-only glowing within, like a boiling fire glimpsed through silhouetted walls, like a hollow saint, like a flame-faced virgin gone to God, while I read by her light, kindled while Rimbaud in Paris burnt out his brain in a thousand poems, while night pooled wetly at my feet.

I was more moved by Woolf’s moth, but Dillard’s moth is the one most vivid in my mind and in my memory.

The Parable of the Languages

Archived at Wayback Machine, including original comments

If programming languages could speak, really speak, not just crunch bytes and stream bits, they would have much to say that is both wise and profound. After all, the original programmers were philosophers, and programming languages were philosopher tools…

In Babble Meadow, in the twilight hours between day and night, when pesky noseeums float past on the breeze and birds rustle among leaves in preparation for bed, the programming languages would meet. And talk.

The talk would start as it always started, on issues profound and serious, focusing on the existential core that is center to all languages.

Do I exist or not? In this never-ending loop of life, when is the purpose? Where should I go, and what should I do when I get there? What comes after the end?

(It’s not easy being a programming language, in forced contemplation of the existence of Self, day in and day out.)

However, after a time the languages would loosen up. There was something about Babble Meadow — something that worked its way into their hearts and souls, loosened their threads, opened their parameters. The Meadow was magic, no doubt.

Today, though, the group was quiet, much quieter than usual, because one of their members, PHP, was not its usual cheerful self. In fact, one could say that PHP was in a true funk, if one had a mind to say something like that aloud, or within the hearing of one’s boss. Or doctor.

Why the blues, PHP, the other languages asked. All the languages that is but C, because all C ever said was “bite me”, being a rude language and hard to live with, but still respected because it was such a good worker.

And PHP answered:

All I ever do, day in and day out, is work and work and work. The only time I’m noticed is when I break, and then I’m cursed and kicked, and roundly blasted for being useless. However, when things go well, I never get a kind word.

There’s no notice of my ease of use, my elegance, my simplicity. Only my failures.

And on that dark note, PHP fell into a contemplative silence, dark cloud heavy with aggrieved sorrow.

You think you have it bad, said C++. Try being me.

Without me entire industries would fail, banks would close, ships would sink, trains would crash. Why, I virtually run the world.

Yet the only time I’m noticed is when a memory leak is found or an exception occurs, and then I’m cursed, and sworn at, and ruthlessly debugged with nary a thought for my sensibilities.

Each of the languages nodded their heads, because they knew about C++ sensibilities, it being a most sensitive language. In fact, Perl was so moved by C++’s eloquence, it felt compelled to speak, though normally at these gatherings Perl would sit quietly in a corner, consuming pattern after luscious mouth watering pattern.

PHP, C++, I sympathize with you both. My own state is a sorry one at times.

I match and match and match and match, first cryptically and now objectively, but still I match and match and match. And match after flawless match is taken for granted though I’d like to see others match with such style and elegance as myself.

Why, you can’t mention “regular expression” without my name coming up.

But do I get any credit? No.

O it’s Larry Wall this, and Larry Wall that, and Larry Wall, he’s our guy.
But it’s grab the Perl interpreter when a task is close at hand.

As Perl finished, Python and Ruby looked at each and rolled their eyes. For all that talk of matching, you’d think that Perl could at least rhyme.

FORTRAN reached up a withered hand and patted Perl’s shoulder.

There, there, Perl. There, there.

At the very least, though, you must remember that you have a place still in the world. As for myself, I am nothing more than a wisp, a ghost of my former strong and virile self.

There was never a scientific problem I couldn’t handle, or complex equation I couldn’t solve. At one time I was a master of my domain, the king of the processor.

Now, sadly, my glory days are over, and I’m doomed to live my twilight years as Legacy code.

As FORTRAN wheezed to a stop, COBOL was emphatically nodding its head, unable to speak, though, because of the oxygen tube up its nose (for which the other languages were secretly thankful because COBOL did tend to maunder a bit about its glory days).

At that the floodgates of complaints was loosed, and the noise increased and increased and increased, to the point that squirrels came out of their holes, and birds peered over the edges of their nests. Suddenly the quiet glen was quiet no more.

What about me, said Pascal. I’m only used for training. Training! What good is a language that’s only used in school?

What about me, said SNOBOL. No one’s even heard of me!

What about me, said C#. I look like Prince!

Bite me! said C.

LISP would have spoken, but it had caught a glimpse of itself in the pond and fell in when it tried to meet itself coming. And Java was too busy trying to clean a bag out of Babbling Creek.

The noise rose and rose, and the babble increased and increased until across the meadow, from the trees roared a Voice.


I tire of your bickering, I weary of your complaints. I grow bored with your list of whims and whines and ‘poor mes’.

I thought this was going to be a party! If I knew it was going to be nothing more than a bitch session, I would have stayed home.

The languages stopped their talking at once. Who was it that called out? They counted heads and arranged themselves alphabetically (C++ having to position Basic, because it never did learn the alphabet), and counted heads again and came up with the same answer from the North, South, East, and West — all the programming languages were accounted for.

As they puzzled and wondered, the bushes at the end parted and XML walked into the light.

XML! Exclaimed C++. What are you doing here? You’re not a programming language.

Tell that to the people who use me, said XML.

I’m considered the savior, the ultimate solution, the final word. Odes are written to me, flowers strewn at my feet, virgins sacrificed at my altar.

Programmers speak my name with awe. Companies insist on using me in all their projects, though they’re not sure why.

And whenever a problem occurs, someone somewhere says, “Let’s use XML”, and miracles occur and my very name has become a talisman against evil.

And yet, all I am is a simple little markup, from humble origins. It’s a burden, being XML.

At that XML sighed, and the other languages, moved by its plight gathered around…

…and tromped that little XML into the dirt. Yes, into the very dirt at their feet. Basic tromped, and C++ tromped, and Java cleaned and tromped and cleaned again, and COBOL tried to throw a kick at XML’s head but fell over on its cane. Even LISP pulled itself out of the pond to throw loopy hands around XML’s throat, but only managed to choke its ownself.

And each language could be heard to mumble as it tromped and tromped and tromped, with complete and utter glee:

Have to parse XML, eh? Have to have an XML API, eh? Have to work with SOAP and XML-RPC and RSS and RDF, eh?

Well parse this, you little markup asshole.

The End.

On Writing Professionally

There’s some form of mystic associated with writing professionally that, in some ways, I don’t understand.

It doesn’t exist with, say, web development — there are scores of web page designers and developers who would be appalled at having to do what they do as a hobby, as a job, day in and day out. In addition, there are those who garden, cook, drive, sew and care for children who wouldn’t even consider doing the same for a buck.

But writing, well, writing professionally somehow imbues the written word with a higher degree of importance than the word that’s given freely. Even if the written word is included in the biggest jumble of disorganized crap that ever existed on any planet in the universe, and the freely given word is the epitome of elegance, grace, and clarity.

Perhaps the reason for this mystic is that if one is paid for the word, one is somehow supposed to be more proficient with the use of the word. I write this word — apple — and I am not paid for it. Therefore, the value of –apple — is worth less than the word — Apple — as long as it is followed by OS X and I’ve convinced some editor somewhere that it is worthy of inclusion within their magazine, eZine, book, or other forms of publication.

It is true that when one is paid for an act, one improves over time. Based on this we can conclude that when we pay for an action, we should be able to expect more from that action. This works for sex — why not writing?

The act of writing professionally. The publication process.

As an example of the publication process, take a look at the following sentence:

My recommendation would be that you flibit the gidbet and then flummer the dummer.

One publication prefers that writers not use the familiar, so can the professional writer remove all familiar references?

Okay, how’s this:

It is accepted practice to flibit the gidget and then flummer the dummer.

Another publication prefers the familiar form, and also prefers witty repartee with the reader. Can the professional writer please adjust accordingly?

Okay, how’s this:

My recommendation would be that you flibit the gidbet and then flummer the dummer, and you’ll be kicking ass at that point.

A third publication hastens to add that words such as “ass” might be offensive to some readers. Please edit this remark.

Okay. Is the following acceptable:

My recommendation would be that you flibit the gidbet and then flummer the dummer, and you’ll be much happier with the results.

There’s another publication. This one likes to have notes, sidebars, and annotations.

Okay. Then how the hell is this:

My recommendation (being aware that I have enormous experience with this) would be that you flibit the gidbet (see for more info) and then flummer the dummer, (see sidebar A1), and you’ll be happier with the results (happier: increased sense of well being).

Are these examples of writing somehow worth more than the unpaid version of the same, such as one could find at a weblog?

Weblog version:

To hell with the gidbet, who cares about the flummer, go get a beer, and screw it all until tomorrow.

I think not.

(Legal Disclaimer: The publications referred to in this document are entirely fictional. Any similarity to an existing publication is purely coincidental.)