I realized yesterday that it’s been nearly two years since I started blogging, and I’m truly proud that I’ve managed to post nearly every day since (and occasionally more!). I’ve tried to treat my readers with respect by treating this as my job, and as someone who doesn’t always have the best follow-through skills, I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to create and maintain this space.
A big piece of treating this blog as my job has involved not treating it too much as a private diary — in spite of the immediacy and intimacy that are inherent to blogging, there’s a line I haven’t wanted to cross. The goal has been to be part of the process of inventing whatever it is that we’re replacing print media with, and I’ve tried to stay on the professional side of that equation.
Having said that, I’ve been open about my career struggles — the need for work, any work, and the desire to work as a writer. I do a very particular thing, one that’s hard to define and even harder to market: I’m an essayist and a generalist, in a time when essays are rare, and niche is king.
(Of course, I do have a niche — Israel/Palestine — but if there is a single niche in American nonfiction that suffers a surfeit of material, it’s Israel/Palestine. I could argue that a lot of that material isn’t very good, or is too partisan, or repeats what’s been said a thousand times before, but that doesn’t change the fact that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who has something to say about the conflict. So, sure I have a niche. But it’s very crowded).
Since undertaking this venture, I’ve had good days and bad. It can be very hard to be a professional — a proven professional, working in her chosen field and, not incidentally, doing very good work; to have previously spent somewhere north of 15 years building a career, only to watch that tiny career melt into nothing — and then work for free, and more importantly, with absolutely miniscule impact on the world with which one is trying to communicate.
Because I don’t write to write. I write to communicate.
And so, I’ve had a few days when I thought I might just shut the whole blog down.
Inevitably, though, within about 24 hours, I’ve come back. I like writing — I love writing — and feel I have something to add to the world’s conversation, whether it be in my narrowly defined, overcrowded niche, or on parenting, fashion, or loud music. I’ve tried not to write about the one or two topics being bandied about the web on any given day, or, if I am writing about those things, to approach them from a place that others haven’t arrived at yet. On the other hand, I’m entirely comfortable with the fact that “This is AWESOME!” is sometimes a necessary and worthy comment. I’ve considered walking away, but I’ve never really meant it.
Until this past Friday, when I had a bad day, and somehow it was different. I all but heard something inside me snap.
I write to communicate, and moreover, I don’t “write to communicate” while also going about my business — writing is my business. This is my day job. And simply put, it’s exhausting to be begging for attention all the time. Exhausting and disheartening.
I spent years and years sending letters to editors trying to get them to notice me. I was pretty successful, but in the end, and in spite of my best efforts, none of it translated to anything with staying power. When the bottom fell out on print media, I just plain gave up for awhile. And then I started to blog. And then I realized that I’d begun to do the same thing all over again — only instead of sending two or five or ten letters a week, I now promote myself and my work all day long, everyday.
I’ve worked very hard to make this self-promotion an organic, honest thing — I don’t leave comments at blogs I don’t frequent, I’m a genuine member of the communities in which I network — but it’s a potentially endless endeavor. I spend hours and hours of every day not just working for pay, not just working pro bono for causes I believe in, but also writing my blog, writing (once a week) for the Americans for Peace Now blog, posting to and following up on posts at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, tweeting (and yes, this is actually an enormous part of my day, because I take the dialogue and the activism on Twitter very seriously), and also taking part in two online communities where there is networking but also friendship.
Bottom line, I could spend all my waking hours creating a little bit of content, and then asking that people pay attention to it. Indeed, I essentially did this a few weeks back, with my post about the word “nude” in fashion, as a loose experiment to see what I could achieve in a day of relentless self-promotion. That post got about 700 views. On a typical day, this blog hits the 250-550 range.
If you’re one of my readers, and/or have ever promoted this blog in any way, and/or have ever left a comment, I’m beyond grateful. If I’ve learned nothing else over the past two years, I’ve learned just how hard it is to get word out to the great wide world, and why publications have entire marketing departments. If I caught your attention and you’ve stayed? I really, truly cannot thank you enough.
But I’m tired, and all of the hours that I’ve spent creating a little and selling it a lot are hours in which I haven’t gotten other important things done (like reading novels, or finishing my photo albums, or visiting with friends, or making banana bread), and after nearly 20 years of begging for attention, I’m not sure I have the heart to do it anymore. I’m good at this, I have something to contribute, and I love doing it — but I’m just not sure that I have any starch left to keep insisting on those facts to a world that (beyond you, to whom I am very, very grateful) doesn’t much care.
I’m not going to say that I’m shuttering the blog, because I don’t know that I am. Indeed, at least for a little while I’m going to run what I think of as oldies-but-goodies — posts that really mean something to me and which I wish had gotten a bigger readership.
I’m certainly going to keep up my book recommendations at Americans for Peace Now, and I’ll keep the rolling archive of those recommendations up to date. I’ll be on Twitter and at Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog, and occasionally on Balloon Juice and certainly in the comments at ABLC. This is all stuff I enjoy that is meaningful to me well beyond my professional aspirations. I would particularly miss my interactions with TNC’s Horde, which has become the virtual version of the coffee house where I’ve always wanted to hang out.
But I have to look for a job. I have to look for a job with regular pay and regular hours and possibly having nothing to do with writing. Working solely as a contract writer on a catch-as-catch-can basis is a little too much like not getting to marry the man of your dreams, but occasionally having a surprise date with his demanding younger brother. They look a lot alike, but it’s not really what I wanted.
In the meantime, tomorrow’s the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, so I wouldn’t be writing; summer vacation started today; and we’re going to Israel next Friday. There’s a lot going on that would have made regular posting difficult anyway. I’ll think this through, and I’ll get back to you all. I promise I won’t just disappear. But for right now, all I can say is: I don’t know.