The Craft of Writing and Our Community

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

This post is written collaboratively by Jane Flanagan and Hila Shachar about something that is close to our hearts: Writing for independent magazines and blogs. The post developed out of conversations we’ve been having privately. It got to a point where it felt hypocritical to talk about these things ‘behind the scenes’, rather than publicly on our blogs. We think this topic is ultimately bigger than the both of us.

Established and successful media brands receive their fair share of criticism, much of it well-deserved. However, blogs and indie magazines (supported and created by bloggers) feel like a ‘no go’ zone for even the most constructive criticism. The (erroneous) underlying premise seems to be that we must not criticise our own community. We’ve seen the blog-world unite to defend artists against alleged Anthropologie rip-offs, for example, but nary a bad word said about something created within our community. It’s a laudable sense of loyalty, but it is also misplaced.

As writers, we both know the value of constructive criticism and critical feedback. Quite simply, the publishing world doesn’t exist without it, and it’s a marker of content quality. We both believe that output from the blog community (both online and in print) is deteriorating in part because there isn’t much constructive criticism. Much feedback is a fast reaction to the visual impact, rather than a slower, more studied reaction to the complete offering; the combination of words, images and presentation.

Because there’s no real way to voice constructive criticism without it sounding like a betrayal from within, these conversations are driven behind closed doors (real or virtual). And we both worry that this will have a long-term damaging effect on the community. If we can’t kindly and constructively voice our criticism, we’ll become jaded and ultimately abandon things that we believe could be worked on and improved if feedback could be voiced and incorporated. And that’s a sad option.

We’ve noticed two responses to those who attempt to constructively criticise:

(1) If you don’t like it, don’t buy it (or ‘unfollow’)

Well, yes: if you consistently don’t like something, you should unfollow or not support it. But, when we disagree with real-life friends, we don’t walk away from them. The idea that support is an all-or-nothing proposition is troubling and immature, promoting the most fanatical kind of support. This recent post on A Cup of Jo and the responses on both sides show how polarised criticism can become, even when it’s a justified qualm about editorial content and integrity.

We should be able to register criticism and argument without being deemed unsupportive. One of us, for example, has purchased every issue of Kinfolk magazine to date. And we both admire the aesthetic, the premise and the hard work that goes into such a magazine. But we also have serious problems with the quality of the writing, and the way the publication deals with professional writers. Ironically, we’ve both found bigger magazines more receptive to pitches and commissioning professional writers than indie magazines. Saying all this is not a betrayal of indie magazines or the people who work behind them. The fact that we want to raise this issue shows that we believe in and care about the endeavour of independent blogs and publications.

(2) It’s small and independent, you should support it!

This is misguided, if admirable, thinking. The rules for conduct and professionalism shouldn’t differ because a business is small, or a magazine is independent. If you would criticise businesses such as Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Condé Nast, et al, for some practice or execution, you should hold yourself accountable to the same standards. This applies to advertising, sourcing contributors, promotion and - particularly in the case of this post - editorial quality and integrity.

The main problem we both see with certain blogs and independent publications is precisely a lack of knowledge and professionalism. There have long been editorial standards followed by journalists and publications (and it’s on the basis of a breach of those standards that they are often critiqued). But independent publications make up their own rules of submission, publication, and advertising guidelines. This can be liberating in many ways, helping a publication innovate and ‘stand apart’, but its flip side is often unprofessionalism. We find this particularly true with regard to sourcing quality content, allowing diversity and handling submission processes.

We get the sense that some indie magazines are run like blogging cliques, which undermines their creativity, hard work and loftier ideals. Editing a magazine properly is neither a hobby nor an exercise in nepotism – you either invest a certain level of professionalism into it, or not. It’s also not about running a high school clique of the ‘cool kids’. If indie magazines really want to provide serious counter publications to the mainstream, they must be willing to cultivate a professional attitude towards content acquisition and quality.

Blogs got going, in no small part, as a result of dissatisfaction with mainstream, traditional media. But now blog and indie publication content often has significantly less editorial integrity, with content often sourced from a limited pool of popular contributors, many of whom have little interest in writing as a profession or an art. Fair enough, some people’s talent lies in photography, illustration, design and style. And both of us admire (and frequently gasp over) their obvious talent. But the writing does count for something too, and it’s disappointing that equal energy is not devoted to it in such publications and that serious writers are turned away and discouraged.

If photographers don’t like their work being devalued and uncredited online, writers don’t like constantly playing second fiddle to visual content. Turning away writers who publish and successfully practice their art in favour of bloggers who confess to not even like writing is insulting. And it makes us feel jaded about the role we can play in both the creation and consumption of this content, much as we might admire and support the underlying philosophy.

Ultimately, we’re raising this topic because we both care passionately about independent creative work and outlets. We’re both struggling because this community we once felt part of feels increasingly like a place with little respect for the craft of writing, and that’s an alienating feeling. And if we’re feeling it, we imagine others are too, both as writers and readers. We want indie magazines and blogs to be taken seriously, and to be the best, because we have faith in them. We care as both writers and readers/consumers. And we hope you care enough to read this post with an open mind.

45 comments:

Petra said...

a very interesting post. I, too, struggle with the lack of good writing in the blogosphere. I agree with most of what you describe (and simply have to think a little longer about the rest). I however wonder how much of this phenomenon is also caused by the audience. there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in written pieces, not nearly as much as in visuals. people who take writing seriously notice the often poor quality in writing. most everyone else is only scanning posts or articles anyways. I'm actually really worried that this is a sign that people lose the ability to deal with writing. not everyone, of course, but certain groups. preferring visuals over words and subsequently not putting as much effort into careful editing them - because visuals are certainly carefully edited wherever you look - may be partly a consequence of this tendency. and indi isn't what it used to be. for many it's just a spring board to success. so you go with what guarantees success...visuals...

just wondering...

lin said...

Great post. I'm a writer for a newspaper (an increasingly archaic concept) and what you said about a certain mentality that surfaces among indie magazines hit home; I was excited about some indie online magazines being published in Singapore but became put off by quality of writing. Everything looked perfect but the actual journalism and standards of writing was lacking. It was even more disappointing to have my views dismissed as "traditional media gets defensive" when I brought them up.

I love the rise of independent writing and publishing whether on the Internet or in print but I think people are too quick to dismiss what trained journalists and the traditional code of professionalism has to offer.

Thanks for articulating all this!

rooth said...

I haven't kept up with many indie magazines but I agree with what y'all have said about the quality of writing. It's something that I wrestle with every day on my own personal blog, which makes me wonder how much people fuss about it in these indie publications. Sure it's easier for me and probably the reader to just glance through a few pictures and be done with it but the writing is really the heart and soul of what I'm truly all about. Because you brought it up, I'll be sure to read with a more critical eye. And reward those writers accordingly :) As you said, it's not an easy job

Michal said...

You have really hit home with this post. I agree almost entirely with what you said, and also find what Petra said about people losing "the ability to deal with writing", very interesting. We are such a visual, fast-paced, internet society; re-pinning images we like and instagram-ing photographs of our everyday. As our lives become more and more saturated with visual media, it becomes easier for us to write off (no pun intended) the need for quality writing, and we neglect the importance of our words. We need to devote more time to the art of writing and become more accepting of constructive criticism, especially if we want our community to have a lasting impression.

ronnie said...

great post!

(now usually that's where a blog comment would end eh? blogland encourages the lightest of engagement.... today I'll try for more depth)

I'm a visual artist and not a writer - so I'm not privy to the specific problems faced by you literary types BUT there are some things raised in this post that affect most aspects of published material (be it in blog/indie or mainstream media) AND as an artist our field has been increasingly forced to spew forth words to accompany our visual output - which for most of us is NOT a comfortable fit (but I'll whine about that another day)

what I WILL talk about is the lack of independent critique to be found in any media -- newspaper and mainstream media arts criticism has long since disappeared - replaced by advertorials (and this loss is felt especially keenly this week, with the death of Hughes, the last of the great art curmudgeons) No one seems willing or able to speak their minds lest they upset the advertisers....

you'd hope that indies and blogland may offer an alternate space for active criticism or a unique platform for independent (rigorous) thought - but (perhaps unsurprisingly) it doesn't seem to have worked out that way.... I've struggled to find many blogs and bloggers willing or able it seems to do just that. Instead bloggers seem keen to rush towards popularity (and a book deal) by taking the safest route - serving up sweet (primarily visual) feasts with lashings of pollyanna-esque platitudes....

Few arty bloggers offer an opinion (lest it upset a section of the followers.... oops! there goes the sponsorship) Few engage in healthy debate (online debates usually degenerate quite quickly into flaming and all manner of nastiness - we don't seem yet to be able to use the medium in a detached manner)

all that said - I do enjoy engaging with folk in blogland - in a light manner and/or in greater depth. I particularly enjoy work (visuals or words) that challenges my ideas.... expands my world.... makes me think....

and this post did just that - thanks

elsan said...

This is such a well written post, about the importance of writing well! :)
It helps me to realise that one (only one of the many) reasons that my blog has stagnated completely is because I don't seem to have time to write well, and therefore I'm not writing at all. I'm also so very pleased that there are ways to subscribe to blogs, because at the moment I don't even have much time to read. That may be the reason why visual posts, or the ones with little text, are more "read" than those you need to think through. At least I have all those wordy (in a good way) posts that require attention stored away to catch up on when I have time (this weekend actually :) ).

Hila said...

Petra: I agree that a part of this problem may be due to the audience. But not all of it. I think we the readers and consumers can cope with writing just fine, and the presumption that everything needs to be 'dumbed down', or made 'shorter' in posts or print articles is insulting to readers (this goes for both the mainstream media and Indie publications). This post is also about a separate issue: the lack of professionalism we've encountered in Indie magazines. The bigger magazines have been more professional to deal with. I find this sad as Indie publications have so much potential, and it may be based on a lack of knowledge in some large part, but we also get the sense it has a strong core of clique culture. This, of course, feeds into seeking the visual over the written (rather than a balance between the two), and it also means that written content in Indie magazines is often written by popular contributors who have little interest in writing, which is equally sad for us both - I mean, why not seek out and encourage writers instead, if you're aiming for quality?

Hila said...

Lin: I agree with you completely. Having worked with various editors in mainstream media, academia, big publishing houses and Indie publications, I can quite safely say there are certain professional codes that are there for a reason. And it's frustrating to see any critique on this issue get shut down as 'defensive' or 'negative'. I think constructive criticism is absolutely necessary to maintain integrity and quality in writing, and other artistic work. I mean, for heaven's sake, most of the work I've seen published with respected publishing houses has gone through a long and elaborate process of peer-review, critique and editing by several people. This is not 'negativity' but personal and professional growth.

Hila said...

Rooth: I don't view this as some competition between the written and visual. I just find it sad to see the written content so de-valued and unappreciated in magazines that have an underlying philosophy of quality and substance. I also find it sad that such magazines frequently turn away professional writers in favour of popular bloggers (who confess to not being writers). This is not just coming from my own experiences, but plenty of other writers I've spoken to. This is why Jane and I mentioned this post is much bigger than the both of us. I too make a fuss over the beautiful aesthetic and imagery, because I truly appreciate it and love it - I know that a lot of hard work goes into it and I admire people who create imagery as I lack the talent and skill to do the same. I just wish the same respect was shown to writing and to my own profession, for which I've been trained and have studied.

Hila said...

Michal: That's just the thing, we both want our community to have a lasting presence. We want it to be taken seriously. And this can sit along-side the 'lighter' content. Right now, all we see dominating however, especially in the print publications that arise from blogging, is a beautiful aesthetic. This aesthetic is lovely, but it makes us feel jaded as writers.

Hila said...

Ronnie: I agree with you, there does seem to be an underlying fear of raising debate, critique, actually having an opinion - out of fear of 'insulting' anyone, or turning readers away. It just feels immature to me. When did we all decide that constructive criticism and having an opinion was 'offensive'? There's a huge difference between pointless, random abuse and 'trolling', and constructive critique. When I think back to the people who have given me constructive criticism (like my editors, my colleagues, my friends, my lecturers), they have all done me the biggest favour by requesting that I think more about how I write and how it can be made better. That, to me, is a positive thing, and it shows they care about me.

Hila said...

elsan: Thanks :) It's not so much us berating people who don't have time to read long posts and such (because we're busy too). More about a whole host of issues we've been having about the way this community is being shaped and developing print output. I get that many independent endeavours are a personal thing, but if you make money out of it, and attach it to an underlying philosophy of quality, you have to practice what you preach. Does that make sense? By the way, I still need to email you my lecture notes, I haven't forgotten!

Fiona said...

Jane and Hila, I couldn't agree more. While I understand the communal aspect of independent businesses, this has to allow constructive criticism in order to ensure progress. The low barriers to entry mean that anyone can blog or begin an independent magazine, which is a good thing, but the market isn't then organised such that the output is considered critically, but simply accepted.

I've seen the 'feel free to unfollow' comment used in various situations, some of which showed it to be the completely appropriate response (i.e. where someone disagreed with the fundamental concept of a blog/magazine, or where someone was simply abusively rude), and others where it is just a way to brush off criticism.

Perhaps increasing email contact with bloggers and magazine editors (rather than comments, or moreover anonymous comments) would help this process?

Hila said...

Fiona: Such emails and email contact already occurs 'behind the scenes'. We don't want to attack anyone, the aim of this post is to be wholly constructive and come to an understanding of the value of critique. There comes a point though, when you need to be honest. For example, as I mentioned on Jane's blog, I've been dumbfounded at being turned away from indie publications on the basis of them only working with popular bloggers (and being told this upfront), rather than judging a written submission on its merit. And I know I'm not the only one. If a publication has an underlying philosophy of quality (and makes money off of it), this should apply to the writing as well and how it deals with submissions.

As you point out, I understand the more personal, individual and communal aspect of indie blogs, businesses and publications, and they are within their rights to do what they please. But when you make money off of it, set it up as a quality publication, employ people, and turn it into a business/career, there does need to be a certain level of professionalism applied. I fear becoming jaded by it all, and I fear I'm not the only one. I don't want to feel like that about a community that can also be incredibly loyal, welcoming and supportive.

odessa said...

Very well-said, Hila and Jane! This reminds me of a recent discusion that I had with a good friend about the book '50 Shades of Grey', when he said something along the lines of 'Who cares if the writing is crap? Shouldn't you be glad that people are enjoying what they read, and actually reading a book instead of watching Jersey Shores...?'

Well, I care. About the quality of writing, that is. Especially if people are paying for it. Same goes with magazines and popular blogs with paid advertisements. I had just read the whole debacle over at A Cup of Jo, I had no idea. Its interesting how some people are so quick to go up in arms and say things like "you guys are taking this too seriously, etc" to the ones who were voicing their opinion. I think blogging in general has a reputation for being a nice and supportive community so any constructive criticism is hushed, lest we ruin the community. But really, how can we grow if we don't call each other out and offer constructive feedback?

katpig said...

Thank you both for posting this! I have thought about these issues for a long time too, it's good to know others are as well. Lack of professional can be fine on your own blog but in a nation wide or international publication; is irritating, I just don't understand it. Writing, just like any other art form does need to be challenged continuosly.
Katherine

Hila said...

Odessa: yes, I read the 'why are you taking this so seriously' comments too. What's wrong with taking it seriously? What's wrong with holding career bloggers to a certain standard? That's not being unsupportive - I've had plenty of disagreements with my friends, and we're still friends. We don't stop supporting each other simply because of criticism. I think that because of the many abusive and trolling comments on blogs, constructive and valid criticism tends to be conflated with them as general 'negativity'. It's a shame, because Jane and I wouldn't bother writing such an article (and placing ourselves in the position of receiving considerable backlash) if we didn't care about this - which to me is a sign of support.

Hila said...

Katherine: Well, it's a relief to hear that some people agree with us. Sometimes I think we keep these concerns to ourselves too much.

Gracia said...

"If we can’t kindly and constructively voice our criticism, we’ll become jaded and ultimately abandon things that we believe could be worked on and improved if feedback could be voiced and incorporated. And that’s a sad option."

Hear, hear!

Thanks for this considered and timely piece, Jane and Hila.

I couldn't agree more with you both on the points you have raised.

Yours always in favour of quality and professionalism and courtesy,
G

Hila said...

To anyone who happens to be reading this post or the comments on it, may I also suggest you read the comments on Jane's blog (we published this post simultaneously on both our blogs, since we co-wrote it): http://seenandsaid.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/the-craft-of-writing-and-our-community.html

Jane's blog has a larger audience than mine, so there are more comments on her post. And I think they're interesting. I've also responded to a few comments on her blog myself. Thanks.

Hila said...

Gracia: Thanks for your support Gracia! We both appreciate it immensely.

Chuck said...

I love this post and I totally agree. I think writing is being undervalued and I strongly believe that editing is being almost totally neglected in these publications too. There is more to editing than just compiling material - it is a skill and a necessary skill and I think some people are forgetting that. On a very specific note, I also totally agree about Kinfolk. I just got my first copy and it is so beautiful, the visual side is perfect, but the writing is very disappointing. I just want someone to go in and edit the shit out of it! I've read so much praise for the magazine, why haven't I heard this mentioned before?? X

Hila said...

Chuck: Thanks, and I absolutely agree, editing is a skill, as is writing. To be totally honest, I'm fed up with seeing writing so undervalued.

With regard to Kinfolk: I want to stress that it's just one example out of many, this post is definitely not about a single publication (as that would be unfair of us). But to answer your question: I suspect that you haven't heard this mentioned because people are just afraid to say anything - considering the magazine is run and edited by a network of popular bloggers, other bloggers won't go out of their way to criticise it. Or they may just not care about the writing and love the imagery (which is fair enough). Jane and I love the imagery too, and like the people who work behind the magazine, and both think they genuinely work hard on the magazine. But we're also allowed to voice our (qualified and constructive) opinion about the writing, which is lacking. Many indie magazines mainly source their writing content from people who aren't writers, which seems counter-productive and discouraging to writers. There's a lot we can criticise bigger magazines about, but at least they are aware of the importance of sourcing writing from writers. The blog world (and its print manifestations) does seem to be consumed by the visual at the moment, so it's understandable that many visually beautiful indie magazines are popular online, with their writing quality barely mentioned or discussed.

Amelia said...

I agree with everything written in this post. I think the problem with some of these indie magazines is the fact that they have a lot of articles from people who aren't actual writers/bloggers. Now of course some bloggers are writers, but not all bloggers are writers. I don't think some blogging styles translate well in magazine format.

I read on and off a handful of indie magazines. I still haven't found something that I would consider truly worthwhile in terms of content. If you could give me any recommendations I would be more than thankful.

Hila said...

Amelia: "I think the problem with some of these indie magazines is the fact that they have a lot of articles from people who aren't actual writers/bloggers. Now of course some bloggers are writers, but not all bloggers are writers." I couldn't agree more. However, I have a feeling this post will just fall on deaf ears (I don't know how many established bloggers really care about this issue) - I highly doubt anything will change with regard to how they are run and source/treat written content. This post will probably just be ignored, then forgotten, and it'll be back to business as usual. I am feeling rather pessimistic by it all at the moment.

But let's move on from the doom and gloom! As for recommendations: I like Underscore Magazine - not just because I write for them, of course, but also because they actually bother to source writing content from writers. I can't think at the top of my head of other indie magazines I would recommend based on the writing. There are of course literary journals like Meanjin, Brick Magazine and The Paris Review - although they're not technically in the same camp as indie magazines, they are fascinating publications with quality writing and editorial standards. Sorry I can't be of more help, I really can't think at the moment ...

Jane Flanagan said...

I just want to pop in here and thank everybody for their responses and support of this post. It was difficult for both of us to write and publish and I am happy (and relieved!) that most people who have commented have done so with the same fair and open mind that was the spirit of our post.

I feel similarly to Hila. After writing a post like this, there's a bit of a "what next?" question. It's difficult to revert to normal blogging with the same skip in my step having revealed something that I (we) feel limits our ability to participate in this community. But, personal confusion and pessimism aside, I'm glad we wrote this post and thankful for your support in sharing these thoughts.

Jane

Danielle P. said...

It's taken me forever to formulate a comment to this very important and well-written post, because it touches on something that drives me utterly nuts!

Though I have no experience with media, I can bear witness to the decline in the quality of writing in documents intended for public consumption since I started my translation company in 1998; indeed, poor writing — in both form and content — seems to have become endemic over the past few years.

What I've found to be the prevalent attitude amongst my current clients regarding written content qualifies as laissez-faire. "Never mind all that, they [readers] will understand what I mean!" Newsflash: STRINGING WORDS TOGETHER DOES NOT EQUAL WRITING! I understand that, owing to lack of budget, people with little to no writing experience are often assigned copy writing tasks, and given very little support and time to produce content. However, I can't help wondering, is it really worth the savings? For me, form and content go hand in hand, the form supporting the content. Coherence adds credibility to the text; a badly written document loses much of its trustworthiness in my eye. This is only the visible part of the writing process, but what about lies BEHIND? I can't help but feel suspicion towards poor writing: if this writer couldn't be bothered to check their grammar/spelling/structure, how can I be sure they bothered to check their facts or to think things through?

One of the very first principles that were instilled in my fellow translation students and me at university was "Whatever is well conceived is expressed clearly, And the words to say it flow with ease" (from a poem by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/nicolas_boileau/il_est_certains_esprits.html)). I only wish it were more widely applied...

Hila said...

Jane: I'm glad we wrote this too, thank you for doing this with me.

Hila said...

Danielle: I agree with every word you've written. I definitely don't go around judging personal blogs, but when it comes to professional and paid publications and blogs, there do need to be some basic ethical standards. For me, this is not about requiring every blogger to be a writer, but recognising that written content has value too, as do writers.

I think in the over-infatuation with pretty imagery and design (which I admire too), we've developed a blogging and indie culture that doesn't even recognise the function of writing as both a profession and an art. Too many professional bloggers and indie publications view written content as simply descriptive, or secondary to the imagery and design. This is encapsulated by what you wrote about your clients: "Never mind all that, they [readers] will understand what I mean!" Language isn't just a descriptive tool. Writing is an art in itself, and deserves the same attention to detail. Seeing writing so undervalued in a medium such as blogging (and its print manifestations), makes me feel like there's little I can contribute to this community as it stands. However, I'm trying not to become too cynical, because there are still many people who understand where Jane and I are coming from. Thanks Danielle.

Rambling Tart said...

This is so interesting to me, Hila. I often wonder if this negligence in demanding quality in the written word is in response to the lack of willingness of readers to actually sit down and read, really READ blog posts. Skimming, skipping to the photos/artwork, seems to be the growing trend. I even see it in myself from time to time and shudder. Good writing is such a pleasure to read and I hope so much that we will celebrate it and critique it as writers, readers and publishers. I can't do much about the publishing end of things, but today I'm purposing to be a better reader, to really enjoy the writings I peruse.

Hila said...

Rambling Tart: You may be right of course, however I do want to make a distinction between personal and professional blogs here. There is definitely the aspect of lack of time, or simply, a laziness and unwillingness to engage with written content on the readers' behalf. But I also understand this, being a reader myself. I don't have time to read all the well-written blogs I want to, so I have to settle and read only a select few. But the ones I do read, I read properly. Honestly though, I understand readers who skim my own posts, and I don't judge them.

The critique here is more to do with the lack of respect to writers and writing in paid, professional and quality indie publications (stemming from blogs, in many cases). Jane and I simply want writing to be sourced and treated in the same enthusiastic and professional manner as the visual content. I know there's very little readers can do about the publishing end of things, but it's important nonetheless to have these conversations in plain view, rather than in private. And I certainly welcome anyone to practice being a better reader - including myself, because I'm not perfect!

M Gonzaga said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I am interested in what advice you have for an aspiring writer. In what ways can I participate in the writing community online? I too would like to see a deeper and more varied conversation about writing on the web. It seems to me, as you pointed out, that any disagreement or difference of opinion is immediately labelled as complete dissent or negativity. I would hope, as someone who enjoys writing and seeks to be successful in it, that my work would be encouraged by an audience's feedback to reach its full potential. This is not possible if one's writing is simply sent off into space and doesn't inspire any response. Thank you for offering your viewpoint. I found your post to be very insightful. If you can offer any advice I would greatly appreciate it.

Hila said...

M Gonzaga: I'm not sure what kind of useful advice I can offer, or if I'm in the position to offer it. For me, my blog fulfils a very specific purpose of giving me an outlet for my writing and ideas. And this has opened the door to 'meeting' other writers and receiving responses from readers. However, if I'm really looking for constructive criticism, I usually find it with my (real life) colleagues or editors. It's hard for me to give you advice about this because I'm feeling unsure at the moment myself, and so I don't have any answers.

louise said...

Thanks Hila and Jane for this piece. I completely agree with your thoughts on a need for professionalism, criticism, support for quality rather than popularity.

I think the best writing challenges, inspires and lifts us to consider, to see, and to understand more. It's a skill which takes much crafting, much work and dedication. And it's oh too often under appreciated. xolj

Hila said...

Louise: Thank you Louise, it's heartening to hear people agree, and we're relieved this post has, on the whole, been received so well by the people who have commented.

Tracey said...

Thanks for this post Hila. You and Jane have raised lots of points and issues that I've thought or grappled with myself. Reading this, and even though I'm only really starting out on a writing journey, I find myself nodding along in agreement.

It's tough 'out there' for writers in both the 'real' world and online ... much of what you talk about ever so eloquently is part of why I find myself grappling with blogging. So often good writing and quality content seems undervalued, and I find myself often caught up with the 'why bother?' question.

Hila said...

Tracey: I grapple with that 'why bother' question too. When I see a post with a picture of a purse, or a girl wearing an outfit, with two words, get hundreds of comments, and then a wonderfully written post on say, feminism, or a book, or some other interesting topic, get maybe one or two responses, I just feel there really isn't a sincere effort to engage with either written content or actual debate on blogs. The really popular blogs are the ones that bypass a focus on quality writing, and they're starting to look alike. I would love to see a handful, if not more, really popular well-written and text-focused blogs. Right now, if I want to read well-written content, I need to turn to well-known media outlets like the NY Times, and such, rather than turning to indie publications/blogs. This is sad, we should be able to accommodate both a love of the visual and a love of the written in indie culture.

As you said, it's already difficult enough for writers to find real and concrete avenues for their voice and writing, and so to have the media of blogging and indie publications seem like alienating avenues as well feels wrong. I don't really know what we can realistically do about it all as individual writers, but I'm not quite ready to give up, however disillusioned I may feel! But, I understood perfectly your own need to step away from your blog.

Anonymous said...

Do you read Virginia Postrel's Deep Glamour blog? Great writing.

Hila said...

Anonymous: Nope, I haven't, but I'll check it out now.

Anonymous said...

You should read chris hedges empire of illusion. It talks about a cultural shift from written to visual modes of communication.

Hila said...

Anonymous: I briefly looked up Empire of Illusion, and I think I need to read more - looks very interesting.

Jen said...

I'll preface by stating I haven't read the comments yet, because I'd like to respond to the post with my thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind.

The blogosphere has changed for me also. The blogs I used to fawn over now all tend to meld into one gorgeous looking visual work. They are beautiful. But where is the honest, though-provoking writing? It feels like a great big Look Book and I'm slowly unsubscribing from a lot of blogs and online indie mags for this very reason. I get excited about the words accompanying fantastic imagery, only to be let down. I know there are talented wordsmiths out there who are not getting an audience, and it is a shame that it's at the cost of the prettier looking pages. I truly crave good writing, and am at a bit of a loss where to find it in print and online sometimes. I hope things will change.

Hila said...

Jen: I hope things will change too, but realistically, I don't think they will. I think some bloggers and indie magazines have found a model for 'success', and their readers seem content emulating it and consuming it without a thought. I wish I could be more positive about things, but I can't.

Amanda said...

I read this post back when it was first published (and revisited it after Blood & Guts) and I'm really thankful that there are people in the blogging world that are thinking critically.

So many of these blogs are run and read by the same groups of people. It's an extremely incestuous community that doesn't allow much room for outsiders. Sure, if someone wants to leave praise, that's welcomed. If faced with any criticism however, they get defensive and fall back on "if you don't like it, don't read it." They support their own and don't feel they should have to hear criticism of any kind.

I think this kind of thinking is dangerous. It's a wonderful thing to have an international community like blogging world but everything needs a system of checks and balances to keep it honest.

I can appreciate all the hard work that goes into each issue of Kinfolk, but as noted above, the writing is not of the same quality and it is a shame that the same care isn't put into finding writing contributors. Kinfolk could be something truly special and stand out as original if those standards were held across the board but instead it's just become boilerplate. Want to start a popular blog? Post some images similar to those from Kinfolk (or reblog the same ones, who cares?!) and you've got an instant following without having to put any real thought or passion into it (and you're now a part of that community by default.)

I've seen some pretty dishonest things happening lately in the blog world and was shocked (although I shouldn't have been) at the reactions. The people that (rightfully) questioned the integrity of the blogger were made to feel like they were overreacting and the then whole "if you don't like it, you can unfollow" thing happened. There were also some "I'm sorry if you misunderstood" non-apologies and my entire opinion of this blogger turned sour.

I could go on and on but the point is that we deserve much better. There are millions of blogs out there and so relative few get any real traffic. It's not the readers' who are lucky that this community and these blogs exist, it's the bloggers that should feel privileged that they have an audience at all. We shouldn't just demand higher quality all around, it should just be a given.

Hila said...

Amanda: I agree with you that we need to be open to constructive criticism and have checks and balances in the blogging community. I think there are some bloggers who experience a certain level of success, and it seems that their ethics then fly out the window. This doesn't apply to all bloggers of course, I don't want to be unfair to the many, many bloggers who run their blogs ethically and who I think contribute enormously to the community. But there's an awful lot of ignorance, superficiality and unwillingness to be self-reflective about things that should be considered important. Even worse is the amount of fawning by some readers who won't allow any constructive discussion when one of their 'hero' bloggers are questioned about unethical practices - as Jane and I wrote, it leads to the most fanatical kind of 'support'. These same kind of issues flow into indie publications developed and created by bloggers - lack of critical awareness, fanatical and superficial support. It's not my game, and I actually find it all a bit bizarre, because it emulates the mainstream, rather than providing an alternative to it.

I've seen some pretty dishonest things occurring on blogs lately too, some by bloggers whose blogs I've been following for years, and I've subsequently had to turn away from such blogs. I don't know where we go from here, but at the very least, we should question this behaviour and require more. It makes me feel so depressed thinking about those lesser-known, but fantastic bloggers I follow, who are much more deserving of attention and praise.