Diving for Cover: Why Fiction Blogs Are So Scarce

30 07 2007

Having put myself on this beat a while ago now, I’ve sort of gotten used to being the only one doing it. I’ve also begun to accept the fact that, much to my surprise and even chagrin, blogs with literary intent haven’t blossomed and spread in anything like the profusion I expected. Indeed, in the past couple of years we seem to have lost more than we’ve gained. I’ve been able to find even fewer active lit blogs than I could three years ago when they seemed to be everywhere and about to explode into an important segment of the blogosphere.

I’m not sure why this is. Blogs are just another form, not inherently hostile to literary aspirations as Dan Roentsch has certainly proved. Yet his is the only fiction blog that aspires to the form that I’ve found and one of the very few still active that continues to attract a large readership. In the beginning I put it down to blogging’s newness, assuming that lots of comic and fiction writers just didn’t know about it yet. But three years have passed since I started doing this and everybody now knows what blogs are even if they don’t read them, so ignorance is no longer an excuse.

Is there something about the form that turns writers off? Hardly possible. I used to edit a small lit zine back in the day and even though we paid nothing, were expressly looking for off-track stories, and had at our height fewer than 300 subscribers, we received hundreds of submissions a month. Most were over-written but many were short-shorts, little more than prose poems. Larger zines got thousands of submissions a month, were literally buried under them to the point that they had to declare a moratorium, sending manuscripts back unopened for 6 months out of the year. You’d think such a rich and varied subculture, frustrated by standard publishing mechanisms, would have gravitated to self-publishing – which is, after all, what blogging is all about – in droves. Yet it hasn’t happened.

I confess myself mystified. It’s hard to believe that all those wanna-be’s who fill up writing classes coast-to-coast and bury the few zines left that accept fiction under avalanches of submissions until the editors yell “Uncle!” have suddenly disappeared or stopped writing fiction or turned up their noses at the easiest self-publishing platform ever devised. So where the hell are they all? Why aren’t they here?

I know they exist. I’ve tried searching the net using keywords like “fiction blogs” and “story blogs” and “poetry blogs” etc, but what comes up usually aren’t blogs dedicated to stories or poems but blogs dedicated to showing writers how to sell their stories and poems. And many of them have reasonably large readerships and lots of questions and comments from aspiring writers.

Is this what we’ve come to in a mercantile age? People only write to make money? That’s just as hard to believe as any other explanation. Writing for money is much harder today, probably, than at any time in the past. Not only are they doomed to failure if that’s the reason they write, simply because of the competition, but they’re not working from a genuine need to express themselves. They’re not writers, they’re authors.

A friend of mine who’s a professional writer explained the difference this way: A writer writes because s/he has to. S/he could no more stop writing than s/he could stop breathing. It’s in the bones, in the brain, as much a part of you as your eyes or your fingers. An author writes for fame, money, recognition, validation. If/when they don’t get them from writing, they’ll go on to something that shows more promise of giving them what they want/need. But surely they’re not all authors.

Keeping a blog is hard work if you do it every day. But of course, you don’t have to do it every day. I’d expect lit blogs to be somewhat more sparsely updated than political blogs or personal journals – Dan may only add a new chapter every three or four months. But I think now that we’re closing in on the key – the frequency, the grind – and the audience.




4 responses

10 07 2009

He put his eye to the hole. He just managed to spy some people sitting in deckchairs chanting, before a finger came out of nowhere and poked him in the eye. As he staggered back, the people started chanting, “Fourteen, fourteen, fourteen…”

8 07 2011

Interesting post! I’m one of those wanna be’s (possibly over writing too) who has just started having a crack at blogging- I think that the presentation and immediate audience element of it put a bit more pressure on me which is good. However, it doesn’t necessariliy suit the medium. For example, online reading is typically superficial, governed by a search for instant reward in the form of hyperlinks. Also, most writing online succeeds through sensationalist catchphrases and web software designers look to make publishing as fast as possible, not to encourage deep thought endless revision and sophisticated narrative structures typical of literature. Nonetheless, I think Dickens might have been a successful blogger!

10 07 2011
Steve McKeand

Dan is right. I don’t write because I want to write but because I have to. What I write is not exactly literary fiction. I have a men’s magazine sense of humor. I also post some essays and articles. Obviously, my blog is not for everyone. I don’t know if you are interested but it is: http:://macsbackporch.fictionforall.com

3 12 2013

Dan isn’t the one who said that. That was Phil Troupe, who used to write for the Washington Star.

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