Stop The Presses: Writing in the Internet Age
Just a couple of days ago, I sought in vain for a "recall" function on my email application. Of course there was none. My message had already been delivered, to the wrong recipient and containing thoughts I wished it hadn't. That person had sent me a note earlier, critiquing a community activity I am involved with. I thought I was forwarding the note, along with some commentary that, had I had my wits about me, I would not have committed to writing. Instead, I had replied. Intending my words for someone else, my commentary had opined that the original writer had sent the message in haste.
The irony, of course, is that my accusation of hastiness was itself made rashly, and I paid the price in remorse.
This was not the first time I had felt that twinge of panic, the desire for recall. Who among us has not wished we could un-say something?
* * *
I am a blogger. For years, I resisted using the word. While I might speak it, I would take pains not to write it, even when referring to the things. This was for philosophical reasons: I saw nothing fundamentally different about a blog from any other small, published work, like a newsletter. It just happened to be there on your screen instead of in a pile on your desk.
But, while there may be little difference between these two products, I have learned there is an important difference in how they get produced and consumed.
Like many writers, I typically ply my trade around the margins of a workday. Writing for pleasure, after all, pays little. So I write in the late evenings and in the early mornings, before the sun's up. When I am on a roll, in the dark, with my coffee, there's a certain adrenaline-charged intimacy. I craft and cut, finally reading the piece over a few times to make sure it's right. The essayist's euphoria, of having said something clever and in a clever way, mounts. I push the button, and you see it.
Too, too often, the piece would benefit from sitting, if even a few hours. When I save it and return later, I invariably find an unsupported point in my argument or an intemperate sentence that needs to be ratcheted back. Mostly, though, I don't wait. It's done. Get it out there!
But that essayist's euphoria leads to hubris. I know that I should pass my words by another, that I should wait and re-edit when the flush and glow of creation has subsided. But my lower self, the self who is under the influence of that euphoria, knocks such considerations aside: "You've thought hard about this, and crafted carefully," says this lower self. "There is nothing more to do. People must read it!"
The hubris lies in the fact that I have been down this road many times. It's not an isolated slip.
The thing about blogs, publication under the influence is the norm. Large sites, like Pajamas Media and others, have editorial controls in place. But most smaller blogs have little, if any, apparatus to ensure quality. We self-publishers work alone, think alone, write alone. We must fabricate our own mechanisms to keep our hands away from the publish button. For many of us, this is a greater task than we are capable of.
Just a few hours, maybe a day, to separate the euphoria from the editing.
But the medium of blogging leaves little room for that. When I publish, I feel as if I am passing something directly to my readers. If I am to believe my statistics, many of my readers are reading at about the time I am writing. I want to keep that early morning (or late night) intimacy.
* * *
I got a note back from my mistaken email. It was very professional and we basically agreed to move on. Notably, my correspondent thought it important to respond to my accusation of "rashness" and pointed out that the original email took forty five minutes to write. That's long enough, I thought, to write a very thoughtful email -- but not long enough for the euphoria of creation to subside.
The World Wide Web, and the ubiquity of e-mail, have brought writing back into the culture of everyday people. There are millions of budding essayists across the globe. We have a medium that beckons us to share our thoughts, some deep, some shallow, some spiteful, some hilarious.
It will be a measure of our growth to see how many of us are able to moderate what we do and write pieces that, in the harsh light of day, stand up and sing as beautifully as they did in the twilight of dawn.
Brad Rourke writes a column on public life called Public Comments, produces a videolog called Taxonomies, is a founder of the Maryland neighborhood blog, Rockville Central, and is in a band called The West End.