This Is Why I Don’t Write Books (Not Really)

The fact that Penguin is suing authors for neither writing a book nor returning the advance they were given to do said writing is a weirdly entertaining concept to me, for some reason (Despite the fact that one of the authors being sued is Ana Marie Cox, whom I happen to enjoy as a writer more than a little bit). What makes it especially interesting to me is that all of the authors being sued are non-fiction writers; is it just that non-fiction writers flake so badly on contractual agreements, or is there something else happening here?

Part of me really likes the idea of one day writing a book, but then I see this and I just imagine myself being one of those non-fiction writers who’d end up having to hand back payments after missing the deadline or two.

On Ana Marie Cox (Briefly)

I have long found myself identifying with Ana Marie Cox; I loved her writing when she was Wonkette, but since she left and went off to do her own thing, I’ve found myself following her from outlet to outlet and wondering whether I am destined to follow in her footsteps by accident (We both have the Gawker Media then Time thing happening). She was interviewed by Talking Points Memo this week about her media intake and output, and there are bits in there that just keep buzzing around my head:

What’s your writing day like?

I still appreciate all the things that are still cliche about the blogger. I do wear draw-string pants all day. I get up, I read, I email with my editor. I have a quota of about three pieces a week. The Guardian is not very rigid about what that looks like. I’m very lucky. I get to kind of pick the topics I’m passionate about. I’m most productive in the middle of the day or the end of the day. It’s been a kind of hard thing to learn about myself.

When I talked to The Guardian, blogging didn’t make sense anymore. It’s 140 characters or it’s something more thoughtful, or longer. People don’t really have an appetite for that 200-to-150 word post, I don’t think.

What’s the future of the “blog”?

I was an American history major, and leaned heavily on Marxist interpretations of history. Means of production determines what it is we trade. The technology supported the kind of short form, but not shortest form, posts of classic blogging. And technology now supports something different. It will depend on what technology supports, and what can be profitable. The blog format was not profitable. Who knows what is? I still think we might go back to nailing up signs on telephone poles.

One thing that can’t be undone: we will never go back to a period where only a privileged few get to put their voices out. I think journalists are finally coming to terms with that.

What use is Twitter?

Besides the news speed, I guess as a writer, my personality as a writer has always been that I like working within a form. If I was a poet, I’d write haiku. The restrictions and constrictions fit me, they bring out the trouble maker in me. Definitely Twitter does that. The trick of being able to say something in 140 characters is something I get satisfaction from pulling off. In a way Twitter is the area of writing where I am truly doing writing for its own sake. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I have added something to a conversation.

Should journalism be entertaining?

Of course. Not always, but it’s not bad to be entertaining. I sometimes think, there are journalists and writers who, when it’s convenient, call themselves entertainers. I’ve been guilty of that myself. Sometimes you practice journalism whether you like or not.

At what point does humor get in the way of a serious point? Does it ever?

It doesn’t have to get in the way. What I’ve learned the hard way is that if you offend enough people, they will lose sight of the point you are trying to make. There’s a way you can use offense to make a point. It’s an area that I can’t give you any boundaries about. It is a risk that I’m obviously willing to take a lot of the time. It’s what passes for maturity in my world that I try to sometimes rein it in because I feel like the point I want to make is more important than shock value.

There’s a lot there that I’m still unpacking; I feel like I totally agree on the use of Twitter as “pure” writing, as well as the line about offending enough people that they lose sight of the point you’re trying to make. I got the funniest brush-off from someone I’d reached out to on Twitter today for a Time piece, and it just made me think that he was one of those people; he’d decided that I was “the enemy” and had better things to do with his time. Ah, well.

“It’s 140 characters or it’s something more thoughtful, or longer.” I keep coming back to that. I don’t think she’s wrong.