What I like most about writing this blog is that it leads to conversations with people all around the world. I get advice, and sympathy, and connection, and crankiness, and humor, and on and on, until my three page investment turns into days of feeling like I am not at all alone.
The blog has taken the shape it has as a result of both the comments I get and the blogs I read. I’m not isolated or impervious; I absorb what I read and what I see and, mostly unconsciously, I challenge myself in response. The community aspect of blogging is so satisfying, but I still feel like a second tier writer, because I haven’t been accepted by the cool kids at the publishing houses and literary magazines.
I’ve been getting rejection letters from agents and publishers, telling me that I am a wonderful, talented, exquisite writer, but… but what? Isn’t that what I’ve spent my life working towards? Isn’t that the point? I can’t even begin to understand the market forces that turned publishing into this quagmire, whether there are just too many writers trying to get published, or too few publishers willing to take a risk.
When I was first looking for a graduate program in creative writing, and collecting rejections from the schools I’d applied to, I was told that MFA programs weren’t interested in my writing ability, they were interested in the uniqueness of my story. The writing, they believed, they could teach me, but they couldn’t teach me how to be interesting. I think agents and editors have taken the same view. They’re looking for a hook, a unique story, something the world is currently clamoring for, and if they have to rewrite every word, so be it. Most of them have graduate degrees in writing themselves.
It has been suggested to me that I try to make this blog into book, because dogs are popular lately, because people seem to like my blog posts, and because my novels are not getting picked up. But I don’t know. It feels like I’d be trying to make a piano into a guitar.
I’ve been reading through my blog posts from the beginning, and I’m not as disappointed as I was afraid I would be, but I’m also not magically coming up with an idea for how to structure it. Is it a book about writing the blog, or is it a book of the blog, not self-conscious, not even revised so much as sewn together?
When I first started the blog, I was squeamish about memoir writing. One of the things I like most about writing fiction is that I can change things for the better. I can make up lives that I would want to live. It took me a while of writing blog posts to get desperate enough and brave enough to put more memoir and risk into the posts; to tell people who I really am, when I’m not just trying to be acceptable. And a lot of people reached out to me as a result, and showed deep understanding and compassion for me that I would never have gotten if I’d left out the painful parts.
I had a creative non-fiction teacher who said that the best way to write an essay is to bring two separate ideas together, and the drama and surprise will come from the place where the two ideas meet. I kept that in the back of my mind, not really getting it, until maybe a year into writing this blog. I started to notice that no matter how unrelated my chosen topic seemed to be to the theme of the blog – dogs – as soon as I forced myself to find a connection, the essay came together. For some reason, just writing about each topic that interests me can get bogged down, tedious, and flat, but when I try to combine it with the dogs, I find new things, new angles, that I didn’t know were there.
I feel like every six months or so, I let myself reach down another level, admitting things that are scary to admit in public, showing another layer. And I’ve needed to do it this way, at this pace. I can only push my boundaries a little bit at a time, and only when I feel ready. I think there’s still a lot of room for me to grow, and that makes me worry about turning this into a memoir too soon.
I don’t want to lose this.