The Columbia Spectator hosted a panel about about Careers In Journalism as part of a conference they were having over the weekend. I was on it and I got this mug! Being on this panel was a rewarding experience (not fiscally. Though, it is a good mug.) The Q&A portion of any panel is thinly disguised versions of the question “Do people really get paid a living wage to write things, and how can I make absolutely sure that I become one of them?” so it was nice that, at this panel, no one had to pretend they were asking about anything else. Also, it’s a good question. (I wish I knew the answer.)
I also had the unprecedented experience of agreeing with almost everything my fellow panelists Joe Coscarelli, Megan Greenwell, Margaret Sullivan and Joy Resmovits said. But I had one minor dissenting opinion and it has been bothering me ever since. It was during the part of the panel where we were talking about how you should never write for free except when you should, and Megan Greenwell said something about Tumblr and how you should use it as a scratchpad — I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I think someone could have interpreted what she said to mean that she thinks you should make a clear distinction between your official writing — which you get paid for — and your half-formed tumblthoughts, which you don’t, so anything goes.
I sat there wanting to say, “No! Please don’t interpret this as a dispensation to just scribble whatever, whenever on your tumblr and hit ‘Create post.’ Everything we publish, even if we only publish it ourselves, can have consequences and re(blog)percussions we can’t forsee. Polish all your writing that’s publicly available, even if it’s just something you’re writing ‘for yourself.’ Scribble in a notebook!”
But then I realized I don’t really believe that, either. I spoke to a nonfiction-writing workshop a few weeks ago, and they asked me whether I thought they should start blogs. And to them I said, “No fucking way! Unless it’s the only way you can get yourself to write, in which case definitely yes.” If the idea of an audience reading your work is what enables you to extract something from yourself, anything goes.
I guess there are no hard and fast rules about this stuff. Okay, one: respect your audience enough to read your post over a few times, possibly out loud, and spellcheck. Oh and don’t preachily offer unsolicited advice, oops.