Bloggers, Writers, the Past and the Future
It all started yesterday on Twitter. Somebody made some offhand comment about a recent interview with travel writer Paul Theroux. I haven’t read the interview but apparently Mr. Theroux made some not nice comments about travel bloggers. The ever grumpy elder statesman of travel writing inferred that some travel bloggers are borderline illiterate.
You can imagine the backlash and ultra-knee-jerk reaction in the travel blogging world. What started me thinking was one sarcastic comment that Paul was ‘probably jealous because he didn’t have a blog and could only write books.’ The comment, perhaps meant to be ironic got me thinking about how I feel about blogging in the modern world.
As a writer people always ask me about blogging. Do I have a blog? What do I think about bloggers? What’s the difference between a writer and a blogger? Interesting questions all, and to answer I have to tell you a story about where I came from as a writer.
When I was starting out as a writer way back when we were scared about Y2K and Facebook sounded like something from Star Trek the writing world was a different place. I vividly remember submitting my first published article to a magazine. I typed out the story on my shitty old computer and printed, yes printed, it out (onto paper) and mailed it to the editor. He liked it and had it re-typed to go into the magazine. By the time my second article went to print I mailed the editor of the magazine a floppy disc with the article on it. This wasn’t the dark ages, this was 12 years ago.
Fast-forward to today and everything is so different words elude my comparison. Beyond delivery of material how words are published is vastly different. There used to be a stewardship of writing for little magazines, newsletters, community papers and whatever you could, ‘to get your name out there.’ Actually getting a written piece with your name on it in front of somebody else who didn’t have the same last name was a really big deal. The option to self publish either in print or digitally simply didn’t exist. For better or worse that was the system.
From that system a culture of writers grew that had truly paid their dues. We wrote for shitty publications with zero distribution just to get experience with editors. We wrote about stuff we didn’t want to and put up with terrible edits to further our career. We hit the phones, cold called everyone in the business we could find and after years of hard work, obscurity and soul crushing rejection we, in some cases, found success. I’m one of the lucky ones; I came through the other side with a career and my soul intact. Many very talented people didn’t make it through with either.
To become a blogger takes zero training, zero experience, zero investment and in some cases almost zero understanding of the English language. Don’t get me wrong I’m not bemoaning the current system; the opportunity for novice writers to get their work ‘in print’ is fantastic. When new writers ask me the best way to get into the industry, the first thing I tell them to do is start a blog. Having that outlet for the world to see your work is a fantastic privilege, not to be understated.
My gripe comes at the culture that has evolved around the travel blogging world. This sub-sect of writers in some cases has reached a level of self awareness that exceeds their actual value in the writing and travel world. There is a certain lose of touch with reality. You could spend days reading self serving posts that do nothing other then scattergun key words and contextual links like self promotional projectile vomit. Blogs that disguise themselves as information portals for modern travelers that are nothing more than business to business sewing circles for other bloggers. Self serving circle jerks of traded links, top five whatever’s in wherever and two hundred word soulless articles about nothing.
Not all travel blogs or their authors are like this. The writing stars of the future are writing blogs today. What I don’t like is the glass ceiling that they have installed upon their own world. Twitter handles and blogs titled uber-narrow minded things like ‘So and So’s Round the World Trip’. What happens when the trip ends? Does the blog fold up shop too? Is the travel writing world cursed to have new writers spit out like some sort of social media Pez dispenser?
I’m not bitter that I started my writing career in a different time. I’m super excited about the writing world today. Technology and opportunity have come together and the relevance of the humble scribe has never been more vital. Where my, I’ll call it annoyance lies is what this revolution has done to my profession. The culture of travel bloggers has adversely affected travel writing as a whole. There is a subset of travel bloggers who see writing a blog as reason enough to demand freebees from tourism operators, unethically praise and slander based upon gratis hostel stays and cheap airfares. This has created a culture of expectation where travelers are gravitating towards blogging to help fund their trips as opposed to writers, writing quality work. Work that inspires people and lets them live a vicarious dream through their well chosen words.
Travel writing as a whole is suffering; the quality is decreasing as fast as the word counts. The long form travel story is an endangered species and nearly impossible to find online. The status quo has been hijacked not by superior talent but by those who see writing as a means to an end and not the end itself.
I started writing because I loved the way that words fit together. I loved the sound of a good sentence and the feeling when those words came from me. It was a rush, a creative outlet that kept me up at night and shaped who I’ve become. I started writing about travel because I was a writer that went traveling not as a means to keep the trip going.
That feeling of excitement when a good turn of phrase arrives on the page is still a part of my life every day. I want my world to be filled with colleagues who feel the same. Writers who look at a blank page as the first step in a journey, a metaphorical adventure into the written world and nothing more.
Perhaps this trend in travel blogging will reverse engineer some fine writers. Writers who arrived at writing via a strange route. I hope so. But to those of you out there who were quick to dismiss Mr. Theroux and his offside remark to bloggers be mindful of where you came from, why you are writing and where you see yourself five years from now. As writers we all hold the responsibility to inspire the next generation of travelers. Let’s inspire them to chase their dreams, see the world, experience new cultures and arrive home a new person. Extolling the virtues of playing the system and polluting the wordsmith gene pool with senseless drivel does nothing but damage us all.
May 19, 2011