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BEFORE YOU ASK: yes, I’ve already grasped the irony of raising this subject on a blog.

Anyway, irony aside, I’ve been noticing different threads of a similar conversation in several articles around the web, and they all boil down to this question: Can a writer blog, tweet, digg, vlog, tumbl, and whatever else – and still get down to the actual business of writing, too, with the same effectiveness?

We all know social media can be a great networking tool: it helps us make contacts, collaborate with other writers, set up meetings, and even land gigs.

But what about the impact of the ever-growing social media in our lives on the purely literary side of our efforts?

Over at the Poetry Foundation’s online journal, Adam Kirsch writes:

The Internet has democratized the means of self-expression, but it has not democratized the rewards of self-expression. Now everyone can assert a claim to recognition—in a blog, Tumblog, Facebook status update. But the amount of recognition available in the world is inexorably shrinking, since each passing generation leaves behind more writers with a claim on our memory. That is why the fight for recognition is so fierce and so personal…

If that is the case, then the best strategy for writers in the age of the Internet may be to ignore the Internet and look down on it. If print is a luxury, make it a rare and exclusive one; if literature is antidemocratic, revel in its injustice. Make sure that the reward of recognition goes to the most beautiful and difficult writing, not to the loudest and neediest.

Responding to Kirsch on the VQR blog, Jacob Silverman agrees:

I would recommend that writers avoid the internet (for few can skip over it entirely, except for someone living off the grid like Carolyn Chute or a member of the established old guard, perhaps no better personified than in the quasi-prophetic voice of Cormac McCarthy, calling from a mountaintop) not because by immersing themselves in the Web they meet their critics on their own ground, becoming caught in the same muck they ostensibly hold themselves above, but because more than anything, such activities are simply a waste of time….

[B]efore one works one’s way out, how many hours are wasted? How much stress and emotional concern and how many thousands of words devoted to, say, a litblog vs. lit mag showdown that concerns no one beyond the immediate participants and their friends?

In a separate thread at Poets & Writers, Frank Bures has also been pondering the impact of all this digital communication on writing.

“As a writer, I have always strived to carve out this place where I can think my own thoughts, where I can let all that’s rolling around in my mind congeal into something (hopefully) new and interesting,” Bures writes.

But if that was difficult to do two decades ago… it’s a million times more difficult now. Today, it seems that we have access to an unlimited amount of information all the time, and for those of us who want to be alone with our thoughts, that information is getting harder and harder to avoid.

…What does all this mean for writers? It means that from the comfort of our own chairs we can research the hell out of whatever we’re writing, while keeping up on the latest celebrity scandals, political polls, and the flood of e-mail. But a growing body of research shows that we pay a price for this constant stream of information.

And that price, according to Bures and some of the writers he interviewed (including a favourite travel writer of mine, Tom Bissell)?


Obviously I’m hardly anti-blog (please see above-noted irony) but I do think there’s something to all this. If I’m working on a longer piece – a personal essay, say – I always close my email, all my browser windows, sometimes I even unplug the high speed entirely.

I only do that rarely, though, under special circumstances. The rest of the time I bounce between Word, Google Docs, Twitter, email, and an assortment of blogging platforms.

Does my writing suffer as a result? Does yours?

Photo by sindesign (Creative Commons)



About The Author

Eva Holland

Eva Holland is a freelance writer, Senior Editor of World Hum and a longtime contributor to the Matador community. She lives in Canada’s Yukon Territory and blogs about Alaska and Yukon travel at Travelers North.

  • geotraveler

    Totally feel you on this one Eva. One can easily spend hours hopping across blogs, Facebook, iGoogle RSS feeds, twitter, etc before getting any actual work done. Plus, one can easily begin to lose their true writing voice because it becomes peppered with ideas and other styles that subconsciously infiltrate their writing. Social media is invaluable in so many regards, but once in a while, slowly backing away from the computer is required to keep one's sanity in check.

  • tom

    Very smart article Eva. I have been lamenting this too. I'm going to skip the blogging/tweetering/whatever's-invented-next while traveling next year for the sake of actually writing something with more substance and polish.

  • ianmack

    Just found this great post from Seth Godin on the same topic. "The opportunity, then, is to organize and network and identify and reward that activity when it happens online. Not because the site is owned by a paper or because the founder has connections to the old media. No, because they're doing work that matters." ” target=”_blank”>…

  • Turner

    I think mine definitely does. As I opened this in a new window I was already building my profile for Trazzler, watching my site traffic for KPIJ, checking out the latest on Comedy Central, and clicking link after link I found to be interesting… I think I was originally just looking for a list of worldwide hot springs.

  • Kim@Galavanting

    I agree all those things can be totally distracting. Setting aside time each day or week to totally focus on writing is really important. Or when I'm traveling abroad I usually only do a little blogging and tweeting, and pretty much ignore everything else to focus on the experience (how else could I report on it, if I didn't truly experience it??). But the thought of writers ignoring the internet entirely reminds me of a Western Union internal memo from 1876: "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." Famous last words.

  • David_Miller

    my writing flows a hundred times better when I'm away from all electrical outlets. . .

  • AccountingElf

    I think that everyone needs to turn their computer off at some point to get some work done, but I don't think that there's anything specifically *bad* about travel writers blogging. People turn to the internet first, so you have to offer them something to get your name out there. I'm not going to buy a book because I search for "touring italy" and your website tells me nothing except "Buy this book." I think because of the internet, you now have to offer a sample of your writing for free, because so much writing IS free, and then convince the people that the book has something different and special in it. (For example, has tons of useful travel articles, but if I want to read all the self-guided walking tours he has for a country, I have to buy the book.)

  • Britany Robinson

    Turning off the outside world and sitting at a desk with nothing but your laptop and thoughts is a very romantic view of writing- one that I wish materialized more often for me. But as a young writer whose trying to gain a foothold in the travel writing community, its a requirement to develop an online presence. Comments on other writer’s blogs and submissions to websites often request a link to your blog and/or twitter account.  I view my blog as my resume- a requirement to catching an editor’s attention, both creatively and efficiently. I do struggle with deciding whether my latest great idea belongs on my blog, or if I should hold off and pitch it to someone. Its a matter of judgement that as an aspiring journalist, I’m still trying to figure out.

    ps. check out my blog :)

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