Monday, July 27, 2009

Do good blog posts come in small packages?

Today I had a (very civil) altercation with a Gen Y blogger who argued that people won't read blog posts of more than a paragraph, or a few paragraphs at most.
'You can write more than that if you want,' he shrugged. 'If you want to waste your time. But people won't read it.'

I admit that I was pretty passive in this discussion. Most of my comebacks consisted of skeptical looks and a lack of enthusiasm in my agreement to write blog reports of a paragraph or so for him. This was partly because I'm an anonymous blogger and thus couldn't argue using my own experience; partly because this guy does online communication for a living, so I couldn't help wondering if he was right and I was wrong. (And yes, I admit that I have a tendency to go on for too long in my posts, one that nobody calls me on because I am - dangerously - my own editor.)

But still ... I couldn't help thinking about the Meanjin blog, Spike, the ever-prolific Angela Meyer's Literary Minded, James Bradley's fantastic blog, City of Tongues, and Mark Sarvas's The Elegant Variation. All of these blogs combine short posts with longer, in-depth thought pieces or examinations of writers, writing or other topics - and they're all highly successful blogs. And writers like Penni Russon and Rachel Power use their blogs to explore thoughts and issues or to share snippets of their lives, in a very readable and engaging way. I feel lucky and privileged to be able to follow sites like these free of charge, often accessing writing I'd be happy to discover in the print media.

And writer/bloggers Krissy Kneen and Christopher Currie, both from fabulous independent bookshop Avid Reader in Brisbane, have both recently won publishing contracts from Text for books that began life as stories on their blogs.

I don't know if I agree that form necessarily dictates content. It's true that it's nicer and easier to read long pieces in print; but one of the huge benefits of new technology is that it provides a forum for intelligent discussion and exploration of all kinds of topics, without the writer needing funding to create a platform for communication, or to place their story with the right editor at the right time, with the right angle and style for the chosen publication. I think there's a place for snappy news blogs and websites - like Genevieve Tucker's Reeling and Writhing, Jessa Crispin's Bookslut and Canada's Bookninja. But there's also a place for longer writing that takes advantage of the free and easy platform the internet provides.

That's what I wish I'd said to my Gen Y friend today, instead of just looking unhappy.

But I'm really, really curious to hear what other people think. Is shorter better online? For certain kinds of online writing, or certain audiences? Or does it depend on the writer and the topic and the day?


I've just come across this argument for my side from the denizen of litblogging, Jessa Crispin of Bookslut, interviewed by Hackpacker:

"For a while, the only writing about literature you could find online was short, highly opinionated blogs. I remember being told that people don't want to read things of length online, you can never publish quality original content online. I thought, bullshit. I went ahead with publishing 5,000 word interviews with authors, 15-minute videos, etc. I've been proven right, because more lengthy content gets posted online all the time: podcasts, videos, long form essays. Even from the same people who said no one would care."

Still, please do tell me if you have another opinion. I'm genuinely curious to see what people think on this.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Not getting away with anything

Last night, I called F at his Dad's house to wish him luck for today's Footy Fun Day. He came to the phone sniffling.
'Hey, F.'
'Hi Mum.' Soggily.
'What's up?'
'I didn't get any ice cream.' His voice descended into sobs. 'And I didn't get any last night either. And it's because I had lemonade, but I didn't KNOW lemonade meant I wouldn't have ice cream. And I'm so stupid, I hate myself. And I'm so ANGRY.'
I tried to calm him down, reminding him he always has fruit for dessert at Dad's house anyway and that crying won't change anything.
'Can I come to your house?'
'What? When?'
'Right now?'
"Yes. I've had enough here.'
I told him, gently but firmly, that while he's always very welcome, he can't come to one parent's house when the other is annoying him or has punished him. I promised him that if he felt the same in the morning and it was okay with Dad, he could come back early.
'Anyway,' I said, 'We were calling to wish you luck for tomorrow.'
'Aren't you coming?'
'Um ... no. You don't need me to come. Your Dad's coming. He hasn't seen you play for two weeks.'
'I want you to come too. Please come.'

I know it's selfish, but I'm exhausted after three weeks of mostly having F while his Dad has been overseas and interstate and has had visitors (and while I've had absolute mountains of work to do). Three weeks that have been relatively eventful, as far as football goes. Weeks in which we've had tears and tantrums and bullying and misbehaviour and F throwing himself face down in dirt and rubbing it on his face as self-punishment. In which I've wanted to punch another parent for overstepping boundaries and have been rigid with anger and frustration about miscommunication with his coach. I needed a break from football. And Footy Fun Day, which I would have to attend without The Husband, was scheduled to stretch over most of the Sunday, and would involve me hanging out with F's Dad all day. F's Dad, who rang me on Friday to tell me various things F had said about me. ('You can't get away with anything you know! He tells me everything!') My misdemeanours had included buying him honey-flavoured Weetbix and offering him a packet of M&Ms to get his hair cut at my hairdresser's instead of his Dad's barber's. (His Dad's barber gives him biscuits.)

'Sorry, hon, but I can't come. I'll be at the Footy BBQ next weekend, though.' Momentary silence on the other end of the phone, broken by dark muttering. 'Anyway,' I continued, 'Did you tell your Dad this week that I don't care about head lice?'
'Oh. Yeah.'
'What was that?'
'I dunno.'
'Of course I care. I just didn't notice you had it.'
'Yeah, well, Dad says you're rubbish at noticing things.'
'WHAT? He said WHAT?'
In the background, I heard F's Dad shouting 'I did not! I did NOT say that! You tell your Mum I didn't say that!'
F sighed.
'Yeah, well, actually Dad didn't ACTUALLY say that. But I reckon he thinks you're rubbish at noticing things, cos he said to me, Oh, you're at Mum's for two weeks and she doesn't notice you've got lice and you're with me for two days and I notice.'
'F, I think I have to go. I think I should not say anything to that.'
'Okay Mum. Bye.'

And he hung up, leaving me gaping at the phone and looking meaningfully at The Husband.
'Did you HEAR that?'
'Yeah. Don't worry about it. It's just stupid.'

His Dad's barber cuts his hair to look like his Dad's. His Dad was brought up by a military family and went to an English boarding school and you can still tell when you look at him. His Dad's barber is likely losing his eyesight too: after a haircut, random long strands unexpectedly wisp across his forehead or brush his cheek. The Husband usually fixes Dad's barber's haircuts by evening them out with a razor, giving him a number three buzzcut.

'His hair was too long,' his Dad had told me. 'That's why he had lice.'
'It wasn't long at all! That's not why he had lice.'
'Well, why did he?'
'Because kids get lice.'
'When his hair is longer, it's harder to get the lice out and he was uncomfortable.'
'Okay,' I sighed. 'Fine.' Pause. 'When he's a teenager he'll choose my hairdresser anyway.'
F's Dad snorted.
'What kind of teenager do you expect him to be?!'
'I don't know.'
'I think you're going to try to make him into some scruffy-haired Nirvana look-alike.'
'He can express himself however he chooses,' I replied primly, not admitting that a long-haired Nirvana look-alike would be fine with me.
'Oh, is that right? Any way he chooses? So he can have tattoos and piercings?'
'Well, within reason. Not tattoos and piercings. But if he wants long hair, yes.'
F's Dad snorted and sighed in quick succession.
'You know,' he said, 'You've become quite conservative, really.'