Friday, September 04, 2009

As long as it is insightful and disciplined

The Function of Book Blogging at the Present Time, 4

by Benjamin Stein


I started writing short stories and poems when I was ten. I didn’t just play around but was sure from the beginning that I wanted to become a professional writer—somehow, someday. What I needed in terms of technique came from reading adventures and from weekly teaching and consulting hours with a married couple of two poets that had befriended me. I was immersed in literature—poetry in particular—and when I saw at twelve my first poem published in a newspaper I was sure that I had found my way. (Sure enough, an illusion, but still.) I was eighteen when I finished my first novel and twenty-five when I published the second. By then I was deeply inflicted with the virus of the word. During all those years I had never been tired of writing or reading, and most of the time I was sure that I was contributing to the eternal. It was a great time.

Everything changed when I started working as a salaried editor. Writing for newspapers, weeklies, or monthlies is like writing for the recycle bin. Goodbye, eternity. I first stopped writing prose, then poems, and finally I even stopped reading. I got lost in the utilitarian business of text production.

Ten years, a honeymoon and two kids later, I decided to get back on track. And I was sure it had to be done in reverse order: start reading again, start writing with discipline again, try to find some verses worth surviving; and then—maybe—there would be another bigger adventure in prose some day.

So I started my weblog Turmsegler for two purposes. First, I wanted to force myself to write one publishable text per day. And second, I wanted to “remember and discover” (that’s the blog’s motto), wanted to immerse myself in literature again—as in a mikveh.

I did not care about other blogs. I was inspired by two books: Pound’s ABC of Reading and a collection of world poetry, edited by the German poet Johannes Bobrowski. Its title, My One Hundred Dearest Poems, set the course for the new blog. Why Bobrowski? Because he remembered poems that mattered (and not only for him). Why Pound? Because I wanted to show in my posts that writing at least can be true art. The name of the blog was taken from a poem by French poet René Char.

What I like in blogs is the fact of immediate publication and the possibility of correction of minor mistakes. This is very different from writing for printed magazines or—even more terrifying—novels. I don’t want to publish rubbish, so I have to remain disciplined. And one thing that never happens: no dreaming or ignorant editor messes up my text (as was done to me, and as I myself did to others). In publishing a book, there is only one single chance: printing mistakes, messed-up covers, you name it—that’s it, and can never be changed a matter of fact in today’s book market).

Blogging has not only brought back the pleasure in writing. It liberated me as a writer. In former times I was unable to write a line of proper prose without prior weeks of contemplation. Today I work as a business consultant, and I can write wherever I stand or go, no matter how noisy it is or how short on time I might be. Thanks to my blogging discipline over two years I was able to write a new 450-page novel during the nights, between two meetings, in the subway, on the bus, in eleven months. It will be published next January by C. H. Beck in Germany. My training as a journalist and editor combined with my new blogging discipline made the novel possible. Blogging has changed forever the way I write and plan for my writing.

Sometimes blogging is little but distracting. Ad hominem attacks are a problem. Trolls work my nerves. I have a strict rule to make me survive: Ignore any idiot out there. Readers must get their first comment approved. Later on they can comment in real-time. Troll comments are deleted within seconds, insults as well. I don’t tolerate heartless behavior in my salon.

I still blog out of enthusiasm for the authors and works I’m blogging about. Some bloggers may blog for getting big audiences, income by ads, fame. I don’t care. Whether blogging is (still) hip or not doesn’t matter to me as long as it is fun and insightful and helps to maintain my discipline in the daily writing routine. I have to keep the instrument playing. My next novel project is already on its way. And I’ll hold myself to the rule: One page per day in publishable quality, no less. From my blogging years I know I can, so everything else is solely a question of discipline. This experience alone is priceless.


M. Cristina Ansoldi said...

D'ear Mr. Stein,I'm now reading - in my own language,Italian- your novel DieLeinwand And I think it's one of the best works I've read lately. The combination of a thrilling story with a high skill in writing And deep thoughts about remembrance And identity make a wonderful blend. Thank you, it's so difficult, lately, to read something really good!
M. Cristina Ansoldi