Ayelet and Chabon: blogging kills your fiction

Last week Ayelet Waldman, Bad Mother blogger and wife of Michael Chabon, started a new column at Salon.

In her first piece, she revealed that her husband discovered only by reading her blog that she was, at one low point, contemplating suicide. She said her seven-year-old son had heard her discussing the same suicidal post with her friend and wept in fear that she might kill herself.

Finally, she announced plans to shut down her blog of two months, but said she would discuss many of the same concerns — and her children’s personal lives — in her new column.

(Now, I know that people who bitch about their fucked-up families as much as I do don’t get to throw stones at this kind of thing. Nevertheless, kind readers of MaudNewton.com, please understand: I live in abject fear of becoming this person. And I’m guessing the fact that I originally started to say, “I’d rather throw myself in front of a truck than expose my day-to-day life like that,” means I’m already there, contemplating suicide with the best of ’em. But I was just kidding about the truck.)

Yesterday Justin of the excellent Beautiful Stuff blog transcribed part of a recent Literary Friendships conversation between Waldman and Chabon (moderated by Garrison Keillor), in which Waldman argued that blogging is bad for fiction writing and Chabon agreed. Here’s an excerpt:

Waldman: Don’t, don’t start; it’ll suck you into the screaming vortex of the blogosphere, and then you will never get out. But it was actually was…it was incredibly fun, but it’s a bad thing for a fiction writer to do, ultimately, we decided… I decided.

Michael: I agreed.

Ayelet: I think it was ultimately bad for both of us. Because one of the things that you do as a fiction writer is you sort of take the experiences of…I think the major thing you do is you take the experiences of your life and your memories and you kind of wait for them to gel into something and transform into something that you then write about in a very different way. And when you have this new medium of the web, there’s no gel time — it’s just all liquid. It just all comes out right away. And I was taking all these things, these moments and thoughts and experiences, and just putting them right out there. And once they’re out there, once they’re expressed, they’re gone — I think. I think, for a writer, once you’ve put something down, it sort of both freezes it and expresses it, and you lose it from yourself. And it wasn’t just my memories and experiences.

Michael: Right

Ayelet: I was stealing his stuff too.

Michael: (laughs) Well, I mean, we share so much that I guess I had this realization…I love your blog, and I love reading it, and I had it bookmarked. You know, and especially if I was traveling, there were times when I would check blog before I would call you because it’s such an unmediated dose of Ayelet. It was really delightful. But on the other hand, I suddenly had this realization that I remembered…or I thought of, um, this short story that I wrote a couple of years ago that is about a father and son who go shopping for a pumpkin at Halloween time. That story grew out of my actually going and shopping for a pumpkin with one of our sons the year before. And, I still don’t know to this day why, but one night when I sat down at my computer to work on whatever I was supposed to be working on I just started writing this story about going shopping for a pumpkin. And at that point, a year later, it wasn’t me and it wasn’t my son and it wasn’t my life and it really was a short story, but this thing had happened at the pumpkin patch, and I realized recently that I probably would’ve — I probably did come home and tell Ayelet about it, and that was it. And then it sat around in my unconscious or wherever it was sitting for a year. But now, she probably would’ve turned it into a blog post and that would’ve been it.

Your responses are welcome.

Background reading:

  • Writers A.M. Homes and Robert Olen Butler say they’d never blog. Neil Gaiman weighs in on the other side of it.
  • Neuromancer author William Gibson stopped blogging in 2003, saying, “I’ve found blogging to be a low-impact activity, mildly narcotic and mostly quite convivial, but the thing I’ve most enjoyed about it is how it never fails to underline the fact that if I’m doing this I’m definitely not writing a novel — that is, if I’m still blogging, I’m definitely still on vacation.” He revived the site after the last election. Now he blogs irregularly.

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