By Christie Aschwanden | May 24, 2012 | 17 Comments
Monday, we marked LWON’s second anniversary. I was not one of the original contributors to this blog, but a year ago this week, Tom Hayden invited me to contribute my first post. Since becoming an official LWON contributor last June, I’ve written almost 30 posts, about one every 12 days. For this work, I’ve received exactly zero dollars, zero prizes and zero resume-worthy rewards.
If you’d asked me a couple of years ago whether I’d ever blog without compensation, I’d have scoffed. I have a strict policy of never writing for free. Writers who give their work away to commercial outlets piss me off, because they cheapen our profession and train publishers to expect writers to work without pay.
LWON is a worthy exception to my rule, because this labor of love exists solely on the voluntary efforts of LaWonians. None of us make any money from this site, and we are not beholden to commercial interests or outside influences. This place belongs to us.
And I can honestly say that LWON is the best thing that’s happened in my writing life during the past year. When I ponder why that’s so, I think of something Kurt Vonnegut said at a reading I attended many years ago. Go home and write a poem on a scrap of paper, he said. Then tear it into pieces and scatter it where no one will find it. It took me a while to fully understand his point.
I left science to pursue writing, because I loved transforming ideas into story. I’ve been a professional writer for nearly 15 years now. It’s how I pay my mortgage and my phone bill and my health insurance premiums and all those other expensive necessities of adulthood. The unglamorous truth about writing for a living is that it often requires stifling your own voice to accommodate the will of the market. It’s possible to lose touch with the joy of creation.
The antidote to that loss is to write freely and often. I’m reminded of a story I once read in Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. A ceramics instructor divided his class in half. He told one group they’d be graded only on quantity. At the end of the semester, the total weight of their pottery would determine their grade—50 pounds of pots equated to an A. The other half of the class would submit a single piece, which would be graded on its merits. According to Art and Fear,
At grading time, a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
This anecdote may be apocryphal for all I know, but it captures something true. My best writing comes when I give myself over to the process and say to hell with the outcome. Because when it’s all said and done, the process is the point. It’s really all there is. You must love the process more than the product, because the process is what you have to live with day to day. Regardless of how successful you become, eventually you have to return to the blinking cursor.
Blogging here at LWON is my commitment to the act of creation. At times, it feels like a guilty pleasure. I write most of my posts late at night, with my self-imposed deadline bearing down. I have no illusions that my posts here are especially literary, and I’ll be the first to admit that they rarely represent my very best work. But that’s beside the point.
My posts are my pots. They’re the dedicated practice that make me a better writer. At LWON I can take chances. I can follow my follies and explore ideas that no one else cares about. (Or ideas I assume no one else cares about, until LWON readers inform me otherwise.) I can ask questions, tell the world what I really think, critique the media’s handling of one of my beats or wonder aloud about the limits of science.
The data crunchers at LWON have doodads installed that tell us how many visits a given post receives. If one of mine collects an especially large number of hits, someone will usually tell me and, yes, this makes me exceedingly happy. But I can’t bear to track the numbers myself. It surprises me to feel this way, but I’ve discovered that I’d rather not know. For a short while, we had a plug-in installed that showed the hit counter in the blog’s administrative dashboard. The first time I noticed the counter it said that my most recent post had received only three hits. I was pretty sure I was one of them. Another was probably my mom. Which left only one other reader. I can’t say that I was thrilled about this, but I found myself unable to drum up any feelings of despair. It was at that moment that I realized LWON had become something so much more to me than just a place to showcase my byline.
It had become my outlet for those poems Kurt Vonnegut had advised me to write. Which is why it’s so thrilling to discover that my posts really do have readers, and I adore you all. (That climate change post of mine didn’t really go unread, a bug in the plug-in just made it appear so.) Engaging feedback never fails to make my day.
Here at LWON, we have a saying that we share with one another when our software gets buggy or we’re feeling mortified by a glaring typo we just discovered in a post. IJAB—it’s just a blog. I think it’s that attitude, that permission to not be perfect, that makes LWON so good.
I’m continuously awed at the quality of my fellow contributors’ work, and every one of their glorious posts motivates me to rise to their level. So on my one year anniversary, I extend my warmest thanks to the people of LWON for inviting me in to this incredible community and to you, our readers, for joining us here.