Based on the number of reader remarks at the bottom of yesterday’s post, my write-up of Greg Maletic’s wonderful documentary “Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball” wasn’t exactly a hit.
Was that because pinball isn’t among the topics that ignite tremendous passion, at least among the Subtraction.com audience? Maybe. But I think it’s more likely because of the way I wrote the piece.
I’m a long-time reader and fan of The New Yorker, and yesterday’s piece was my clumsy attempt at aping a bit of its editorial style. That magazine’s matter-of-fact yet constructionally elaborate prose has always been very attractive to me, both because it’s so incisively compelling and because it’s so efficient. I tend to go on and on when I write, using a lot of words to say relatively little. Writers for The New Yorker use a lot of words to communicate quite a lot of ideas with great richness. Can you blame me if it’s something I aspire to?
My Secret Passion for Pinball
I won’t pretend that I came anywhere close to the quality you’ll find every week in that magazine, but I do know one thing: in the interest of capturing a particular kind of style, I temporarily forsook two key elements that I’ve come to understand are essential to blog writing.
First, the idea that blogging often works best when it’s personal. Re-reading what I wrote yesterday, the post comes off as dispassionate, stand-offish, even cold. I was vaguely aware of this from the start, but became even more aware of it when Greg Maletic wrote me an email to say, “It’s so gratifying to hear of a non-pinball fan that enjoyed the film.”
Actually, I count myself a pinball fan, for sure. I may not know much about the history, art or business of pinball (I’m much further along in that knowledge now, thanks to “Tilt”), but I’ve always enjoyed it. When I walk into an arcade, I’m typically disinterested in the video game machines, and am invariably drawn to the pinball machines instead. In fact, I spent an entire leisurely, jobless summer immediately after college wasting quarter after quarter playing Midway’s “Addams Family” pinball game in the arcades of Washington, D.C. Good times.
That I didn’t mention that sorta interesting bit of trivia at all seems like a mistake, in retrospect. As does the fact that I eschewed another common blogging practice: writing in such a way as to engage the audience in conversation, rather than writing at the audience, as if readers were captive to my prose. I’ll admit it: there was a certain highfalutin, know-it-all tone to yesterday’s post that didn’t necessarily invite engagement. (For those who did add their remarks, special thanks.) Perhaps moreso even than acknowledging a personal dimension, blogging works best when it’s a conversation between blogger and audience.
To Write Better Should I Blog Less?
I fully accept these particulars of the blogging medium; blogging is not just journalism or journal-keeping or email conversation, but a medium of its own, with unique rules of play. It’s a wonderful medium, actually, and I enjoy it immensely; I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have written some 1,170 blog posts over the past seven years if I hadn’t.
One thing I worry about though, is if by becoming a better blogger over the years I haven’t also stunted my progress towards becoming a better writer. I often describe my persistence in this medium as predicated on my generally unflagging compulsion to write. I’ve certainly grown some as a writer while authoring Subtraction.com, but how much closer am I to writing the book that I want to write, to penning the articles that I want to publish, to developing a more insightful critical voice? Had I not preoccupied myself so many evenings and weekends hammering out hastily composed, poorly self-edited and only glancingly critiqued passages, would I have come any further along as a good writer than I have? To answer that honestly, I’d say I suspect that the answer is yes, I would have come much further. Which is to say that becoming a better blogger hasn’t made me a better writer.