Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wee Windy City Guest Post

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have done guest posts on other blogs and those who have not. Check out my first guest post on Wee Windy City, part of Chicago Now.

The Wee Windy City blog was started by a fellow author from the Chicago Moms Blog, Caitlin Giles. In addition to being a brave mother of three raising her children in the city, Caitlin is a wonderful writer (check out her blog, A Hen and Two Three Chicks). In fact, hers was the first "mommy blog" ever recommended to me.

In addition to her blog writing, Caitlin is a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent Magazine and other publications, such as Mindful Metropolis. Her goal at Wee Windy City is to help other families find "the best family friendly activities and destinations in and around Chicago."

As I prepared my guest post, I marveled at how the Internet has changed parenting. Even when my twins were young (not that long ago), parenting small children could be a very isolating experience. One of the best things that ever happened to me as a parent was when my neighbor dragged me to a Mothers of Multiples (MOMs) meeting— a support group for mothers raising twins, triplets or higher order multiples. My preemie babies were still in the hospital, being cared for by many dedicated professionals, but not by their mother. The women in my MOMs group made me feel like a real mom for the first time.

If I were starting that journey today, I could connect with others moms just like me on the Web in a thousand different ways. Just on Facebook alone, there are 117 groups for parents of preemies, dozens and dozens for parents of twins, and 79 groups relating to high risk pregnancies. That doesn't begin to touch the number of articles, Websites and blogs on these and similar issues. I could even start a blog or Twitter about the experience, keeping friends and family up to date without having to rely on the phone tree we used 17 years ago.

As a consumer, I'm fascinated (my husband says addicted) to the ways the Web is unfolding before me. As a writer, I know I must become evermore Internet savvy to remain viable, but I'm torn. On the one hand, people argue that posting and distributing your work for free undermines the value, the skill, the experience and the craft that a professional writer brings to his or her writing. The online version of the American Heritage Dictionary defines "professional" as:
"engaging in a given activity as a 
source of livelihood or as a career: 
a professional writer."
So, as a writer, if you are giving away your work for free, are you in fact a professional?

On the other hand, many others argue that to become a published author, you must build your writer's platform, and that some of the key components of this platform are: starting a blog, creating a Website, blogging or writing for established Websites, and actively participating in online communities and forums. Almost all of this means writing for free.

What's a writer to do? Or a photographer? Or a musician? In fact, what is any artist whose work can be distributed over the Internet (and potentially plagiarized or pirated) to do?

Here's what I know: I don't know. And I know something else: nobody else knows either. Conventional writing — be it for newspapers, magazines, books, or any other traditional format — is in complete flux (which is to say, leaking money faster than a rotten dinghy leaks water). 

And in just the short time (18 months or so) that I've been writing seriously on the Web, things have changed and grown, expanded and contracted, and changed and grown again right before my eyes. 

Writing on the Internet reminds me of a condition suffered by my twins as a result of their premature birth. Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP, sometimes called retrolental fibroplasia), is a potentially blinding eye disorder found most often in preemies weighing less than 3 pounds. In these very small babies, the blood vessels of the eye can stop developing normally, so the retina sends out growth signals, sometimes causing the development of new, abnormal vessels, which can lead to bleeding, scarring and, potentially, retinal detachment resulting in severe vision impairment or even blindness.

There are treatments for ROP, such as laser surgery or cryotherapy, but the curious thing about ROP is that it can resolve on its own, often with as good or better results than with intervention. Our twins were lucky. Although their ROP progressed to grade 3+, both cases resolved without treatment. 

To me, writing on the Internet is growing in that same frenzied, haphazard, potentially risky way as do blood vessels in ROP, and I believe there will be victims who don't have successful outcomes. But the curious thing about the Web is that I'm not sure we will get any better results if we intervene than if we just wait and let technology take its course. 

For now, you can continue to read me, for free, here at Two Kinds of People and on the Chicago Moms Blog, as well as on a few (strategically chosen) guest posts. If you like what you read and want to pay me cash money for all this talented word smithing, email me here. For the rest of you, you can pay me back by leaving a comment. A little Digg or a Stumble wouldn't hurt, either.


Amy Sue Nathan said...

Susan, in a way the internet has become the demise of the professional writer -- because everyone who blogs thinks he or she is a professional writer, and people and sites pay nothing or pennies per word or post for the work of anyone who will write it.

On the other hand, there are many top-notch online publications that do pay writers a decent wage for their work - and some offer the opportunity to work with editors who have high standards as well as the ability to give writers exposure to large audiences.

I will write for free -- but very selectively. I have a real problem with money making sites that offer nothing to their writers. My personal blogs are my first priority in the writing for free category, and I will contribute to another site if it, and only if, it has something worthwhile to offer me as a writer -- like pay or prestige.

It's a beef with me -- every person calling themself a writer.Because in my opinion there are two kinds of bloggers. Those who can write and those who can't.


Dory Adams said...

Susan, I wish I knew the answers too. I'm pretty fascinated by what's happening in publishing. The digital age changed photography in a similar way about a decade ago when digital cameras replaced film. As for blogging, I believe it's a wonderful way to get a sampling of your writing style in front of a potentially large audience and build a connection with readers. I find myself reading more blogs these days than magazines, and it's the content of a good blog that keeps me coming back to it or subscribing.

As for my own blog, I do it because there are some things I want to write about and share with readers. It helps me feel that I'm not writing in a vacuum. Since I'm primarily a fiction and creative nonfiction writer, I was frustrated with the slow pace of publication through literary journals. Hopefully my blog "In This Light" will draw additional interest to my other writing projects, including an anthology project currently in search of a publisher.

Unknown said...

The vast majority of my writing -- particularly my online work -- is unpaid.

Sometimes I am bummed out about that. But I also see my writing more as something that I do for me than an actual career.

At the end of the day, if I feel good about what I wrote or a picture I took or an experience I had -- then it's all good -- money or no money.

I don't know any freelance writers who are getting rich.

Thanks again for your contribution to Wee Windy City.

Kim Moldofsky said...

I think as you and Amy noted, the key is to be selective of where you place your unpaid work. Perhaps you are helping a friend, building up incoming links to your blog, perhaps there's prestige, maybe you have a chance to write a fun post that wouldn't fit in on your own blog. I've done many unpaid and a few paid posts(some so low they might as well have been unpaid) around the web. We all have to decide what works for us.

2 kinds of bloggers? Amy, you crack me up.

Unknown said...

Some of us who have lost writing jobs this is the only place to share our love of I still a professional even though I write for no money? YES!

Thanks for the thoughts.

bernthis said...

I am constantly looked at strangely by people when they are told I'm a blogger. they are about as impressed as if I said I picked up dog poop for free.

I agree. I continue to do what I do best and see how technology runs its course. Will there be some who can make something out of it and others who can't? yes. Do I hope I am one that can? Hell yeah but here, at this time, patience is the key said...

Without blogging, my brain would be a complete mush. If nothing else, blogging allows people to not only have a sense of community but to also contribute their MINDS to the world. If the world doesn't want to read it, so be it. "Professional Writers" were all just journal writers at one time. Each of them was once an unpublished dreamer, scribbling stories on scrap paper or websites. Now, the playing field is open to more people. I do believe that this open field makes the "professional" writers a bit nervous and edgy.

Tricia said...

I'll be heading over the your writing sites soon. I love forward to reading your articles.