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11 Jul 98

Some (Babbling) Thoughts about Web Diaries and Journals

Some Thoughts about Web Diaries and Journals

Last week, Salon published an article about web journals.

Satya, of The Toasted Spiral, in her July 3 journal entry, worries that the article could lead to a web-journal writer stereotype. I share some of her concerns. Journalists are paid to make a story sensible; if a sweeping, general, stereotypical statement about web-diary writers sneaks in, no one is going to take away the Pulitzer nomination.

In any case, the Salon article wasn't too bad, and it named some great diaries. In particular, if there is a web-diary community, someone like Kymm Zuckert (The Mighty Kymm) is a founder; her diary is well-rendered, she's been at it for a while, and she's terrifically encouraging to diary beginners. The people mentioned in Salon deserve credit--their diaries are well-rendered, and they've been at it for a while.

So there was some stereotyping, alas, but the rise of the Internet has destroyed many stereotypes. Women in Prada are as likely to be computer geeks as men in caps with bad beards, and discussions of Unix can happen at perfectly nice parties, now, with no one feeling left out.

Beside this, categorizing web journals would be ridiculous. Web journals are a meta-form, and the form runs the gamut from carefully edited monthly fiction to furious daily prosody. Is The Yellow Book comparable to Scientific American? Both are periodicals. The Crying of Lot 49 is very different from Flowers in the Attic, but both are novels. Web diaries are just another form; they're bound to fall prey to sweeping statements, and probably will inspire doctorates ten years from now, in another kind of categorization. All this fuss, for the simple descendents of 'zines.

I only read the journals of those who have emailed me about my own work. There are so many online diaries, I figure it's a good way to weed out the rest of them, and this limited sampling of 10-20 sites has provided me with one insight about online journals:

  1. Women online journal-writers tend to keep cats. They write about those cats in the affectionate-negative form. Thus, one often finds such phrases as "vile and depraved kitties" and "Max, the atrocious and evil cat" peppered through their written lives.

That's as deep as my stereotypes go, with about 100 days of journal-reading under my belt.

Whatever the web diary is today, it will be 500 different things next year, many of them more innovative than what you're reading on this page (I hear a chorus of "that's for sure"). For one thing, I won't be writing anymore--I plan to stop in November, when the Subway Diary is one year old. I believe that I'll be stale at that point, and I need to start writing in earnest, on paper, entering into the rejection cycle, working on longer pieces. I've been slowly making 1/4-assed contacts, building a prose style, and getting my plots together. To make things work, I'll need to hide from my audience for a while. No insult intended.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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