That’s probably not the right title but it was the first thing I wrote down. I’m not going to change it because I like the thing-that-isn’t-quite-a-pun-but-I-can’t-think-of-a-better-word.
For reasons that aren’t clear to me, this is being written while a potty-mouthed musician cavorts about in a wedding dress. (I can’t actually see that unless I bring up the video but I know it’s there.)
I will return to this subject.
Recently (late March) a WordPress staffer wrote an article about ‘longform writing’ in which she didn’t really define it but gave examples:
Think narrative nonfiction or engaging journalism. An open letter or a personal essay. A working chapter of your novel or memoir, an in-depth opinion piece on what’s happening in the world, or commentary on an aspect of our culture.
She went on to describe several (well, three) WordPress ‘themes’ that she believes work well with longer posts. I’ve used several themes with this blog and ‘tried out’ many more; I find it interesting that none of the ones I’ve used or tried is on her list. She goes on to say
We’d love to surface more longform writing here on WordPress.com, so please tag your longer pieces with #WPLongform so we — and the rest of the community — can find them.
Two things: First of all, that is (to my mind) a slightly odd use of the word ‘surface’ but I know what she means. And I still wasn’t clear on what exactly ‘longform’ was. (I mean, I’m a physicist by training; I like things that have an objective, measurable existence. Things I can quantify. Like numbers.) I read the piece when it came out and mentally filed it under ‘interesting but doesn’t really apply to me’ partly because of that and partly because (a) most of my stuff is (I think, or at least thought) comparatively short and (b) it’s a long way from ‘engaging’. (‘Memoir’ might work, but hardly ‘commentary’.) But I should have read the comments, in particular the one from a (different) WordPress staffer that went:
When we use the term longform, we’re referring to essays and other non-fiction that you might not have time to read in a few minutes’ break from your daily tasks — pieces over 1,000 words — though admittedly, the guideline is loose.
That changes things a bit. Most of the time I don’t have a specific target in mind when I vomit forth drivel onto paper (and not an eiderdown at all) but I think I have the word ‘short’ in the back of my mind. (‘Short’ as in ‘longer than a drabble but still fairly brief; not excessively fictionny.) By their guideline, though, a quarter of what I post here is — or might be considered to be by some people in certain contexts — ‘long’.
I can just imagine what Mrs. W would say about that, but fine.
Later (about a month later) the subject came up again. (Well, that I noticed. I’m often pretty oblivious.). That’s when I discovered that one person’s short is another person’s long and that the WordPress reader (an application that I’d never actually looked at) has a link (unless I ‘configured’ that by accident — entirely possible, I suppose.) that leads directly to all ‘recent’ (for some definition of recent) entries tagged with the ‘this is long’ tag. I also learned a couple of things.
Technically I didn’t actually learn that I am the least demonstrative person on the face of the planet; I already knew that but what I read reinforced it.
There were stories of people talking about Life and Relationships and things that affected them, stories of people struggling with adversity, stories of people reflecting on spirituality, stories of people contemplating mortality. Stuff like that. I felt small and superficial.
Well, I always feel small and superficial. If anything, I felt smaller and superficialer. (Should ‘superficialer’ have two l’s? If I’m making words up then the least I could do is put a little thought into the process.) But then I found out that there were stories that weren’t sober, serious and personal reflections on the human condition. That made me happy. And some of the people that wrote them were Real Writers. This made me feel even better. (Here’s one I liked a lot.)
The other thing I learned is that the vast majority of the ‘long’ stories I saw had images. I wasn’t sure what to think about that. I’m still not.
Part of this appears to be nothing more than an artifact of the WordPress reader — it appears that it will grab an image from ‘somewhere’ in a post and use it to ‘label’ the entire post so that a post with an image anywhere will appear to have a title-banner-image-thingy. A corollary of this is that posts without images appear ‘smaller’. I felt small (but you already know that). Heck, I was small — apparently partly because I don’t use a lot of images.
So, am I doing something wrong? If all the cool kids are ‘bigger’, should I be doing that too? There’s that old (1911? not clear) saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, blah blah blah. I get that, really I do, but I would claim that (a) it’s not true for every picture and (b) not every story is necessarily ‘enhanced’ by a picture.
Take ‘Peeing‘ for example. It wasn’t long or anything but I don’t think the story would have been improved with an image of the little boy. (Not that I took a picture of him — I suspect he’s grateful for that.) Or ‘Monitoring‘ (which was ‘long’). I don’t think an image of a pager or my curling delivery (ugly, by the way, but it mostly gets the job done) would have improved anything.
On the other hand, ‘Painting‘ (long) was all about the acquisition of a painting (well, that and lurking in bathrooms) so it made sense to include a picture of the painting in question. ‘Localizing‘ (long) is sort of about a road trip, so I included a couple of photos that we took of things that stuck in my mind.
I still feel small. Maybe I should include a picture, but the only one that feels remotely relevant is a picture of the musician in the wedding dress.