By Daniel Rigney
I used to be younger. Now, as a retiring teacher, happily post-professional and ascending into higher maturity, I’ve taken up recreational writing as a pastime.
The idea to write recreationally came to me last spring in an evening course in creative writing at a nearby university. Our teacher, an accomplished novelist and playwright, gave us imaginative prompts (e.g., “write about being a clown in a world that isn’t a circus”) and asked us to run with them. I’ve been running, or at least jogging in place, ever since. Thank you, Ms. Geyer.
About midway through the course I realized that our writing assignments were essentially private blogs. To take the next step, from writing privately to blogging publicly, I needed only to set up an account at some online site (e.g., blogger.com, wordpress.com or opensalon.com), copy and paste my short pieces into my site, and hit “Publish.” My new life as a recreational writer began.
In my experience, “recwriting” can be creatively and personally gratifying on a good day. Some days, though, it's more like “wreck writing.” In either case, you’re putting yourself out there, for better or worse, albeit to a small audience of who-knows-who. If I had a do-over, I might prefer to have written anonymously, but I don't regret having dived into the blogosphere.
Whether you blog, how you blog, and what you write about are entirely your business; but whatever you do, don’t get impatient and post first, edit later, like I do most of the time. Bad habits are hard to break.
Recreational writing differs from professional writing in that it doesn’t pay anything -- at least not the way I do it. My blog on politics and culture (i.e., whatever I feel like writing about on any given day, from an occasionally humorous perspective) pays only psychic rewards.
First, there are the intrinsic pleasures of writing as a craft – wordworking – which I imagine as a kind of whittling with words, carving word birds and hoping a few of them come to life and take flight.
Then there are the social pleasures of working and playing alongside others in this electronic writer’s colony. We write to each other and to whomever else tunes us in, an audience that can range from zero to thousands depending on post and poster.
Blogging also affords an opportunity to learn more about the blogosphere itself (which intrigues me as a sociologist) and, in my case, to explore its progressive potential as a political and cultural open microphone. There’s always an amateur night at the blogging Improv.
As a post-academic who’s now exploring various non-academic styles and genres of writing, I use this space as a personal column in a pretend magazine (Danagram). I write little editorials and features just as I did for the high school paper and lit mag decades ago. Here I'm exploring writing voices representing various aspects of myself, including some voices (satire, POV reporting and ethnography, amateur philosophy) that are discouraged in Serious Writing.
I’m done working on my academic vita. Now I want to be a free-range writer.
Recreational writing is quite different from academic writing, which I’ve done a bit of, in that it’s usually a lot less formal and a lot more fun. Here I like to write about things I’m not expert in, but that I want to learn more about. Any teacher will tell you that having to explain a subject to others is a good way to learn more about it yourself. Blogging allows free-range exploration; and it offers an escape from the cramped writing conditions that prevail in the compartments and cubicles of academe and probably many other workplaces as well. No more writer's cramp!
Now and then I use this space to putter along on a book manuscript (“Conventional and Unconventional Worlds,” or “Texas as Twilight Zone”), coming eventually to a screen near you, I’m hoping.
Recreational writing has been, for me, a personal and educational experience of the first order. It’s helped me to clarify my own thoughts and feelings on a host of subjects , to structure or squander my time in semi-retirement, and to say things I couldn’t say publicly when I was employed. (See my forthcoming “Free Speech Begins at Retirement,” which I’ll be publishing under a pseudonym.)
Why not write your own book or magazine column online if you want to, on any subject you choose, and in any genre, from playwriting to workwriting and from public editorializing to personal confession? Most blogging platforms are available free of charge to the writer. You provide the content. The platform sells advertising and tries to turn a profit. I’m frankly grateful for the opportunity. Thank you, Open Salon. As Garrison Keillor says, I’m happy to be here.
Most other bloggers are soon discovered by commercial presses and go on to become famous and well-compensated authors. I’m the rare exception.
Be warned, though, that if you blog long enough, sooner or later you’ll write something to offend everyone you’ve ever known, and many you haven’t. But friendship and personal safety are a small price to pay for creative freedom.
The best thing about recreational writing is that there’s no editor, and the worst thing is that there’s no editor. That means you can make a fool of yourself without the assistance of skilled professionals. But it also means you’ll gain priceless experience as both writer and editor, which will serve you well later, when you move on to advanced recreational writing.
Readers who enjoyed this post may also enjoy “Is Blogging the New Shuffleboard?”