Monday, May 16, 2011

The Blessing of Blogging

I had an "Aha!' moment this past weekend while reading Susan Jacoby's book "The Age of American Unreason".  While I found the book fascinating on a number of levels, one chapter in particular brought back some painful memories of changes in traditional publishing. And it made me rejoice anew over the opportunity to blog.

Although we've never met, Susan and I have had somewhat similar career paths: both of us were successful writers for the top national women's magazines in the Seventies and Eighties, both making excellent livings until the late Eighties/early Nineties, when things began to change.

We had both enjoyed writing longer articles on serious topics -- like Susan's articles on domestic violence and on the status of women in the changing Soviet Union and my pieces on many aspects of psychology, social trends and health. But suddenly, in 1989 or 1990, editors began to request much shorter articles -- "because women don't have time to read long articles anymore". Susan was asked to cut some articles she had already sold to magazines in half before they could be published. And when some of the magazine editors came to us with assignments, they were suddenly about less substantial or frankly embarrassing topics or light-weight, embarrassing treatment of substantial topics.

Susan's moment of truth, which she details in her book, was an assignment from a new editor at a magazine where she had written a number of high quality articles. The assignment -- "Men Who Like to Watch Their Girlfriends Masturbate" -- was a red flag to her that she needed to switch her literary efforts to a different venue.

My moment of truth came around the same time when I got a call from an editor at a major women's magazine asking me to write an article on verbal abuse in marriage.  I accepted the assignment immediately, pleased that I could write about something that had impacted my own life -- watching the verbal abuse my father heaped on my mother for so many years and the terrible toll it took on her spirit and quality of life -- though I chose not relate this personal experience in my article.  I researched the piece thoroughly, talked with some top clinicians about this type of domestic violence, and submitted the article.

I soon received an exasperated phone call from the editor. "Kathy, you obviously didn't understand what I wanted," she said. "I wanted a FUNNY, kind of edgy article about verbal abuse. You took it much too seriously.  You need to lighten the piece up."

I was aghast.  "We are talking about abuse, right?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "But abuse doesn't have to be a dark thing. It can be funny, don't you think? Give it another try."

Skeptical, I tried a somewhat lighter touch. The result wasn't funny, but it was tamer, blander.  But it still wasn't enough.  The editor sighed and said "We'll send you a kill fee and assign it to another writer." It was the only time in my career that I ever had an article "killed" and collected the kill fee (typically 25% of the agreed upon price of the article if the writer of a firm assignment can't complete the article to an editor's satisfaction.)

About two years later, I received the article file back -- complete with my research and interview transcriptions -- with a note from the editor saying "Two other writers couldn't make this article funny either. And since you were our first choice, we thought we'd send you back all your material so you might sell this to another magazine if you like."

But by that time, my other magazine contacts were also asking for shorter, lighter articles -- and I had started back to graduate school to become a psychotherapist. And, like Susan, I had focused my writing efforts on books rather than magazine articles. So the material sits in a file to this day.

Perhaps I'll take it out and try again some day with some other magazine. Or maybe I'll blog about verbal and emotional abuse.

Certainly, the problem still exists in many marriages. There are so many ways that behavior ranging from verbal and emotional abuse to carelessness about others' feelings can poison treasured relationships. Verbal abuse can kill the spirit and love and hope. Emotional abuse is at least as painful as physical abuse. It is certainly no laughing matter.

During a recent conversation with my brother Mike, who, bless him,  has always read my writing enthusiastically from the time we were children, I mentioned that perhaps I might try writing some magazine articles again. The revitalization of some of my old favorites and the arrival of magazines like "O" and "MORE", among others, on the publishing scene has been encouraging.

He looked surprised. "Why?" he asked. "Blogging seems so much more satisfying. I love the fact that you're now writing with your own voice, writing exactly what you want. Remember how some of those magazine editorial committees used to drive you crazy chewing over some of your articles? Remember how indifferent some editors were to topics you felt -- and knew -- were important? Remember some of the stuff you wrote just because you needed the money? Well, you don't really need the money anymore. But what you have with blogging is a chance to say what you really think and feel, in your own time and in your own unique voice. It doesn't get any better than that!"

I felt suddenly lighter, suddenly joyous, and immensely grateful that I have lived long enough to see and experience the technology that makes instant international communication possible.

While I still have some books I need to write and perhaps some magazine articles as well, I will approach these projects with a stronger, more present voice and a renewed life perspective -- because of what I'm learning every day in the world of blogging. And if these forays back into the world of traditional publishing don't pan out, I still have a voice and a place where I can write and be myself.

I rejoice in being able to share my thoughts and feelings -- and to read and appreciate the authentic voices of others -- in the blogging community. What a wonderful opportunity to learn and to grow as a writer and as a person. It really doesn't get any better.


  1. Oh I SO agree, Kathy, both about the dumbing-down of so many magazines and the potential of blogging. Not being a writer, I can only sympathise from outside with the frustration you must have felt at not being asked to write to your strengths. But I know just what you mean about the opportunities offered by having a blog, even though I only blog as an amateur and you have so much professional expertise to share. Here's to blogging!!!

  2. I agree with what you said here. No wonder magazines and newspapers are losing readers. Authentic voices are found in blogs. I'd rather read blogs than magazines. In blogs I read about women, topics, experiences, ideas and etc. that meaning to me at this point in my life. So many magazines seem to target a much younger age group.

    Keep on writing. You have an audience who is waiting to read what you write.

  3. I'm interested in the article about verbal abuse in relationships. We were just talking about it last night at dance class, about a woman who was ordering her partner/husband around, telling him what he was doing wrong, even hitting him (not violently but very annoyingly) to try to get him to do what she wanted. It was embarrassing to him, and to everyone else.

    Then, when everyone was asked to change partners, the woman was perfectly okay with the way the other men danced -- even though they weren't any better. Weird!

    Anyway, if you can still find that file, would love to read the article. If it's too long, do it as a two or three parter.

  4. Thanks so much for your kind comments! Sightings, that's a fascinating story about the woman in the dance class. OMG! You've inspired me to search for my file. I may do a updated blog about verbal abuse. I see all kinds of habits that seriously erode relationships, but actual abuse and humiliation is certainly among the worst.