Nora Ephron’s mother (a writer) famously told her that ‘everything is copy’. It was her contention that nothing at all is sacred when it comes to putting words on the page.
Ephron, a once successful screenwriter whose credits include When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail, liked to repeat this quote.
In fact, she followed her mother’s advice when writing Heartburn, a semi-autobiographical novel about her adulterous ex-husband, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. In Heartburn, Ephron writes about the breakdown of her marriage while she’s heavily pregnant with her second child. She also somehow manages to make this tragic episode – which resulted in a divorce and premature delivery – hilariously funny.
Her ex-husband, of course, wasn’t very amused. Ephron died of acute myloid leukemia in June 2012.
The idea that everything is copy is nothing new. Journalists recycle bits about their life every day, some more than others. If you have a column, the more likely it is that you will plough the rich soil of your life for material. Sometimes you might experience drought.
I’ve been there. My blog is not so much something useful as something personal. I don’t blog about cutting-edge products or publish exciting recipes for fussy toddlers. I don’t have a small business to promote or a book about to published. I don’t test out beauty products or write about the latest fashion trends. If I’m occasionally fashionable it’s purely by accident.
Mostly, this blog is about me. So why share it with strangers? It does feel like I am opening up a diary for the amusement of others. Sometimes my readers might not even be amused.
Contrary to what the blog might you lead you to believe, I am a private person. I’ve never even had a Facebook account.
This has made me wonder about how blogging fits into my lifestyle. I sometimes feel like I am picking over the bones of my life looking for ‘copy’. It’s not unlike what carrion birds do to their prey. You could say I’m a bit of a cannibal, devouring episodes of my own life.
Sometimes this is vaguely uncomfortable – and I’m not always totally honest. Without a cloak of absolute anonymity, who would choose to be brutally honest? I hold things back on occasion. I fear the future. Will I look back on this and wince? Even worse, will my children?
Bloggers have been called many things by members of the mainstream press or even by other bloggers. We are self-interested and vain. We are self-publicists. We add nothing to debate and mostly write a lot of tripe. We just want validation and attention.
Some of this might be true some of the time. I don’t think it’s entirely true of me.
So why do I blog? I do it because I like to write. Occasionally, I think it might spark an idea for something. This is also a record. While it might not always accurately record my feelings, it’s as close as I’ve got to a scrapbook of my children’s early years.
On days when I delude myself, I think this blog might lead to discovery. Someone will find my blog one day and offer me money to write some opinionated nonsense. I don’t think this often. I’m hardly a real-life Carrie Bradshaw, agonizing over her columns while sitting in my trendy New York apartment.
I am also someone who spent a whole year unemployed recently, an experience that left me feeling fairly useless. I discovered that plenty of jobs in the media, where I have floundered for the last ten+ years, ask for a social media profile.
This means you tweet on a regular basis; you have followers (hopefully more than a handful) who hang on your every syllable; you know how to negotiate Facebook to find out personal details about someone; and, yes, you know how to blog. Blogging, as it turns out, can be quite useful if you are looking for a job where people might expect you to write.
So here I am, blogging about myself. Still looking for a job (disclosure: I have something that is temporary). Still feeling a bit like a social media outsider. Still wondering if this blog is practical more often than it is painful.
Everything is copy, Ephron said. She also happened to be a blogger. But she hid her illness – she was diagnosed in 2006 – from most people and chose not to write about it. And now I wonder why.