Tom Wolfe

I’ve been reading more blogs since I started writing this one a few weeks ago. And while I’ve found some good ones, and a handful of really great ones, I’m surprised at just how many people out there have nothing to say, but go ahead and say it anyway. Predictably, some of the best blogs have a singular focus (a franchise, if you will). But some of the best do not. There are personal journals out there, written by people who have many interests and no particular expertise, that can be as interesting as anything. The subject matter doesn’t necessarily make the difference, provided the writer is eloquent and insightful enough.

(footnote: wordpress’s spell check marks “blog” as not being a word. Odd, huh?)

It got me thinking about a conversation I had with the Yodelling Llama recently, where he mentioned he doesn’t like authors who do a bunch of research and then write about it, like Tom Wolfe. Presumably, he prefers writers who follow that old creative writing seminar cliche “write what you know,” like, say, Nick Hornby. Clearly both styles can work. Blogs present an interesting development, because most of them are written by people for whom this is not a full-time job, who are doing this because they feel like writing, and who don’t feel the need to provide any particular kind of subject matter to their audience. What this means, in short, is that a greater number of people out there are “writing what they know.”

I wouldn’t throw the dirt on Tom Wolfe just yet. Most professional writers still do research (usually an awful lot of it). But if blogs had existed during the dawn of the space program, and if Gus Grissom or John Glenn had kept one, would I still have wanted to read The Right Stuff? I specifically didn’t pick up I Am Charlotte Simmons in part because I can read that shit anywhere. As a greater and more varied number of people take up this hobby, will we see the death of the outsider writer?

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2 Responses to “Tom Wolfe”

  1. YLlama Says:

    I don’t have a problem with research-oriented writing. I simply find that because it is so much more difficult to do well, most writers should not bother attempting. To be a good “write what you know” writer, you have to have a mastery of the language and story structuring. To be a good “research” writer, you also need to have impeccable research skills.

    And I wish I hadn’t picked up Charlotte Simmons, not because of the subject matter, but because it was a poorly written piece of shit.

  2. Roger Taylor Says:

    I’m not sure a mastery of research is all that’s required. To be a good “write what you know” writer you need only to understand yourself. That’s still not an easy trick (check out Bill Clinton’s My Life to see how a sometimes brilliant man can not know who he is), but it’s much easier than understanding other people who come from a completely different background.

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