To edit or not to edit: blogging your life

Amy Adams as Julie Powell

Editing their lives.  Is that what bloggers do?

I just finished watching the movie Julie and Julia. Several years ago, that book introduced me to blogs--or at least to the fact they existed.  I enjoyed the book, sympathisizing with Julie's unhappiness at her seemingly dead-end life and with her attempts to climb out of the doldrums.  And boy did she ever climb out.  She did it in a way that inspired the dreams of bloggers everywhere:  blog leads to media coverage leads to book deal leads to best seller leads to big budget movie starring Meryl Streep. Every blogger dreams of this: his or her musings, insights, etc. leading to fame and fortune. What does all this have to do with bloggers editing their lives? Dear Reader, I'm glad you asked. The truth is that blogging CAN lead to perks, book deals, fame, money, etc. on all sorts of level, from small to large. And like success in any other entertainment media, a measure of that success depends on the blogger's likeability; therefore,  it's tempting for a blogger to edit themselves into what amounts to a fictional character.

Julie Powell's likeability in Julie and Julia is one of the main reasons I enjoyed the book. She's a conversational writer, and most of the conversation was funny, even if some of the comedy was tinged with black. However, when the topic veered too far away from her attempts to master Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I found her sometimes whiny and annoying. One of the reasons, though, that I still liked and rooted for her in spite of that was because I liked her whole package as presented. She could be a whiny, drunken, flawed drama queen, true, but one with a swell husband, great friends, boho apartment, cool brother, and, especially, a wonderful marriage. I found the movie slow, so while watching it, I casually googled Julie's name to see what she'd been up to after achieving success. Apparently what she'd been up to was writing another memoir, but not another feel-good one about a loser who manages to win with the support of her adoring (and adored) childhood sweetheart/husband. The more recent one chronicles, among other things--many other things-- her 2 year obsessive S&M spiced affair with an ex with whom she had already cheated (the original affair predated the events in Julie and Julia and was never even hinted at in book or film) and suggests mental illness. (For truth in blogging purposes, I have not actually read the 2nd memoir, Cleaved.)

I guess I knew at the time I read the book that the Julie on the page was an edited version of the real Julie Powell, but even before I read about her affair(s), I had already realized how much the character of Julie had been edited from the book during the transition to the silver screen to make her, quite frankly, much nicer and more sympathetic. In fact, in an interview, Julie described the movie character as not being very simliar to herself---in fact as being  merely based upon her. All of this makes me wonder how much she had edited herself in the original blog. In other words, was movie Julie a photocopy of book Julie who was a photocopy of blog Julie who was a photocopy of real-life Julie--each one a slightly blurrier, less accurate version?

Let's face it--if your life intersects with your blog---it has to be edited. You may have to condense, tweek, etc. just to keep posts mercifully brief, and if you're writing a design/lifestyle blog, readers probably don't want details of your last fight with your spouse over his wandering eye.  But if part of your blog's appeal is its portrait of a happy family, should you let readers know that there is trouble in paradise?  Writing a blog is  like crafting a resume---how do you condense your life onto one page,  make it as flattering as possible,  omit the unneccssary, and still stay honest? You can be truthful without being accurate. But how much tweaking is kosher and how much tweaking is  too much?

Potential blogging rewards have increased.  Now, a successful blog with a large following, great hook, and good writing skills  can lead to fame, money, career success, etc. on a lot of levels, from reknown in the blogosphere to that distant shimmering beacon: a book deal. A blog is personal; therefore, its success depends partly on the author's ability to be likeable.  A successful blogger has to not only find a unique writing voice, but to present their personality in a way that is pleasing to the largest number  of readers. God knows bloggers can be touchy, so I'm not naming names , but many of the most successful design blogs have their author's personality, personal life, and a storyline as an integral part of their blog.  Lives are condensed like the plot of a Lifetime (television for women---and gay men) made-for-tv movie:  young couple buys fixer upper and decor hijinks begin or retired executive and beautiful blonde wife leave NYC to renovate farmhouse----oh wait, the last one is the plot of Green Acres. Because there can be real  material (if only for a handful of bloggers) rewards from a blog, it becomes tempting to spin everything...to accentuate the positive (and only the positive) and elimnate the negative--completely.   All stories can be spun in at least two ways.  Take  Gone With the Wind---Epic love story between star crossed soul mates set against the turbulence of a nation ripped apart by war or a tale of a lying narcissistic opportunist  and her partner in co-dependence whose fortune was built on the backs of the less fortunate, including slaves, convicts, her own sister, and two dead husbands?  If you include your personal life in your blog, how much spin is too much?  Should it be total honesty all the time? Does it even matter if your blog persona is artificial?

One good thing about blogging---if you can't personally resolve the issue in your own mind, you can always end it by questioning readers.  And by the way, if any one wants to offer a book deal, my schedule is open.
the real Julie Powell


Vickie H. said...

Very insightful!! and thought provoking! I am glad you decided to post about this...no doubt there will be more than one head spinning this morning!

carla fox said...

Beauty, talent....and brains, too! You've got it all, baby! (I'm serious). Very thought provoking and interesting post. I've not seen the movie, but you KNOW if it's been through the Hollywood mill, it's been packaged for maximum shelf-life (is that a mixed metaphor or something?) I'd prefer to see the unvarnished version, S&M included, please!

Design Junkie said...
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Design Junkie said...

Thank you, Carla Fox---your check is in the mail. All joking aside, it's interesting to see a packaged version of something that's already been packaged twice before. It's like the character of Sally Bowles from the film Cabaret. Inspired by a real person, she became character in a novel, then a play, then a film of that play, then a musical, then a film version of the musical--on the way, Sally changes from being a middle-class English girl who can't sing very well and is only playing at being Bohemian before returning home and settling down to being a fictionalized version of Liza herself, an upperclass American with an incredible talent who has embraced decadance whole heartedly

Southern Chateau said...

I love this post! I think about this a lot. Someone said that the design blogosphere (I even hate that word) is like a high school popularity contest, which to me means that there is a lot of fakery going on. I like blogging but it's hard to find a balance.

Maria Killam said...

i love your blog, it's interesting and thought provoking! I think weaving them together is a talent but you pose some interesting questions! Thanks!

Southern Aspirations said...

Great post- very thought provoking. Certainly, some editing is needed. For me though, it's whether the editing changes fundamentally the person/events/etc. In the case referenced, I think it did.

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