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The Personal Essay Online

Over the last several years the Internet's influence on pop culture has increased exponentially. It has changed the way we shop, the way we communicate and has introduced new types of recreation. The internet has also started to affect the way we read, and this transformation has in turn opened the door to changes in the way we write and circulate our writing. Perhaps more than any other tool of change, blogging has impacted the writer.
Blogging has become a readily accessible and often free platform for writers to self publish. Gone are the traditional gatekeepers and many of the filters between writer and reader. Within minutes of completion, an article, short story or poem can be published and in front of thousands. Distribution is not only much faster now than ever before imagined, but reaches further than ever possible; anywhere people can access the internet, there is access to a writer's work.
Traditional publishing's diminishing power as a gatekeeper to the world of readers has given an audience to a flood of new writing, some good and some great, and some which is neither. Just as the professional writer has gained a new audience, so has the hack. As a result, systems have developed to help readers screen the onslaught of new writing on the web.
Social networking has played a large role in the new screening processes. Providing social proof through things brief as a thumbs-up to extensive as a full-blown review, social networking gives readers control over which authors and what work can now rise to the top.
Several of the writing formats previously published through traditional methods have successfully transitioned online. Some formats which previously had a fairly limited audience because of printing and distribution costs have benefited from the proliferation of online platforms. Among these formats are poetry, short fiction and short nonfiction.
The personal essay has not only benefited by less expensive distribution, but because its form and function are uniquely suited to online publication, it has flourished.
Many blogs and personal websites share their owners' musings about life and activities, so the marriage between blogging and the personal essay seems beneficial for both sides. I encourage you to read each of these seven examples of the personal essay, and see for yourself.


On Jim Murdoch's blog he describes himself this way:
"I am a 49-year-old writer. I began late in life but have made steady, if somewhat erratic, progress. I am currently struggling with my fifth novel."
Like many bloggers, Murdoch self publishes on the web and in print. There's Something We Need to Talk About shows one of the ways bloggers utilize the personal essay format to make their blogging both personal and relevant.


Ken Armstrong's describes himself:
"45 Years Old. Loves to write. Has had plays produced for radio and theatre, some short stories published (and broadcast) and a laundry list which was highly commended by 'Whiter than White' in Castle Street."
Armstrong's personal essay, Holy Thursday - 33 Years Ago is likely a more conscious effort at utilizing the traditional literary format, but since it has been posted on a blog it could automatically be seen as less than traditional. Despite the format, this piece echoes the typical blogger's desire for self expression and revelation.
[By the way, I had pulled Ken's essay for inclusion before he started advertising here. So don't get any ideas!]


Brian Doyle's A note on Public Literature provides an example of how traditional print media, in this case a newspaper article, can find it's way online and thereby increase its scope and audience. What may once have found a limited regional audience through publication in a newspaper called "Oregon Live" is now not only available to reader in Oregon, but Ohio and Okinawa as well.


With the rising costs of printing and distribution, several websites have been developed which imitate the traditional literary journal. Included are How I Jeopardized My Sanity by Rosemary Mild, and A live cat is better than a dead lion* by Mary Patrice Erdmans both from the online literary journal "Slow Trains," which publishes fiction, essays, and poetry on a quarterly basis. The Facts as They Are by Samantha Bell was published on "Prick of the Spindle," another online literary journal. While both of these journals are published exclusively online, some of their counterparts publish both online and printed versions.
The backgrounds of these writers are as various as their contributions within this anthology. Samantha Bell is a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing who has been published in several journals. Rosemary Mild coauthors a mystery series with her husband and has essays published in Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover's Soul and the Maryland Writers' Association's first anthology. Mary Patrice Erdmans is a Professor of Sociology at Central Connecticut State University and has had work published in the North American Review as well as several others, and was awarded the Oscar Halecki Prize.


The essay, How Funk Music Changed My Life by Luke Buckham comes from a sort of hybrid website which serves not only as an online literary journal, but a type of blog as well.
As blogging, social media and other types of personal websites continue to move toward the forefront of society, it seems likely the ways these sites can be used by writers will not only grow, but gain acceptance and exposure as well. This provides a true win-win situation for writers and their potential audiences, since the needs of both can be so easily served.

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