Does Crunchable Have a Future,
Part II

More of our writers chime in on what brought them here.

This is the continuation of a round-table discussion, started here two weeks ago, about what Crunchable is, was, and (maybe) should be. In particular, Editor Guy Michael Duck asked Crunchable’s writers what drew them to the site in the first place, with an eye toward how we might rework the site to play to those strengths.

I was initially drawn to Crunchable because Editor Guy Mike Duck told me had compromising photos of me and screen legend Ernest Borgnine.

No one was more relieved than I was to find out this wasn’t the case — particularly since I have no memory of meeting Borgnine. But by then, I’d already written two stories for the site, which Duck snapped up almost as soon as they came flying out of my computer’s word processor. Mike, I’m sorry that I still haven’t gotten around to writing that third story. Honestly, it’s coming — all I need is a case of grapefruits, the second U2 record, and another $5k advanced to me to cover expenses.

But seriously, I was honored, when Mike — who toils alongside me at a major metropolitan newspaper — asked me to contribute a piece to the site.

Being asked to write about a specific theme gave me a chance to use a different set of writing muscles, and it helped reenergize me for the writing that I do all day, which is about Pennsylvania politics. The Crunchable article, about the painful end of a long-distance relationship, also had the unintended fringe benefit of being read by its subject, which resulted in a reconciliation. Sometimes, the cosmic tumblers really do click into place.

But it was also the start of a great friendship with a guy whose efforts to push me to become a better writer have not, for once, ended either in fisticuffs or three-day benders across the desert (though we really ought to work on the latter).

I’ve kind of come to think of Crunchable as a local version of McSweeney’s — a quirky publication with a unique voice, that I’d be very sad to lose.

Years ago I started reading Crunchable because I knew friends or friends of friends who wrote for it. Most of us here at Crunchable went to the same small liberal arts college, one that valued writing in all its variety, and I think it shows here that the greatest contribution of Washington College, or really any small liberal arts school, isn’t the massive once-yearly prize it gives out, but the love for writing it nurtures in its students. (The Sophie Kerr Prize is awarded every year to the graduating senior at Washington College who’s judged to have the “best ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor”; past winners include Crunchable contributors Stephanie Fowler and Liam Thomas Daley. —Eds.)

Today I have undergraduate writing students of my own. I wonder what I am fostering in them: Will it be a love of the craft, play, and discovery of writing? Or will writing merely be for them a tool, dead and joyless but for its useful purpose of communication? I don’t know.

I do know that, at any rate, the real challenge for writers is simply to keep writing; other things, often good things, get in the way. Jobs, family, utterly entertaining Bravo reality television programming, laundry, trips to the grocery store. Sleep. But Crunchable has kept us all going through the years, giving us a place to write and invent and discover and giving readers a place to read what we put there. Crunchable became the writing community most of us lost post-graduation. This is no small thing.

I’m sad to say that I’m not able take on a more active role at Crunchable. A publication such as this takes hard work from dedicated people, and I’m grateful for the time and energy the editors and other writers invest here. And whatever Crunchable’s future, I feel lucky to have been part of its past.

I originally found Crunchable through my network of Washington College graduates, and it wasn’t until recently that I began writing articles myself. What I’ve loved about the site is the open-ended nature of the monthly themes; as writers, we can interpret them however we want. Plus, I’ve been able to write about a variety of subjects, from my not-so-secret love of pop culture analysis to more introspective personal essays. This website has given me a place to keep my writerly skills sharp while writing about subjects other than teaching and student essays.

I’d love for Crunchable to continue, but I understand if it has reached the end — due to busier schedules all around.

What drew me to Crunchable years ago was the fact that it featured writing by my friends. I was a junior in college, desperately missing my friends who had graduated, and Crunchable was a way for me to feel connected to them. I also appreciated that it was an outlet for my own writing, though I didn’t take nearly enough of advantage of that.

I do feel that in this day of all-Internet, all-the-time, Crunchable doesn’t have the same niche that it did before everyone and their mother could create their own blog to feature their writing. Since I find myself reading mostly news, reviews, and frivolous blogs most of the time, I devote less time to reading Crunchable. I’m not sure I can offer an idea for what Crunchable’s purpose should be, because I associate it so strongly with my college years and the first few years afterward. Even though Crunchable is still around, it’s more like a time-capsule experience for me.

For me, the appeal of Crunchable was the strong sense of community. I first started reading the site when my good friend Kevin wrote an article and I spent weeks thereafter poring through the archives. The writing and the stories were appealing, and I loved the idea of becoming a part of that little bubble of warmth on the Web.

I had just graduated from college in 2007 and was feeling adrift — all of the clubs and communities that I was so tightly woven into for the past four years had dissolved upon receiving my diploma, and I missed writing and deadlines and having a creative outlet. I love to write, but I know that I need the deadlines. Most of all, I needed to belong to something again.

For me, Crunchable was a way to do that. After my first article went up on the site, I was hooked. I wrote more and more pieces and I ended up with a lot of things that I am very proud of. I have since shared my articles all over the Internet with my family and friends. When I first met my husband’s extended family at our rehearsal dinner, they all embraced me and raved about my most recent article about wedding dress shopping. I had never met these people in my life, but they knew all about me. It was kind of amazing. Likewise, I got to know a ton of wonderful people whom I never would have met if not for the site and the project.

Of course, as life moves on, priorities change. I’m not the wide eyed new graduate that I once was; in the years since my graduation, I became a librarian, a wife, a graduate student, a homeowner, a book reviewer, an artistic director, and an all-around very busy person. These days, I feel like I barely have time to live my life, let alone write about it on a regular basis. I’m sure many others feel that way too: It’s been fun — wonderful, even — but maybe it’s time to move on, at least from the rigorous weekly schedule.

It’s funny — I’m ready to step down from my role as contributing editor, and even from writing as regularly as I have in the past, but I don’t like the idea of the site completely going away either. Maybe it’s time for Crunchable to take on new incarnation?

If I had to figure something out off the top of my head, I’d say maybe a quarterly format — make it more of an online literary mag. We could spend the time in between issues really drumming up articles and spending a lot of time editing. I also think we should forge a new relationship with writers — working with them more closely to develop their ideas even before a word is written. If we are in better communication with our authors, we might be the push they need to develop an inkling of an idea into a fully realized piece. Right now, we don’t really have a back and forth until a piece is actually submitted.

When I was on the Collegian (the Washington College student magazine —Eds.), we had two feature editors who did just that: Every month, we met with anyone who wanted to write and hashed everything out until every person had a piece or two. Sometimes we came up with the ideas, sometimes they did — there was a lot of discussion and back and forth and I remember really enjoying it.

Also, though I have often enjoyed having a theme, I think it can be a turn-off to potential writers. Nothing is worse than having a bad case of writer’s block. Frequently I’ll end up writing a piece that barely comes close to the thematic idea of the issue because I can’t think of anything else, or I’ll end up writing a piece I’m not as proud of in order to fit the theme. Maybe we could reexamine that particular format and find something that might be a better fit.

Crunchable has to be around, someway, somehow. I’d be so sad if it just went off into the proverbial sunset. But you’re right — there is a bit of a lull.

Crunchable has humble roots: A bunch of college kids can’t let go of our Broadsides and Elm and Collegian days (These are all student publications at Washington College —Eds.) and so a fearless (and tech-y) leader emerges and creates an online repository of essays and stories and general musings. And that was good for a while because we stayed the same. Nine years later, we’re all different. Should Crunchable be allowed to change too? I think so.

But what does Crunchable want to be when it grows up?

My favorite part of Crunchable has always been the honest writing. I’m a creative non-fiction kind of girl, and those articles always appealed to me. Crunchable has always been fair and open — both valuable qualities.

Readership and contributions need a boost. That has to be fixable.

Editor Guy Michael Duck will wrap things up with a post next week. In the meantime, please join the discussion!

Article © 2010 by John L. Micek