First off, I offer my tremendous thanks to everyone who responded to my questions with such thoughtfulness. It has been wonderful to be reminded of the warm feelings people have for this site and the community it’s fostered.
I must admit it’s also been a little wrenching to ask for critical feedback about a project to which I’ve devoted a full half-decade of my life, and with which I’ve allowed myself to become very emotionally involved. So I also thank all of you for being gentle.
A theme that emerges in many of your responses — both those posted here and those shared with me privately — is that a lot of people would be sad if Crunchable were to wink out of existence. This is good to know, because I had secretly feared that word of the site’s possible demise would be met in many quarters with merely a shrug.
(Another part of me secretly hoped that other Crunchable loyalists would mount the battlements in its defense, decrying the very thought of its ending. It was, perhaps, too grandiose a fantasy.)
In these five years since that fateful day when I asked Crunchable founder Chris Klimas if he’d be willing to give me the keys to the place, this site has done for me everything I hoped it would. It has helped me force myself to keep writing creatively. It has kept me in touch with old friends. It has given me experience as an editor. Above all else, it’s gotten me a job: The Web design skills I taught myself through Crunchable recently resulted in me getting the nod to help run the website of the newspaper where Micek and I work.
So I have a deep sense of gratitude and obligation to this site. That, by itself, isn’t enough to justify the dozens of hours that go into its maintenance every month, but I also can’t quite bear to imagine it not existing.
I love the scores of personal stories that have found a home here. A Crunchable contributor recently remarked to me that, if he were designing a site like this from the ground up, he’d jettison the a lot of the introspective stuff and focus more on pieces that engage the cultural or political world around us. I surprised myself by how strongly I disagreed: To me, Crunchable’s personal essays have always been its lifeblood, and those pieces — like “The Omnipresence of Story,” “Matisse,” “The Mouse,” and “Finding Grace,” to name just a few — are the ones that stay with me and the ones I’m most passionate about preserving.
Stacey, my very patient wife and collaborator, pointed out that this genre has a name: Memoir. That genre is not Crunchable’s only focus — I think we should keep the cultural essays and reviews and interviews — but it is perhaps what we do best.
As Jill pointed out last week, Crunchable dates from the pre-blog age, back when prolific young writers needed someone like the good Mr. Klimas to post their words on the Internet. Though the landscape of the Web has changed dramatically since then, I agree with many of you that Crunchable offers a resource to writers that’s different from what blogs offer.
Blogs require their authors to post regularly to build an audience, to keep things short and consistent, and, usually, to find a niche (or two) to cultivate as a specialty. It helps also to invest time networking and promoting one’s work on Facebook and Twitter. And bloggers need at least enough Web design know-how to make sure their sites will stand out while not making viewers’ eyes bleed.
The strengths of Crunchable that many of you cite are almost exactly opposed to those strengths of blogs: Writers can drop in and publish whenever they feel like it, trying out uncharacteristic writing techniques while crafting pieces that are as short or long as they want, on virtually any subject. Our monthly themes are merely jumping-off points for whatever paths the creative process may take. For the writer, there are no worries about building an audience, designing the site, or keeping it up.
What occurs to me now is that those qualities that make it so easy to be a casual Crunchable contributor also make it a devil to edit, because I take on all those worries about audience-building, Web design, publishing regularly, social networking, and so on.
So I could use some more help. But at the same time, I’m realizing that it may be useful to start changing the way I think about the responsibilities of Crunchable’s contributing editors — that rather than leaving them as open-ended, long-term commitments, maybe they should more closely mirror the drop-in-when-you-feel-inspired model that’s been our model for writers all along. Though I’m hesitant to move from a monthly to a quarterly publishing schedule, I’m intrigued by Molly’s suggestion that we curate submissions for each issue in advance — maybe with a guest editor for each issue.
We also need to do a better job reaching successive crops of writers who are recent college graduates, in that fertile, creative window after their access to student publications dries up but before life fills up with other commitments. (Crunchable has been sustained with about four of those waves in its nine years; we need to catch the next one.) We need to find better ways of reaching out to larger communities online, including the places where other personal essayists and memoirists hang out.
Crunchable is not dead — certainly not yet, anyway. Our efforts in improving how our stories show up in Google searches, our outreach on social media, and the Crunchable.net/work project (which has quietly been adding new members to its ranks!) have resulted in a few thousand more people per month checking out the site.
More importantly, I’m still getting joy out of how you Crunchable writers move me and inspire me.
So though I know we’ll need to change some things in the next few months, I plan to stick with it as long as I can. And I’d be honored to have you all with me.