Former Fringe Blogger and Redivider Fiction Editor Matt Salesses has pioneered a new project he calls "Live Essays: An Experiment in Up-to-the-Minute Nonfiction." The tagline: "I have decided to post this essay as I am writing it, and to write it as it is happening. We'll see what comes of this. Other essays coming soon?"
It's an interesting approach, for a couple of reasons: 1. Matt is primarily a fiction writer. 2. Matt is living in Korea, teaching English. 3. The immediacy of the writing tends to create a sense of intimacy that we wouldn't normally get from an essay, as we feel we're reading as the action is happening.
This breed of insta-writing is popping up elsewhere, as well--the cell phone novel has become one of the most popular literary forms in Japan, according to this week's New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear. Sites like the Japanese Maho I-Land cater to young writers who can tap their tome as if texting on their cell, and then upload it directly onto the site, where readers can follow the installments as quickly as they're written.
It is a phenomenon both thoroughly modern and a bit antiquated--popular novels were often serialized in newspapers in the days of Dickens, letting readers easily digest stories in smaller chunks.
The idea of "instant nonfiction" posted online does raise a couple of questions, though. Where is the line that separates an "essay" from a "diary" from a "blog"? If we consider that an essay is typically a structured piece, building on a central theme, with a defined question and exploration of that question within, does this method leave room for that kind of analysis? Or is this the "new, new, new journalism"--instant, easy to swallow bits of information, delivered to the reader daily and free of charge?