Thursday, 5 July 2012

Can blogging actually harm your writing?

One of the things I always advise would-be writers to do is to start a blog: it’s a great way of getting into the habit of regular writing, and with writing, like any talent, practice makes perfect – so the more you do it, the better you get. But am I right? Or can blogging actually damage your writing, and stall your ambitions?

I think that one of the biggest myths about writing is that it’s all the same thing: that if you can write short stories, you can write a novel (or vice versa); that it’s just one basic skill that works across all media. While there is, of course, a degree of transferability  – if you’re a decent writer, you’re not suddenly going to lose the ability to string together a sentence if you decide to switch from business writing to blogging, or playwriting to penning a novel. There are plenty of examples where writers have ability across a range of fields – but just as many where they don’t. Talent in one area doesn’t necessarily equate to skill in another. Some of my most beloved novelists write terrible short stories, because they simply can’t contain a plot in a few thousand words; one of my favourite non-fiction writers is now publishes historical novels that are so bad they make me want to stick things in my eyes.

In part this is because we read different materials differently: for example, if you’re writing online material, you need to ‘front load’ your piece more (people may not even see more than the first paragraph, and they have less patience if you’re obscure in your opening text). While a killer opener is important for a book (or play, or short story), readers tend to be more patient – they are willing to enjoy a slow burn, to let you layer information and to take a longer route to where you’re going. With blogging, too, there is a tendency to accept a certain lack of polish: you often write quickly, and post without much re-editing, while longer prose often requires a willingness to edit, and re-edit , and to be brutal with yourself over what you keep in and what you lose.

The other issue with blogging is that you can end up running to stand still: you write and write and write without ever actually ending up with an end product you can use. I’m not saying there’s no benefit to blogging for the sake of it – I do that myself, it’s enormously enjoyable – and some blogs, depending on style and topic, can actually add up to a cohesive whole. I’m also not a snob about it – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being ‘just’ a blogger (and there are plenty of people who are very successful at this – it’s nothing to be snippy about). But it’s also tempting to tell yourself you’re moving forward in your goal to write a book, when all you’re doing is creating content for a blog.

Given all that – it’s still advice I’d stand by. Blogging is fun, it’s a great way of connecting with people (and helping build a ready-made audience if you do eventually publish a book), and getting into the habit of regular writing is a discipline that will serve you well. But as with so many other aspects of being a writer, the trick is being honest with yourself: if you’re using it as an excuse to procrastinate or put off a ‘proper’ project, then it’s not doing you any favours, and you may be better going offline.  


10 comments:

Sandra Davies said...

Blogging - a catalyst, a place to exercise and try out different voices, a discipline, and yes a place to procrastinate too, but it's a type of procrastination which (along with reading) invariably seeds more writing.
For me the two went hand in hand as I tried to lose my 'academic' voice and find one suited more to fiction.
And blogging leads to participation on sites which offer prompts, which I personally find invaluable.
Thoughtful and timely post this.

Derek said...

Blogging makes a wonderful servant and a terrible master. You can learn discipline, deadlines and the benefits of trying different types of writing. But you need to ration your time and be very clear about why you're blogging in the first place.

It also plugs you into an international audience and a global community. Above all, it's a great place to share opinions, experience and ideas.

Caroline Green said...

Good advice there. I never cease to be amazed at the ways in which I can procrastinate. And I do think sometimes there is a writing energy that gets used up by blogging.

Joe said...

Agree wholly that writing your novel, play, non-fiction book etc should come first every time. But there is a place for blogging: to build contacts, to develop an online platform and, yes, to practice writing.

Not quite a double edged sword. But moderation and caution are good blogging watchwords.

JO said...

I don't think blogging actually harms my writing - though it gets in the way sometimes. But it's a different way of writing - the immediacy of it, the way it floats off in unexpected and irrelevant directions. But it's fun - for me, that's the best reason to do it.

Rebecca Alexander said...

For me, blogging is a quite selfish activity as I reflect on my own writing journey. And it connects writers to other writers, and that can be very helpful. The trick is to blog AFTER you've written.

Thrifty Gal said...

Thanks for the comments, guys, some really interesting perspectives there...

Hazel_Myope said...

I would completely dissagre with Rebecca. For me blogging is something I do to get my writing juces flowing. When I first sit down at my desk I find it hard to get started and risk wandering off to make a cup of tea or watch another episode of Buffy (that turns into six).
I'll write a quick blog post, that chances are noone will read, and it gets my fingers twitching to add another thousand words to my book.

Thrifty Gal said...

Hazel, I must admit that one of the benefits of blogging for me is that it forces me to switch on the computer, not just watch tv! (also, I love Buffy).

SolariC said...

As a novelist who can't quite get the hang of short-stories, I found your post very interesting. I've noticed since I started my blog that it really requires a very different, more chatty and relaxed style from my fiction.

It's fun to practice both voices, depending on what I'm writing on a given day, and to see how they slightly affect each other, but also remain distinct.

Thank you for your interesting and encouraging post about writing a blog!