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.