500animation

500th Post – Are blogs good for writers?

Well. This is my 500th blog post.

HHUUUURRRRAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Coincidentally, it’s also effectively four years since I started blogging. I opened my blog in April 2006, but did not really start using it fully until August that year, when I moved from Blogger to WordPress. Looking back at my first post, it was quite clear I had no idea what to do with a blog. Book reviews coming soon. How insightful!

I began blogging because I wanted a focus for my writing. In 2006 I was starting to gather short fiction publications, and was taking the idea of writing more seriously. After a short conversation with M. John Harrison at the 2006 Eastercon, I decided I wanted to review and write critically about genre fiction. A blog, I thought, would be a good platform for both. And all things considered I think it was a good call.

Blogging often comes under fire, especially for fiction writers, as a distraction and a waste of time. At an average of 500 words per post, my 500 posts to date equals 250,000 words. Or 2 novels and a short story collection. Or 1 fantasy blockbuster. Or 1/10th of a Neal Stephenson tome. Surely I could have written those instead? Perhaps. They say it takes 1,000,000 to complete a writers apprenticeship. All told, including fiction (most of which will never see the light of day), professional and academic writing and now this blog, I’m probably getting close to that. So those 500 posts served at least one purpose, and I very much doubt I would have banged out the next Lord of the Rings instead if I had not started the blog at all.

But as a 500th post celebration, I’d like to share some thoughts on what blogging has helped me achieve as a fiction writer.

A Focus and a Record of Progress – At last years World Fantasy Convention, Ann Vandermeer gave a group of us Clarionauts an informal pep talk about the writing life. Writing, she said, is a long career. Things you do and learn in your twenties can still be paying dividends in your fifties and sixties or beyond. Everything you do as a writer is one more step on the path (I paraphrase, but this was the sense of Ann’s wisdom). I truly agree with this sentiment. I have been writing with serious intent for seven years, with the standard lifetime of generalised ‘I Wanna Be A Writer’ ambition before that. But beginning to blog was an undeniable catalyst for my development as a writer. Writing is easy to lose sight of, amidst the chaos of real life. But just the act of regularly updating a blog can be enough to bring you back to your goal. And it provides somewhere to reflect on your progress towards that goal. You could reflect in a private journal of course, but the public nature of a blog makes the reflection more focussed. You can, as I have done, set writing goals which you then utterly fail to achieve (three NaNoWriMo’s and two novel drafts to date…) but even those can play a part. And it’s a permanent record of what you have achieved. and in my case at least, it has contributed to progress. I’m certain I would not have had the experience to blog for The Guardian, or the focus to get to Clarion in 2008, without starting this blog first.

Research - there is a lot to learn about writing. Books to read. Genres to study. Techniques to acquire. History to get familiar with. In speculative fiction alone, there is more material than you might hope to cover in an under-graduate degree. Add in general literary theory and criticism, and keeping up outside the genre, and the task of really learning the field is no little thing. I’ve used my blog as a repository for a lot of my learning. Each new post represents an aspect of learning, and ideas that have come up as I’ve been studying various areas of SF. Again, the public nature of a blog gives it an edge over a private journal in this regard. You don’t really understand something until you have written it down coherently enough for someone else to understand.

Community – but the most valuable aspect of this blog has been the extended community of writers and others, mostly in the SF community, that it has connected me with. Something I think it’s important to make clear is that a blog is not a promotional tool. Most of the people both blogs and social networks connect you with are not ‘fans’ (for lack of a less cringeworthy term), but peers. Other writers of similar experience, and a few of much more experience. Social networks, primarily Facebook and Twitter, are also valuable for connecting with your community as a writer. But a blog makes a good base to work from. Whilst it may sound sentimental, when I chat with people on Twitter it feels like having a conversation in the street. But discussing things here on the blog feels like inviting people into my home.

Focus, Research, Community. Three genuine benefits of keeping a blog as a fiction writer that I have found invaluable. I’d like to know the opinions of others on this topic of course, positive or negative.

Where next for my blog? I have the serious intention of being able to look at this blog when I’m sixty, and read back through 10,000 or so posts, at an entire career in writing (and possibly some non-writing related occurrences!). I think that would be quite something. But, I’m also intending to put the blog on hold for periods to give undivided attention to fiction writing when it is required. But until that time, I’ll continue to enjoy sharing these posts with whoever wants to read them.

Goodnight all.

6 thoughts on “500th Post – Are blogs good for writers?”

  1. As a reader, I have to say I really enjoy following author’s blogs as long as the content is just as good as any non-author’s blog. I do enjoy reading about the writing process and the writer’s day-to-day life, as long as it’s well written (Elizabeth Bear, Mrissa Lingen, Amanda Downum are all strong examples of this) but I also just like being entertained (Sarah Rees Brennan, the original cheerful monkey in a sundress, is a prime example. She is always entertaining. Even when not writing or falling down. Or both.)

    At the same time, I’ve definitely run across blogs where it’s obvious that all the author wants to do is put the name of their current book in the post with a link. Or talk some more about some obscure award it’s won, or–and this is almost the most cardinal sin–talk about writing in a way that sucks all the color out of it, and I find myself not just avoiding those blogs but avoiding the books those authors write as well. So I guess it can be a double-edged sword.

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  2. It’s rather obvious to say but the blogs I enjoy are, like any other literary works, written with a sense of the shape of the piece and, usually, with a sense (implicit or explicit) of the audience. Having said that, two of my blogs started on the assumption that no-one would ever read them and with no sense of the direction they would take – that direction was partly shaped by the sudden appearance of readers’ comments.

    Even though I like several authors’ blogs, I’m bored by blogs which are just there to puff writers’ work and increase sales. I can find advertising material elsewhere. I want a sense that the blog author has something to say and is interested in readers. I follow some blogs that aren’t particularly well-written from a literary point of view because I like what I learn of the writer, as well as some blogs by writers who cover different ground in their blogs from in their other writing.

    Examples of blogs by writers I enjoy at the moment are:

    http://www.willbuckingham.com/blog

    http://davidcottis.blogspot.com/

    http://sheenaghpugh.livejournal.com/

    http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/

    Congratulations on your 500th birthday and keep blogging!

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  3. Well that was re affirming. I started my own blog this year after also thinking it would be a kick up the behind to get serious about writing. “If I talk about it publically, I won’t want to embarras myself now, will I” was the thought process behind it. It’s nice to see someone with talent actually thought to same thing.

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  4. Just stumbled across your blog. Have subscribed to read more of your thoughts.

    I am relatively new to blogging but am finding it helpful for the reasons you specify.

    I have recently written my first full-length story (non-fiction) and published it online to test the waters on my style. The positive response I received to both the content and style of my work gave me a lot of confidence. Blogging has given me the courage to apply to study creative writing at university next year and to embrace my personal creativity.

    But then, I can also see how it distracts from other writing projects.

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