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Why You Should Keep a Blog (Part 2)

The Sleeping Kings blog, may it rest in peace.

The Sleeping Kings blog, may it rest in peace.

I talked on Tuesday about the blog I started to post essays and status updates in 2005, but then in May of 2006 I started another one. SleepingKings on Xanga was a creative writing experiment on a grand scale. I had a story idea I wanted to investigate, some characters I wanted to meet, and a loosely-threaded plot I wanted to pick at. Instead of opening a new Word doc, I opened a weblog.

I invited all my friends and family to come read my new story, and I made a commitment to add 1,000 words a day to it. That became 1,000 words a week or, at times, 1,000 words a year. Still, the blog was up, and with it a constant commitment to write new material.

More than that, every page was available for public comment, in the roughest of rough draft forms. Sure, I’d do everything I could to get it right, but by the time I learned Josh’s car needed to be a pickup, it had already been a tan sedan for two months real-time.

The project was exhilarating, though. For long stretches the feedback would keep me going, and the knowledge that my readers wanted to know more. I was following in some pretty impressive footsteps, too, knowing that Ivanhoe and The Three Musketeers (some of my favorite novels) had been written as serials, published a chapter at a time in the newspapers.

Looking back now…it’s all garbage. I’ve spent most of the last two years trying to salvage some publishable novels out of the mess I put up on the web back then. Even so, it’s one of the most impressive and most exciting things I’ve done as a writer, so far. I learned so much from that experience, and if it sounds at all fun to you, I recommend you take a stab at it, too.

That said…something like that will only ever be an experiment. If you approach it with a lot of forethought and research, you can call it an exercise instead, but mostly it’s a project whose design and demand daily distract you from some of the principles of good writing you should be developing. The big ugly serial can be a monumental accomplishment, but the best thing you can do to become a better writer is focus on the fundamentals, and do it every day. For that, you don’t need an experiment. You just need a blog.

Writing Daily

You’ve heard it before, in any writing class you’ve ever taken. You’ve heard it from Nathan Bransford and Writer’s Digest and from me. You know it, you’ve always known it, but you’ve never really been able to follow through. Still, the fact remains: if you want to get better at writing, you need to practice writing every day.

I’ve been hearing that advice for decades (and I’ve barely got decades to my name), but I’ve never known a writer who could make real contributions to a work-in-progress on a daily basis. There’s too much emotional and intellectual entanglement when it comes to the shape and structure of an active work. NaNoWriMo gets close, but even that usually has it gaps, its doldrums and frantic sprints. On a real-life, day-to-day basis, you can’t keep writing the same novel or short story or epic poem day in and day out, in meaningful chunks.

The time-honored answer to that problem is the diary. Write on your novel when you can, but commit yourself to producing a thousand words of autobiography every day. It keeps your hand moving, keeps your mind engaged, and keeps your focus on writing, even when you let your WIP go for a day (or a week, or a year).

Courtney talked about precisely that in her WILAWriTWe yesterday, and she’s spot on. Every word counts. Every page you fill up makes you a better writer, whether it’s in-genre or not, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, whether it’s creative or not. The process of practicing written communication makes you better at written communication.

Writing for Readers

Part of what sets a blog apart from the private leather-bound diaries of old is its public nature. As I said on Tuesday, you can set your blog to private. You can share it with no one. But the software is there and it’s designed to make public.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. If you have any readers at all, you’ll feel compelled to write to a schedule, to keep them satisfied. That can help shore up your discipline, when you don’t feel like writing, but it can also be stressful. At times (and, of course, I’m speaking from experience), it can become a burden that makes you want to quit blogging altogether.

When you are writing, though, you need more than just word count. Since you have readers, you need something interesting to say. One of the guys in my writer’s group just started a new blog and he’s focusing on song lyrics — the music that gives him inspiration also gives him material. He can post every other day and talk about the poetry that’s moving his soul at the moment.

If you can find a niche, if you can find a topic of interest to you, you can find a thousand things to talk about. That’s what I’m trying to do here. That’s what Carlos is doing as he tries to make his life better, writing about ways to make your life better. That’s what Trish is doing over at Your Homeroom, writing about the activities and projects she works on everyday.

But you don’t have to talk about a particular hobby or niche interest to find something to say. You’ve got a topic ready to hand, every time you sit down to write: you. As I said before, I started my first blog on Xanga to rant about my philosophies, but I gave up on that soon enough and turned it into a journal. Instead of talking about politics or religion, I started talking about me — about my boring ol’ life. As soon as I did that, my readership shot way up, and so did the feedback I got.

Making it Interesting

I know you’re worried that your life is too boring. I know you’re thinking, “Nobody’s going to care what I had for dinner.” That can be true, if you let it be true. You’re a writer, though. Your whole job is to take a story and make it interesting. I’ve got a lot to say about Narrative and Exposition, and it’s all going to come into play with your blog.

You can tell us about your day, with some brutally terse exposition.

“Yesterday I went to work, and then I came home from work. I ate Spaghetti-O’s. I watched something on TV. I went to bed. The end.”

And, y’know, that’ll make a point. If you try really hard, you can prove to your readers that your life is boring. But it’s not your life that matters there, it’s your storytelling. If you’re not careful, you can do the same thing with your fiction, too.

I just finished reading a scene in a novel where the writer skipped over what should have been the climax — an incredibly dramatic and story-changing confrontation between the protagonist and the boy who’s in love with her — with exactly that sort of presentation. “She met him at his house, and explained to him that they couldn’t be together. He didn’t agree, but she convinced him of it. Then she went home and cried.” We didn’t get to see any of it happen, and as a result the most interesting scene in the protagonist’s life was made boring.

There’s a good chance you do the same thing, from time to time. As writers, we all do. It’s easy to stop telling stories and start relating events, and as soon as we do that, it gets boring. It doesn’t matter if you’re putting in time at work, or trekking across the blighted lands of Mordor. Your story will be exactly as interesting as you make it in the telling.

That’s the true treasure of blogging for a storyteller. It’s constant practice. It’s a daily challenge: chronicle your boring life, and make it interesting. Before you go to bed every night, or right after you pour your morning coffee, go sit down at the computer, think about the series of tedious things that happened in your life yesterday, and then begin the brilliant alchemical process of turning them into a story.

That’s the true craft of the author, taking regular ol’ life and turning it into something that shines. It’s not going to work the first time you try. Maybe your first ten efforts will still feel as dull as your Thursdays. Maybe your next dozen will stutter along, half-stories of a dull bronze at best. The only way you’re ever going to get to gold is to try, again and again, with exactly the resources you have available.

It takes a little time, and a lot of effort, but every step along the way makes you better. Start working on it right now. Open up your blog, and make a story out of yesterday.

2 Responses to “Why You Should Keep a Blog (Part 2)”

  1. Carlos Velez says:

    Thank you! I just spent the last hour writing a blog entry that’s exhausting me and boring me. I’m telling a story from over 3 years ago but I’m leaving out the story and telling the events, and it’s dry. I had to take a break to come read something interesting and it was perfect! Thanks again.

  2. Aaron Pogue says:

    Glad I could help! It’s easy to think of the storytelling as more work, because it takes more forethought and more words to convey the same information. It’s often easier, though, for precisely the reason you mentioned: it’s interesting!

    It’s also easier to write something that makes sense, because switching into storytelling mode forces you to think about the reader’s experience instead of just the information, and that’s always a good thing.