Jordan Lapp, co-editor of one of my favorite markets Every Day Fiction, just rebooted his fallow blog with a post that got some people talking. Jordan has recently won the top spot in one of the quarterly rounds of The Writers of the Future Contest, so he’s come back to blogging now that he has found a theme, or ‘hook,’ to blog about. As he remarks in his first post, and elaborates further in a follow-up, his blogging originally fell by the wayside because he didn’t see the point in it — that beginning writers without a product, or without a hook, would be better off spending their time writing than blogging. I essentially agree with that and, after yet further discussion on this topic at SFReader and at Susanne Warr’s blog, it seems even new writers who are blogging without a hook that disagree with Jordan’s statement have no trouble acknowledging the basic truth at its heart — that what is essentially being said is not ‘new writers must not blog’ but that ‘new writers must not expect their blogs to substitute for the real work they have to do to establish themselves as writers.’
A strong comparison can be made between the role of blogging and the role of short fiction in a contemporary writer’s career — namely, the question of whether or not pursuing either is worth it for the beginner is one that cannot be answered as a simple yes or no. Yes, both can be worth it if you go into them with your eyes open. No, neither is going to be if you expect them to do what they cannot.
For the beginning writer, a writer essentially without a product because he has no novels to sell, writing a personal diary-style blog is probably not going to do a whole lot for his career. That is not to say he shouldn’t do it because, let’s face it, plenty of non-writers do the same and for reasons that have nothing to do with selling fiction, it’s just that he should not expect a blog to actually generate a following for his fiction. This is not an argument about having a web presence — I think it is inarguable that every writer must have at least a page with basic information and a contact email — this argument is about time vs. reward. If you, the beginning writer, do not want to invest the time in a blog, then don’t do so just because you believe you must have one. Reading about people’s personal lives is only interesting to a point, and it’s no wonder that it is the people that have already got the world’s attention with a book or other product that have blogs of this sort with legions of readers.
A separate issue is the blogger-type blog writers — the ones for whom the book deals are not the primary motivation but the blog traffic and ads, etc. are. This is a different breed, playing by different rules, and not at all the beginning writer I am referring to. I’m discussing fiction writers, spec fic writers especially who, even when they find their niche, will be blogging on topics that probably aren’t going to set the internet on fire — unless something like a book review of A Clockwork Orange written partially in nadsat in your idea of a thunderclap reverberating across the world wide web.
So for us stodgy, bookish, writer-types with our content blogs covering reviews, or writing advice, or information on agent searches and the like, what can a blog do for us? As someone who has made some great contacts through my blog, I can tell you it can pay dividends, so long as you put in the work. Over on the SFReader thread Cindy Pon mentioned that an agent actually found her from her blog — but, keep in mind, that was after she had a novel ready to go, and was blogging about her experiences looking to get it published. For those of us without that sort of product, what is it we are selling?
The obvious answer is that we are selling ourselves. I don’t think that can be done solely with a blog, either, but only in conjunction with other networking. For example, I will have six book reviews in the next issue of Black Gate magazine, and have been invited to contribute to the BG blog once a week — both of which I’m extremely pleased with, and neither of which would have happened if the reviews on this site didn’t impress BG’s Managing Editor. However, he didn’t just come out of the blue looking for me, either, rather we became acquainted with one another just as any other people that move in the same circles and have similar interests might do — so if you aren’t committed to being ‘out there’ online in as many ways as you can be, blogging is only ever going to be a minor trick in your arsenal of self-promotional tools.
Blogging, then, is a useful adjunct to an online lifestyle. If the editors, publishers, readers, and potential employers you come into contact with overwhelmingly originate from your time spent online, having a website that showcases what you can do for them is a good idea. Again, it doesn’t have to be a blog, but if you want to approach your site with the same discipline as you do writing, there are rewards you can reap in the short term. Here is where I have to disagree somewhat with the sentiment that a beginning writer ought to be writing instead of blogging, not because it isn’t true — because it basically is — but because it implies these two types of writing are interchangeable. From what I can tell, they aren’t.
So, this is where my experience may be different from many others, because I’ve never once felt my blogging time took away from my ‘real’ writing time. Firstly, this is because I generally have the luxury of having time to do both, I’m not fighting to squeeze either into the day — if that is the case for you, then ignore what I say because you really should concentrate on your fiction and leave the blogging for when you’ve got some novels to push. However if, like me, you have the time or can make the time, you might notice that blogging and writing can be mutually reinforcing, rather than interfere with one another.
When I don’t write — when I don’t sit down to finish a difficult story, or start a new one I think will be hard, or go read a book instead of making notes or plotting or doing any of the other brain-work you need to do to keep the short fiction gears turning — it’s for a hundred reasons that have nothing to do with time. There may be occasions when I blog to distract myself from not writing, or to feel as if I have accomplished something writing-related while, in reality, the work I should be doing sits untouched — but most of the time this isn’t the case. Sometimes, there is no way I’m going to convince myself to work on a story that day, but I will blog something — in which case I’ve done more writing that day than I normally would have. And sometimes, quite often in fact, blogging acts as the perfect warm-up for the work I know I have to do but try to avoid — limbering up the fingers and the mind with a looser, freer, less consequential piece of writing that puts me in the mental state I need to achieve to tackle the serious business of crafting fiction. On those days, the work I put into my blog directly translates into the real writing I need to do as a writer.
There is a baseline perception of writing success that realizes that novels are the alpha and omega of the professional fiction game — they are both the source of income, and of readers. It’s absolutely true, and if you could program a writer to pursue only the novelist’s path without any extraneous detours he’d probably carve out the most efficient path to potential success. But writers are people, too, bags of weird psychology and strange chemical humors, and sometimes the things in life that aren’t strictly necessary become the most vital — like the affirmation produced by a short fiction sale to a small press magazine, or the conversation started on a blog that means someone actually does read your work. It’s been said that writers are always working, because writing is as mush a lifestyle as a vocation. By the same token I think we can look at a beginning writer’s blog as not only an implement of his career, but an appendage of his life — cast in those terms and when viewed with at least a healthy level of practical detachment, it may not really be that the beginning writer should ask himself “should I blog” but “if I do blog, will I do it well?”