A writer friend said the other day that he wondered why writers would blog. “I mean, they write for a living,” he said. “Why would they want to write when they don’t have to? Or are not getting paid for it? It seems pretty pointless.”
My problem with blogging has never been so much about not getting paid for it; it’s about a lack of time! I am lucky to have an open invitation to put up opinion pieces on Huffington Post, but I so rarely have the time to contribute a chunk of gratis writing. Unless you’ve had a hit book, and can sit back and watch your royalties pile up, you have to worry about paying your mortgage – or your rent. So you tend to focus your time at the keyboard on things that… you know… might pay you.
The beauty, however, of blogging for writers can be summed up in one word: FREEDOM.
The stress of writing to A) please an editor, B) sell a story, C) get a book narrative from point chapter one to chapter two, or even D) be brilliant – none of that matters. What does matter, when you sit down to blather your thoughts online, is to actually enjoy yourself. To write for the (dare I say) fun of it, to opine without worrying about the hate mail to come – the likes of which I had to deal with by the bushel when I wrote for San Francisco newspapers for 24 years.
Sure, there were times I really enjoyed writing my roughly 2,000 newspaper stories – especially in the last years, when I was a columnist and had all kinds of freedom. But serious writing, for the serious writer, is generally not fun. I remember my friend Ethan Canin telling me once that anyone who said they loved writing and being a writer was lying; it’s an excruciating process.
Then again, he’s a book writer – the most excruciating kind of writing there is. Especially for me. My journalist training messed me up, big-time, when I sought to write my book. When you’re a journalist, before you start writing anything, you think. A lot. It’s a real time-saver. Younger journalists don’t understand this. They wade impulsively into the story they need to write, full of thoughts and ideas and quotes to inject. Not me. I got so good at the process of writing a newspaper story that halfway through an interview, I could look at my notes and circle my lede. And start thinking of how to build the story around it. By the time I got to my desk, the story was already jellin’ in my melon.
But none of that excellent training helped me at all when trying to write a book! That was some kind of fresh hell. Used to writing in 1000 word chunks, I realized without a point-by-point outline I was dead meat. It worked out, but God only knows how. It also taught me that it’s never too late for this old dog to learn new tricks.
Which brings us back to blogging. Can’t hurt to try, right? Since this is a writers’ website (and what a site it is, eh?), I’ll try to address my comments to that aspect of what I do. (As opposed to the festival-directing / consulting / wheeler-dealer things I do.)
Right now I’m obsessed with rewriting the first chapter of the proposal for my next book. I’d given the package to my agent (standard issue pitch, bio, outline, sample chapters) – and Ellen liked everything but the actual writing. In the chapter. You know – the book. Sigh. I totally get what she’s saying, and know how to change it.
Again, the issue is time. I know – if I have time to blog I should have time for the rewrite process. But this is so much easier! And more fun! Call it the author’s version of task-avoidance – like deciding the house really needs to be dusted when you have a checkbook to balance. Or call it a pump-primer. Now that I’ve fiddled around and bored readers to death with my meandering diatribe here, I’m in the writing rhythm. Think I’ll close this document and pull up that daunting folder entitled “Valencia ’73.”
Who says blogging is pointless?