Is blogging cannibalising your writing?

f course, it is!  In fact, that’s not even a proper question. The proper question is “should I care?”

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There are thousands of sites out there declaiming the benefits of blogging to the would-be writer. My favourite bête noire, Copyblogger, is only the most inevitable. See, for example, number 1 in “73 tips to become a better writer” (ah yes, No. 15: Never use a straightforward number when a kooky one will do).

And much as it galls me to say it, they’re right.  But only up to a point. They’re right that blogging gets one in the habit of writing. But what they don’t mention is that blogging gets one out of the habit of — let’s call it — prospectingAnd by prospecting I mean:

  • winnowing one’s ideas
  • testing and shaping one into a larger proposition
  • entertaining it, dwelling in it
  • thinking how it would work as an article, a paper, a book
  • speculating about potential publishers, potential publications
  • approaching the publishers
  • beginning writing
  • … and so on.

I used to do some of this and be successful with publishing articles.  The next step would have been to write a book.  Now, I do none of it!  Instead, I get an idea (or, more often, manufacture or borrow one), entertain it for minutes — hours at most — and then dump it in a blog post,  rarely to be thought of again. In this way I feel as if I’m squandering ideas.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “What does it matter? The end result is the same; the idea is published and one gets an audience one way or another.”  Yet I suspect it does matter. 

It’s not simply that the product has a different form, ie, blog post vs. article (and may use a different medium: online vs. print).  It’s that the product is the outcome of a very different process and is thus a radically different kind of product.  And what makes it most different is the telescoping of the “entertaining, the dwelling-in” stage.

*****

I know the issue of the potential cannibalising effect of blogs is not an uncommon concern for bloggers.  Just the other day, for example, on The Hannibal Blog, a commentor with his own excellent blog, the Man of Roma, touched on the issue.  In his case, he appeared to resolve the question “should I care?” in the negative. 

Me, I’m not so sure.  I know one person who’d say I should care and that’s the so-called “creativity coach”, Eric Maisel. I’m reading his book, A Writer’s Paris, lent to me by a friend as inspiration for my trip to France.

The book is a strange, intriguing mix of lyricism about such things as the “pain of perfect little parks” and the most hard-headed prescriptions for, say, writing a first draft of a novel in six months:

Day 11. Take a day trip to Monet’s house in Giverny. Write on the metro to the commuter train. Write on the train to the bus. Write on the bus to Giverny. Write on a bench with a view to the Japanese footbridge …

I’m just guessing, but I reckon Mr Maisel would be very severe on blogging.  As a distraction from the main game.  And today at least I’m inclined to agree, and think that, yes, I should care.

*****

Drop cap: courtesy of “Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische”

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Is blogging cannibalising your writing?

  1. The blog, as one manifestation of the new internet technology, can be used for good or bad. You can choose to write fluff, or you can choose to write profound articles. You can write short stories on a blog, and even novels.

    So it’s what you choose to do with the opportunities free and instant self-publishing (the blog) offers, which is important.

    Arguably, 99% of people who have blogs would never normally write anything publishable in the old way, but for their blog. So anything they write which might contribute to the sum of knowledge is a plus, which would never have seen the light of day in pre-blogging times.

    Those 1% of bloggers who do get published in print, would get published anyway, blog or no blog. Blogs have even ended up as published books (think “What White People Like”).

    In short, the blog is a two-edged sword. It’s up to each of us what we do with it.

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    1. Mmm, it’s not blogging that’s the problem (I love it, who wouldn’t?); it’s the writing for print publications I feel I would be doing (and used to do) were I not blogging. Totally agree it’s an all-round Good Thing that people who normally wouldn’t have written anything publishable can now do so.

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  2. Yes, like Phil, I don’t think of my blog posts as “squandering” ideas that I might otherwise use in a book, either the one I’m actually writing right now or a future one.

    Instead, I’ve started thinking about posts as “airing” ideas the way you let wine breathe. You see what the reaction is, you test them intellectually, you let them sit and link to them months later when you have another idea, and so on.

    I think the main obstacle for unpublished writers is lack of practice … writing. And blogging helps with that.

    But as Phil said, those 1% of bloggers who do get published in print, would get published anyway, blog or no blog.

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    1. Definitely the main advantage of blogging is practice in writing. A huge help. Maybe you don’t think of your blog posts as “squandering” ideas because you’re actually putting the ideas to good use elsewhere: in books, in the magazine. At the moment, I feel like I’m too blithely churning through ideas that in pre-blogging days I would have worked up into an article and had published somewhere. Whereas the ideas are so evanescent on the blog …

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  3. I really don’t know.

    To me, the whole issue is discipline and focus. For example, there was a time when I used to watch MTV for several minutes a day in order to flatten my alpha waves. It worked and didn’t prevent me from living an otherwise useful life. Then they started showing Beavis and Butthead and I sensed that further exposure might cause brain damage, so I curtailed my viewing.

    Similarly, if your blog activity is aligned with your writing goals there should be no problem. If it isn’t but is fun/relaxing/stimulating, then there should still be no problem. If you are doing it because you think you have to and are finding it hard to juggle Tweets (or is it Twits?) Facebook and your blog, then your time might be better spent elsewhere.

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    1. Are pointy alpha waves a problem? Ok, so you’ve put your finger on it re blog activity being aligned with writing goals (not an ex-corporate type, by any chance?). I don’t have any writing goals!!! Must get some tout de suite.

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      1. (1) Good question about alpha waves I should have googled before I blogged! (yet another issue about the whole blog thing)

        (2) Re the ex-corporate type, guilty as charged, but I thought that had all been taken care of by my cult deprogrammer!

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  4. I agree that blogging can leach ‘real’ writing. It seems to me the solution isn’t necessarily to stop blogging but to reassess why one blogs. Let’s face it, blogging is a mix of self promotion, self dialogue and cultural intercourse. If you blog on topics you’re specifically writing about, wow, that’s dangerous. If you blog in too introspective a manner, you end up with no audience, which is eventually depressing. If you blog and roam across the Internet twelve hours a day, you’ve no time for writing.

    No magic solution exists. All you can do is regularly reassess why and how. One of the possible courses of action must be to stop blogging – if so, you hope you have the courage to take that step quick smart. Or change the blog or start a new one or . . .

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    1. Hello Andres. Great you could pop in, esp as I was thinking of our conversation when I wrote this post. Very intrigued that blogging on “real” writing topics is “dangerous.” So thrilling. Do you mean that when one writes about the idea again it feels a bit like re-heated leftovers? Like, all the juice has been extracted? No? Well, that’s how I feel anyway. Your “dangerous” sounds so much more enjoyable … SGx PS. Def have to examine my blogging reasons.

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