Sunday, March 28, 2010

On Blogging and Technology for Writers


John Ladd, over at Paradise Tossed, has asked me to talk about how blogging and technology has affected my development as a writer.

Every writer will approach blogging differently. For some writers, a blog is mainly a marketing apparatus to promote their published (or unpublished) books. Others treat a blog more like a daily journal, in which they record their development as a writer. And still others will transform their blog into a creative vehicle, often based on a theme or an idea, with lots of experimentation along the way. None of these are better or worse than the other, and there are quite a few I've left out, such as the collaborative blog, which is a kind of publishing outlet for a group of writers.

If I'd been born ten years earlier, I imagine I'd be submitting work to literary journals, and attempting to wedge myself into the cut-throat publishing industry. But the precise timing of my development as a writer coincided with the technology boom for online publishing. It was at this moment that I decided to eschew sending my work to journals and agents (as the publishing world was on its way down anyways), and throw myself into this new territory and see what would come of it.

With the rise of social media in the last five years, writers like myself are inundated with an abundance of micro-technologies that could in some way advance their careers/vocations as writers. To name just a few examples, Scribd introduced a technology that allows writers to turn any file into a web document and share it; and now you can sell e-copies of your work on the same platform. Amazon Kindle Publishing for Blogs will include your blog in the Kindle directory, and pay you for the subscriptions you receive. Lulu prints books for independent authors, with a host of design and editorial services.

In my first year of blogging, I felt that I had to register on every social bookmarking site and have every newfangled feature on my blog. I also spread myself thin by putting content on over ten different blogs. You could say that I was so excited with these tools that I lost sight of my original purpose, which is to write. While I look back at this period and see a lot of foolishness in my frenzied embrace of new technology, I also understand that, for me, this was a period of experimentation. The technologies that web startups were providing me with as a writer gave me an education in a different field, that of social media.

At the heart of social media is the word "social." Too often, I forgot that early on. I was obsessed with setting up blogs here and there, and registering on new sites, but forgetting that I needed to cultivate a community around my blogs. Later I learned that community thrives on mutual interest, reading and commenting on the work of others. It is easy to use these technologies to create a solipsistic bubble, and even easier to allow the technologies to distract you.

Today I focus on this blog and the web journal I founded, Escape into Life. When online technologies are harnessed in the proper way, they can serve us rather than distract us. We are very clever as writers, and social media can make us even more clever at avoiding writing. However, it can also do just the opposite. Blogging can in fact promote discipline by giving a writer a simple outlet for writing on a regular basis. As your audience grows, and your contacts become greater, you will find a real inspiration to continue writing.

My voice has developed through blogging versus writing drafts of essays and chapters of novels that only I will read. When you are blogging, you are speaking to someone, there is a tangible audience that appears in the comments or your number of page views. The blogging platform is fertile ground for the development of a writer's voice. It is the conversational quality of blogging that improves voice. Laurence Stern once said, "Writing, when properly managed . . . is but a different name for conversation," and blogging is an ideal exercise for that kind of writing.

The blogosphere is also a conversation among many blogs, and web technology with hyper-linking at the center of it, informs a structure of communication that is essentially a forum. Blogs quickly develop into networks of blogs, with writers referencing each other in their posts and suggesting new blogs to their audiences. This social aspect of contemporary writing reflects a departure from older forms in that community is built into the writing itself.

Micro-blogging, such as Twitter, eventually became the social media technology I embraced the most. I struggled with traditional blogging for a long time; I lamented my lack of readers, I disliked the delay involved in communicating through blogs, I also had trouble finding blogs that interested me and developing connections to writers. Ultimately, Twitter enabled me to make the connections with writers that I was failing to do through blogging.

For the first time, I wanted to visit people's blogs and learn about them. Perhaps this was because Twitter opened up the channel for real-time conversation. Just as I was visiting more blogs through Twitter, I was also finding that more people were visiting my blog. My traffic increased dramatically, and this gave me encouragement as a writer. Twitter allowed me to announce new posts immediately after they were written, or direct message my close circle of friends whenever I was excited about a new essay and wanted feedback.

Some readers would leave essay-long responses, adding new perspectives and arguments to the questions I was raising. My essay, "How many of us are self-medicating?" elicited so many interesting responses that I now looked upon my essays on the Blog of Innocence as having a dimension which included the comments. The comments were a significant part of the essays themselves, and this gave me insight into the form of the writing.

But perhaps, most importantly, blogging has helped me to peel away the layers of self-deception. Every artist must look within in order to create. Otherwise what we create are our own shadows, the preoccupations and anxieties surrounding the ego, rather than something closer to the mystery of the human condition.
It seemed the very garments that I wore/ Preyed on my strength, and stopped the quiet stream/ Of self-forgetfulness. --Wordsworth
Writing essays for two years and sharing them on the web with thousands of people has changed the way I write. I feel that I've had to probe deeper into my soul as a writer, and figure out exactly what it is that prompts me to write in the first place. For a long time, I believed that fiction was my calling, but recently I've made the realization that fiction does not give me pleasure. Quite simply, I'm not enthusiastic about it. What gives me life and what gives me energy is writing essays and meditations on the Blog of Innocence. A much more humble project than I anticipated for myself, but also one better suited to my interests and talents.

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7 comments:

Zanelle said...

What a wonderful, thoughtful essay. You covered almost every aspect of blogging. I do a blog that explores my addiction to sugary foods on Salon.com. Im amazed that it is beginning to change my life. I guess "it" isnt changing me but I am changing thru the writing of it. Blogging as therapy. What next for blogging?

Adee said...

u inspire me to write. 'cos many times, u write almost what goes thru my mind :)

these days, i'm thinking of writing essays on my blog but sadly do not get the time to actually flesh them out. ideas strewn across, in notebooks and sheets of paper, don't know what will become of them.
but i'm sure, even if these initial ideas i cannot turn into essays now, i'll definitely start writing again. the urge is too strong to be left easily.

thanks for this post :)

Lethe said...

Zanelle-

I find that incredibly awesome that you write for Salon . . . Blogging is therapy. What next? We're seeing more blogs in the newspapers these days, the blogs that are getting turned into books, and have established significant followings. From there, I think we'll see the rise of the blogger as independent author, selling books directly from their blogs and raising significant ad money.

Adee--

Thanks you! That's such a nice complement. Sometimes it's best to just start an essay and see where it takes you, even if you don't have all the pieces yet. And I know what you mean by the urge to write, it's what keeps me blogging and writing essays.

Chris

Cathy Olliffe said...

That is the clearest and most insightful commentary on blogging I think I have ever read.
I agree with all of it.
Blogging has been a life-changing experience for me. So fufilling.
Thanks to Lou Freshwater for pointing me your way.

noor said...

We've been talking about blogging and stuff in my POLS class in school. It's just interesting to see how the internet and blogging has changed the way we do certain things in life. The actual publishing companies have faced a downfall because everything has switched to the internet and blog community.
I'm more of a writer that writes for my own purposes. To vent out what I'm feeling.

Jaliya said...

Thank you, Lethe -- what a spot-on piece! You took the words right out of my brain ;-D

Adee -- I second your struggle to refine, finish and post essays! I must have 300 drafts that I started with creative explosions and left off with some distraction ... like my cats, who can distract me any time they like ;-D

I've come to see blogging as conversation ... What a gift.

Lethe said...

Cathy--

The most important thing to me as a writer is clarity. So I'm extremely glad to here you say that. Thank you.

Noor--

Yes, the playing ground is leveling between traditional media and the new media. These are exciting times.

Jaliya--

Thank you. Writing becomes much easier when you see it as a conversation. The writing becomes more natural.

Lethe