I am a huge fan of Sherman Alexie. HUGE. In fact, I have placed a bounty on the heads of those who borrowed my copies of his books and failed to return them. (You know who you are.) Despite funneling all of my cash to my over-indulged children and student loans, I splurge on hardback for him. (Seriously, I want those books back.)
I am rarely phased by celebrity, particularly living so close to celeb central (though there is that certain actor whose child goes to preschool with mine who I cannot look at because I get all awkward due to my former teenage crush. But that is a story for another time). I guarantee, though, that if Sherman Alexie and I ended up in an elevator together, it would be the most-awkward, most-regretted elevator ride of my life (unless I got into an elevator with Toni Morrison), complete with staring at my feet, an audio loop running a million miles an hour in my head of all the questions I would like to ask him, and some inappropriate heavy breathing as I tried to calm myself down and re-center. I wouldn’t say a word until he got off at his floor and I screamed, “I love you!” when the doors closed (meaning, of course, I love your work, but who would interpret it that way?). Then I would crumple in shame and hide in the corner until security forced me out of the elevator. Thankfully, we are unlikely to meet any time soon so I have time to work on my fangirl issues. But, I set this stage so you realize what a big step this next part is for me.
Sherman Alexie recently posted on Writer’s Digest his top 10 tips for writers. Like any geeked-out fangirl, I immediately read it, nodding and murmuring, “Yes, yes. Absolutely!” I dutifully retweeted the link. But now, a few days later, I am forced to accept that something about it is gnawing at me. Namely, piece of advice #8, “Every word on your blog is a word not in your book.”
As a preliminary matter, I get that these are snappy one-liners are meant to bestow years of accumulated wisdom in bite-size pieces. Anything that cursory lacks nuance and, for me, nuance is where the stuff of life really lives. That said, I am guessing the sentiment behind this statement is, “Stop dithering on your blog and write the damn thing.” For that matter, it could also be said, “Any word on Twitter/Facebook/new social media of the moment is a word not in your WIP (work in progress).” True, Mr. Alexie, true. But….
Here’s the thing, unless you’re using your blog for shopping lists or a rant about the day’s activities in bullet point format (and I have seen creative examples of both of these), your blog posts can be invaluable to you as a writer. First, you are garnering your audience, creating the all-too-important “platform” that agents and publishers are now demanding from unpublished writers. This is something Sherman Alexie didn’t have to worry about when he first got published. He could worry about the meat of the work. He does have an author web site, complete with a blog, but it’s a dusty, often-not-touched blog. And that’s okay. He can do that because he is Sherman Alexie. I, on the other hand, am, well, no one in the publishing world. I don’t have that luxury. And if you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing neither do you. (No offense, I just don’t think that many published powerhouses are stopping by.)
There is a bigger reason, though, that I disagree with this. Blogs are a great way to cultivate your voice. We are overexposed to other people’s ideas, opinions, thoughts, to their voices.
- photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/oso/1245385947
This is part of the reason Julia Cameron’s suggestion that you write first thing in the morning before doing anything else makes sense. How can you find your own voice if so many others are screaming in your ears and rattling around in your head? You write.
Maybe, though, you lack confidence in getting going on your manuscript. Maybe you need a break from it. Maybe you don’t want to write your morning pages longhand in a journal no one will ever see. Maybe you want to share your thoughts and get some feedback from others. These are all great reasons to write on your blog.
The more you do it, the better you get. Also, the more you put yourself out there, the more you get feedback (good and bad) from others. You can experiment on your blog and get a sense of whether said experiment is a resounding failure or not. You shouldn’t necessarily tailor your writing to what others want. But, as a new writer, it’s sometimes hard to discern what you want. And the regular practice of writing, even on a blog, will help you get closer to your own truth.
Michael Ventura wrote a great article called “The Talent of the Room.” In it, he discusses how one of the hardest things to do is to sit alone in a room and write. It’s difficult not just because it’s lonely, but because you must sit with all of your stuff, your issues, the things about yourself you don’t want to see. (It sounds as though you’re not so alone after all.) Blogging can help you tackle some of that head on. After all, you may choose to write about something that troubles you or a shadow in your soul you can’t quite pin down, but want to. Blogging, if one so chooses, can offer an opportunity to sit down with some of those ghosts and release them.
Even if you don’t want to go that deep, blogging can be a palate cleanser. Those of us with jobs and small kids may not be able to get those first morning pages out. Then there is the daily barrage of everyone else who needs to be heard, which can drown out your voice and the voices of your characters. A quick post can get you squarely back in your own head and on track to writing that stunning novel/screenplay/short story boiling up within you.
I do think people generally can waste a ton of time online to the detriment of their work. But that isn’t reason enough to knock blogging. It’s more of a discipline issue. If I wasn’t writing this post right now, I would probably be scouting the pantry for some tasty snack I don’t need or loading the dishwasher or whatever struck my fancy. (I should be working.) Be disciplined in your writing. Do what it takes to finish that project. But also do what it takes to find your voice and style, even if it means blogging. Sorry, Mr. Alexie, but I just can’t get behind you on that one.