by Sophie Perinot
Once upon a time it would have been, “The dog ate my homework.” But today when something goes missing (or misses a deadline) the culprit is more likely sitting on an author’s desk (NO, not the cat) and the only growling it makes is the hum of that little fan inside that keeps it from overheating. The culprit is the computer, or more precisely the many things—facebook, twitter, blogging, games—we can do with it other than write our novels.
In this age of digital distractions it might seem sensible for a writer—especially one working on a draft that really should be further along—to “log out” completely for days or even weeks. Assuming for a moment that a writer had the self-discipline to do that (I am not certain I do), it may not be as prudent as it sounds at first blush.
Long absences from the virtual world are not in an author’s best interest. Being an active member of the on-line world is an enormous part of what generates buzz for books and recognition for their authors these days. It is hard to imagine a book or a writer being successful without being a genuine and active part of several social media and/or on-line writing communities.
So where do we draw the line? How do we stay “connected” but still manage the most important task facing us—producing polished and marketable manuscripts? If there were an easy answer I’d bottle it and sell it. The situation demands a balancing act worthy of a high-wire artist and I am currently perilously close to losing my footing and falling into the net (dear GOD I hope there is a net down there—I don’t see one).
It wasn’t always this way. I’ve long been a member of the AgentQuery community (which is how I met my marvelous co-bloggers her at FTWA). I spent a lot of time there. It began to feel like home. I’d pop over when I needed a break from drafting or editing and critique a couple of query letters, or see if I could answer the question of a fellow writer. Very manageable. Then I got involved with Twitter (perfect because 140 characters is more than enough of me for many people). I treated myself to “Twitter time” before my writing day began, on my lunch, and when I wound things down for the day. Still I was humming along. Heck I wrote, polished, and sold an entire manuscript without feeling (overly) harried (I mean, come on, don’t we always feel harried?).
But lately I am not making the progress that I’d like to on my WIP, and I always feel short of time and vaguely panicky. Part of this doubtless arises from the fact that I am also in the incipient stages of promoting my debut novel, but it’s more than that. I’ve always been great at juggling (another circus image—forgive me) but somewhere along the line I put too many balls in the air and one ball is a lot heavier than the others. When I sat down to work on this post it came to me in a flash. In my case, blogging is that heavy ball.
After I signed my book deal I started blogging here. Next came my personal blog. I like blogging because basically, I am VERY opinionated (something tells me you are NOT surprised). I also love reading dozens of writing-related blogs. They’ve taught me much of what I know about this business so I know blogs serve a valuable purpose. But blogging takes an enormous amount of time compared to most on-line community participation. A tweet is a quip; a facebook post can be a couple of sentences or a useful link. A blog requires topic selection, thoughtful analysis and a couple of hundred solid words in support of your argument.
So if blogging is such a huge time-suck, why do we do it?
I know why I started—conventional wisdom (and some publishers) says that a writer HAS to blog. It’s considered part of self-marketing and builds audience (aka sales).
I am beginning to consider this assertion more critically. Is it possible (*gasp*) that the amount of time writers lose to blogging is not counterbalanced by the number of new readers that our blogs deliver to us?
Some writers clearly think so. At a conference this past summer several well-established authors told me (as part of their very kind “advise the newbie” efforts) that if they had it to do all over again they would NOT start a blog. They insisted, quite earnestly, that a writer could get comparable marketing and publicity benefits while spending far less time by merely guest posting on the blogs of others (particularly around his/her release dates).
What do YOU think? If you are a writer who blogs do you believe it will build significant readership for your non-blog-writing? And if so, do you believe that based on evidence/experience or because that is the conventional wisdom? If you are a reader of novels, do you prefer writers who blog? Have you ever discovered a writer through his/her blog? Would you buy a book just because you read an author’s blog?
Me, I know something’s got to give in the next weeks and months if I want to finish this manuscript on deadline (and I have never missed a deadline in my life). I am not certain that “something” is blogging but I have my priorities—I am not going to let my blog eat my book. The book is my job. The blog may or may not be an effective part of developing an audience for my books. I am not certain. But there is one thing I AM certain of—no new book, no audience needed. So the minute I become convinced that blogging is interfering with my bread and butter it will become something I used to do and don’t do anymore.