More and more, a writer without a blog is like a day without sunshine. Actually, that makes no sense, especially considering I live in Melbourne. Where’s a simile that works? Let me check my metaphor banks… like a car without wheels? A fish without gills? Tony Abbott without a hollow rictus of hate plastered to his skull?
Ah, nothing works tonight.
Okay, fuck metaphor. Straight up, though, writers are expected to blog nowadays. Successful books don’t hit shelves (or Kindles) without blogs laying the groundwork, giving the writer a chance to communicate their voice and style to readers and drum up excitement; success, in turn, brings the expectation from readers of keeping those lines of communication open, of the writer showcasing their process, insights and works-in-progress, or just occasionally saying fuck for a cheap pop.
This sounds like I’m gearing up to blog about how blogging sucks. I’m not. But I’ve been talking to some other writers this week about the point and purpose of blogging, and I thought it would be a good blog post, because META META META.
The prevailing wisdom is that writers must control their brand, or be their own brand, or communicate their brand to their market or something like that. I’ve said that myself in the past, but over the last year or so I’ve come to really dislike all this talk of brands and brand management as something writers should obey or aspire to embody. To be blunt and a bit lefty, ‘branding’ is a trite analogy bleeding in from the consumerist underpinnings of modern society that seeks to reduce everything to the level of a marketable commodity, so that writers, artists and political ideologies are seen as no different to a roll-on deodorant. But we are more than brands; we are people with skills, goals and stories to tell, and we do ourselves no service by attempting to sell ourselves as products.
(I also hate the labelling of everyone working with art/words/symbols as ‘creatives’, like we’re some kind of interchangeable components in an assembly line, but that’s a separate tirade.)
So what, then, is the purpose of all this blogging, if not to sell yourself and promote your work? Well sure, that’s part of it. But more important, I think, is that it’s fun and intellectually engaging. It’s a way to share ideas and communicate your passion about writing. The best writer-bloggers, to my mind, are the ones who blog not just because it’s necessary, or because they want to attract readers, but because they like it – and, just as importantly, they enjoy being entertaining and attention-provoking in the process.
That last part is really important. When talking with some writers about this, a couple of them suggested that blogging could feel false, a hollow act of trying to gain attention, and one that required a kind of self-censorship to control the message you want to put out. It was writer/musician Talie Helene who turned that around to suggest that blogging is a performance – an act, yes, but a genuine one that’s meant to be worthwhile for both the artist and the audience. As for self-censorship, a better way of looking at it is that you don’t try to put everything you’ve done or thought into one performance – you pick and choose, not to control the show, but to make it possible in the first place.
I find that a very powerful place to start thinking about the point and purpose of blogging, and this here blog in particular. I don’t claim to be one of the best bloggers, but yes, I like doing this. I like interacting with people, I like thinking about the process and purpose of writing, and I like sharing ideas with other. I like to entertain; I like to make people laugh, whether through my deathless prose or occasional updates on my famous cat. And I like writing blog posts. Hell, I often like writing blog posts more than writing the stuff I hope people will pay to read.
And there, of course, is the trap.
Because in the end, time spent blogging is time not spent writing the stuff you’re actually supposed to be writing. It’s time not spent on Arcadia, or the new e-novella I’ve been contemplating, or the freelance job I’ve got to have finished by this time next week. Time spent blogging can become the illusion of writing, a caffeine-free diet writing that looks like the real thing when you run spellcheck over it, but turns flat and salty on the tongue when when you actually swallow it. With your eyes.
…yeah, I can’t metaphor for shit tonight.
Once again, none of this should be construed as me saying ‘blogging is bad’. I think it’s a really powerful way for writers to connect with readers, not just as artist and audience but as peers and even as people. It’s fun, it’s worthwhile and if you do it right, it communicates the voice of your fiction.
(Which, to be honest, this blog doesn’t do very well. Chuck Wendig and Cam Rogers, to pick two examples, blog very much like they write, but my voice goes all over the place and I don’t know that someone coming in cold to this blog would find much that they could then identify in Hotel Flamingo. But then again, the odds of someone coming in cold like that aren’t all that high. Not yet, anyway.)
When blogging has no heart, it’s just an infomercial. When the heart beats, it’s the acoustic set that sends the audience off to find your albums, not just because the music was good but because they had a damn good time.
Don’t sell a brand. Don’t sell ginzu knives. Don’t sell any damned thing. Perform because you love it. The rest will follow suit.
How about you? As a reader, what does blogging – not just this blog, but any you read – do for you? What do you get out of it? And when does it turn you away?