I can hear you now, tutting at your screen. Of course writing a blog is different to writing a novel.
For one thing, when you stop writing your blog, everybody sees you falling into the abyss, but when you stop writing your novel, you can quietly shove the unfinished manuscript under the bed. Nobody’s watching. (Unless you’re famous. But I’m not famous.)
But the differences are more substantive than that. Given that as my novel gathers steam, I find it more and more difficult to switch from one format to the other (which may explain the recent paucity of posts), I thought I might explore some of the underlying reasons. And yes, I put my psychology hat on for just a little bit.
I started my blog before I started my novel. I wanted people out there to hear what I had to say. My novel, by contrast, is a story that comes from within me that I cannot not tell. I hope people will read it, but that’s not why I write it.
In blogging, there’s many more extrinsic motivators – likes, and links, followers and even those little progress badges that you get. Every statistic that you can look at can be a motivator to help you try harder, do better.
Novel-writing, by contrast, is a solitary pursuit. And then when you finish writing it, you have to edit, which sometimes feels a bit like self-flagellation. There are no stars at the bottom of the screen to tell you that you have done a good job. There’s just you and the page. The motivation to continue comes from within.
Risk vs Rewards
Wait, what? There are rewards? Where?
The rewards of blogging are fairly self-evident – getting your name out there, having people read what you have to say. It’s fairly low-risk, too. Anybody with access to the internet can start a blog. Although the likelihood of a high reward for your efforts is low. The internet is an overcrowded place, and writing alone isn’t necessarily going to help. Even the best writing in the world is difficult to find in the data soup. (But that’s a whole of other post, and there are plenty of people way more qualified than me to talk about it.)
And novel-writing is a riskier proposition. But at least we have J.K. Rowling to cite as a brilliant example of the potential rewards (although she is an outlier). There’s a whole lot more effort that goes into that one piece of writing, and then it’s an all or nothing deal. Take it or leave it. Or maybe, take it but only if you rewrite it completely, if you’re lucky. Still, at the end of the day, when you have written your novel, you have a book. Which is a solid thing that you can use as a paperweight when you’re desperate.
The blog is lots of little posts, which may or may not be related. It grows as you grow. If your voice changes a little over time, it just makes rereading old posts amusing. You can add new topics as become interested in them. You can try things out, experiment. But carefully, because the reason you have the followers you do, is because you write the way you write. The unfollow button is only a click away. But maybe that doesn’t bother you.
The novel, unless you are writing one of those experimental type ones, requires a certain structure. Your characters need to grow, and yet stay the same people. Your story needs to start, and climax, and resolve. There’s a requirement of pacing associated with a longer work that isn’t there for writing blogs. When you write a novel, you have to remember the story, whereas in blogging, there doesn’t need to be a story.
That said, I think that blogs that stick to a particular topic “do” better than those that ramble on about any old topic. Said the girl with the rambly blog. (But again, a topic for another day.)
Imagine you’re at one of those awkward dinner parties. Also, that your name is Dell.
“So, Dell, what do you do?”
“I’m a blogger.” The image that comes to my mind is somebody with sweaty armpits typing away gleefully on the computer, while watching the money from the rude adverts pouring into his bank account. Part computer geek, part voyeur. And not somebody you would want to talk to, because obviously:
“Oh, I hope you don’t put me in your blog.”
Reset the scene. Same party, same guest. Your name is still Dell.
“So, Dell, what do you do?”
“I’m writing a novel.” The image is now of somebody at a large desk with a pad of paper and a pen and crumpled paper tossed in the direction of the bin. Too many cups of coffee all around, and a big envelope with the word “rejections” written across the front. And of course, because we always remember the outliers:
“Oh, the next J.K. Rowling?”
So there you have it. A very incomplete list of ways in which writing a blog is different to writing a novel. I have not even touched on aspects such as style, point of view, process. Let me know what other things I have left off.