My toughest assignments are writing my own blog posts. It’s a bit like stepping out on stage to address a crowd. Public speaking is difficult for some people. It is for me.
Could the hesitation to author a blog or a book or anything that’s written for a public audience derive from shyness or modesty? Nope, I can’t say that. It’s a kick to have a byline, to take ownership. Doing the work is challenging, sometimes with many twists and turns, but I’m not afraid of putting in the effort.
Am I worthy?
Maybe the reluctance lies in feeling I don’t have anything worthy to say. Hmmm. No, that’s not quite it either. It’s probably that I don’t know if I have all the parts, if they’re in the right order, or if I can assemble something interesting, expressed in a way that grabs the reader’s attention.
As a writer for hire, I usually put words into other people’s mouths, in a sense. I write for them, on behalf of them. I hide behind my keyboard and write what my client conveys to me, what they want me to get across and to whom. I’m a ghost. I go unrecognized. I’m incognito.
Sometimes they ask me to take their written thoughts and “do my magic,” turning them into an article that has flow and style and relates an important message they want to get across to a certain group of people. Other times all the words are laid out on web pages, or in a word-processed file. The final text is there; I’m simply making corrections for grammar, spelling, and adjustments to organization and formatting.
When I started writing blogs of my own, I came out of hiding. I was forced to take responsibility for my words and ideas. It was both exhilarating and a little frightening. I had to design my own project, be my own client. I had to convince myself those ideas were worthy.
Writing my first eBook recently, I dipped my toes into uncharted waters. If writing a blog is like public speaking, writing an eBook is like emceeing the academy awards.
Where is your writing taking you?
In my book Moving Mom, I felt I had some important things to say about being a caregiver from which others could benefit. But caregiving is a broad topic and I knew I had to narrow my focus.
What finally gave me the courage, after thinking about it for about a year or so? I think I just slid into it, as I would a bath of hot water, slowly, carefully, and knowing I would eventually become acclimated to the temperature.
But I didn’t know it was happening at first, not until I realized the word count was too long for a blog post or magazine article. The first tip-off was when I passed the 3,000-word mark with so much more to say.
But how does the process work? I explain it like this to a friend who asks me how I do it, how I come up with all the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, that form a completed work. I tell her I start out by typing random thoughts onto the screen – well, not exactly random, but thoughts about the particular subject about which I’m writing—not fully developed sentences, just phrases, in no particular order, with no effort to correct grammar, structure or style.
Sometimes it starts as a question. Then I answer that question. Sometimes the answer to that question becomes complex, such that I start bulleted lists to separate different aspects of the answer from one another.
Sometimes the question just naturally requires a list, such as when it has to do with a process. For example, how does one go about cleaning out a house that’s been lived in for 50 years? That question prompts other questions, and the writing continues.
I’ve tried outlining story ideas but, despite what I’ve been taught in school, that doesn’t work for me. I read somewhere that one should begin by writing subtitles first and then fill in the details. I’ve tried that. It can sometimes move me along, but not always. Eventually, a path begins to emerge. Paragraphs get written and rearranged, passages deleted or expanded upon.
The important thing to know is that us writers are entitled—owe it to ourselves—to develop our own process. A style will emerge with practice … and you know what they say about practice. In the case of writing, who can say what perfection is? We may not consider our work perfect, but in time it gets easier to express our thoughts and we evolve into better writers.
What’s interesting about putting thoughts down “on paper” is we don’t always know exactly where those thoughts will lead. That reminds me of my favorite lines from the movie Forest Gump. Forest tells a woman at the bus stop what his mama would say to him: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
So too with the process of writing. We start out with an idea of what we’re writing about, and after a while, we begin to realize we’re not writing about that anymore. One minute we think we are and then, well, something happens; there’s a shift.
I think it’s important to recognize and follow that shift. I think that shift is the authentic self, making itself known. Am I waxing metaphysical? Yeah, I believe there are some things that can’t be explained by the physical realm. The creative process is like that. It comes out of thin air, perhaps guided by a muse, an inner mentor, or possibly divine intervention.
My suggestion: don’t fight it – even if you think it’s straying far from where you want to be, or that it’s ridiculous, or that people will laugh. At least let it take you a little farther. See where it leads, then drop it after you put it away for a day or so, if it feels like a dead end, doesn’t make sense, or you’re losing interest.
The interesting thing
You have to be interested in what you’re writing about. If you’re not, your readers won’t be either. One hears that all the time, but it’s true. They’ll know. I say that as a writer and as a reading junky. The dilemma gets more difficult if you’re not interested in a subject that you’re writing for someone else. The remedy? Dig deep for what makes it interesting. It’s usually there. If not, step into another role, like an actor in character. One of the two should do the trick.
If you’re writing for yourself, you have more flexibility:
- Try a different angle
- Change the focus from first person to second or vice versa
- Explore related subjects
- Read what others have written on the subject to stir the creative juices
- Change the subject completely
One of the reassuring things about non-fiction writing – to me, anyway— is that it concerns itself with the real world. In the land of make-believe, anything goes. But I admire fiction writers because they are working in a ship of fantasy with no anchor. I’m clueless as to how writers of fiction create their characters and go about the writing process. They are not bound by the same rules as non-fiction writers. I’m not sure they even know if they’ve unearthed buried treasure until the reviews and the book sales start flowing in – or not.
With non-fiction, I think the author knows early on what he or she has: a firecracker or a dud. There’s comfort in knowing one is drawing upon one’s own experience or someone else’s. Your job is to tell your readers something that will help them, inspire them, motivate them … yes, and entertain them too. In both fiction and non-fiction engagement is a given.
For the long haul
Related to being interested in the what-you’re-writing-about requirement, in book writing that interest has to be sustained. You’re in it for the long haul – just the one you’re working on, of course. It’s not that you can never go back to writing blogs.
Another analogy comes to mind about the difference between a blog and a book. Get ready … Here it comes … Writing a blog is like a sprint, a jog around the neighborhood. Writing a book is a marathon. Be prepared to put in the time, the second-guessing, the rewrites, the editing. You made a tacit agreement with yourself to be dedicated to the task for weeks, months, and maybe years. That’s a lot of time sitting in front of your monitor for one project.
Sacrifices may be necessary, animal and human (just kidding). I’m just saying, you may have to excuse yourself from occasional outings, visits with friends, or diversions like streaming Netflix movies or posting Facebook comments. Are you up for the challenge? That may appear preachy, but it’s a valid question.
It’s not that I’m suggesting one should be a hermit or a prisoner chained to a computer chair. I am saying one needs to exercise restraint, be persistent, and have stamina – within reason. But not to worry. When you’re on a roll and in the zone, not much will have the power to pull you away from your work … except eating, sleeping and taking potty breaks. Keep it up over a long period of time, and chances are you’ve got yourself a gem. Huh, look at me … my first e-book and I act like I know what readers’ want.
Where does it end?
Another difference between blogs and books and then I’ll shut up. When writing a book, one feels like they owe the reader a memorable finale. You want to tie up the loose ends, justify what you’ve been saying for the last 50 pages or more, give them a present, reward them for staying with you. Ultimately, you want to let them feel they’ve been on a journey, a quest for the gold ring, Tolkien style.
Blogs are not usually faulted for ending abruptly. They often drop off a cliff, much like a news story. In Speech 101, we’re told: “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you’ve just said.” Similarly, my journalism professors would instruct, “Give them the “who, what, where, when, and how … then get out.”
I’m out of this one now, dear readers and writers. You’re on your own, and I wish you success.