If you’re an aspiring novelist, should you be wasting your creativity and “wordsmithing” on blogging?
It’s a question that has often occurred to me. After all, blogging takes up a significant chunk of time, planning and energy.
Are you blowing precious time and creativity on a blog audience who will probably never buy a book? Are all your good ideas being wasted on the blog page and lost forever to your plot? Are there finite good ideas in your head and to commit them to the blog post is to deny them to your opus?
My view is no.
Writing, like anything else, takes practice. Lots of practice.
Roughly, the writing practice goes like this:
- write something
- look at it, re-read it
- correct typos, punctuation errors, grammatical errors
- sharpen the wording and the language
- leave it in a drawer and come back to it a week later to review it again. You’ll be amazed at how different it looks after a break.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
You really need to do that over and over again to improve, to get faster and more efficient; to understand how you like your words to sound, how you like your story to be structured.
I think this is why many published writers, including James Patterson and Stephen King, confess to having their first novel *still* sitting in a drawer somewhere, unpublished. It was their practice novel. It taught them a lot and then they moved on to an actual publishable work.
What is “writer’s voice”?
It’s simple really – your voice is how you write, what your tone sounds like and the language structure you use. Your “voice” is unique to you and you discover it over time and via many thousands of words written.
Compare these two passages. The first:
“I used to think she was quite intelligent , in my stupidity. The reason I did was because she knew quite a lot about the theatre and plays and literature and all that stuff. If somebody knows quite a lot about all those things, it takes you quite a while to find out whether they’re really stupid or not.”
“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
It’s hard to hear “voice” from such brief passages but if you re-read each paragraph carefully, thoughtfully, it will become more clear.
The first passage sounds young and immature but with a hard bluntness. The second voice has more gravitas, more life experience; it is measured, richer, deeper, and much more confident in its assumptions, almost world weary.
The first voice is from a teenager, while the second voice is from an older, wiser person.
The first is from Catcher in the Rye, the narrator Holden Caulfield, and the second is from To Kill A Mockingbird, a quote from Atticus Finch.
The type of words they use, when you read them, sound teenage vs adult, young vs wise, childish vs grown-up. If you haven’t read these two classics, I encourage you to do so. Both are gripping, both are entertaining and they have much to teach the inexperienced reader and writer about voice, tone and language.
Other writers on “voice”
Professional blogger and blogging celeb Darren Rowse, over at ProBlogger.com, has done a podcast that examines “what is voice”. He offers a theory that there are different types of voice and you can choose to adopt one of those types, or voice styles for your blog. It’s an interesting podcast and you can read the transcript or listen to the episode here.
Published writer, K.M. Weiland, offers a theory that is closer to my views, that your authentic voice just comes out of you and as long as you’re being honest and not trying to affect someone else’s voice (say, Hemingway or Austen) then you’re going to be fine. You can read the transcript and hear her podcast here.
(Just by the way, both of these writers are on my amazing list of 10 Podcasts for Aspiring Novelists, which you can download free when you subscribe to my super-awesome mailing list here!).
My own “voice” tends to be somewhat dry and this is something I’m working on. Twenty years of writing strictly structured news stories and press releases has resulted in a very straightforward, adjective-free voice. Ugh!
So this blog is going to be my practice tool to liven up my voice, to inject more humour and more “lightness” into it.
That’s where you come in, reader! Any thoughts or feedback you have would be welcome. I’m pretty resilient, so have at it!
Why blogging is a great tool for writers
In my first week on the job at The Courier-Mail, I was subbing some finance stories and after I’d filed three stories and sent them to the back bench to be dropped on the page, the chief finance sub stormed over to the long subbing desk where I was sitting: “Read the bloody style guide!” he snarled as he hurled the book across the table at me. Yes, he threw the book at me – literally.
But as brutal as it sounds, it was effective. Yes, it was embarrassing but you really learned fast. You did not want to be embarrassed like that again in front of your peers. So you thought long and hard about every comma, every semi-colon and every full stop. Did it belong there? If it wasn’t there already, why not? Should you put one in? Then you spent 20 minutes weighing up the risk-reward benefits of putting in the comma. And that was just one comma!
However, with the world of blogging available to all of us, we can write and write and write to our heart’s content and not worry about chief subs throwing books at us. All we have to worry about is the nasty trolls who live under the bridge. But they mostly come out at night. Mostly.
So, who is there to sharpen your writing if you don’t have a cranky chief sub to throw books at you, and you don’t want to invoke the nasty internet trolls?
You, dear reader! Your own blog’s lovely readers can be marshalled to the cause. I think it’s helpful from time to time to ask for feedback. People don’t often leave comments anymore, but I will be encouraging readers to leave comments. It’s part of the community building process! Two-way conversation! Go on, try it right now – go and leave a comment and tell me what you think of my writing “voice”! Or my blog design, or my NaNo efforts!
Over time, you’ll know if you’re hitting the mark because your blog traffic will grow and your posts will be shared far and wide on social media.
And if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know if you’re producing your best work.
Keep reading, keep honing, keep crafting
In order to improve we need to keep looking at our work and asking ourselves, “Is this my very best work?”. If it’s not, we have to keep working at it. Make the next post better than the previous one.
Keep learning about what makes good writing and how your voice sounds with good writing. Hemingway used to type out the classics to see how it felt to have those words coming from his fingers*. Read a variety of books that have different tones and think about that while you’re reading.
I love collecting reference materials on the technical elements of writing. There are some really great reference books that I keep on my desk to refer to when I’m stuck – Eats Shoots and Leaves, the Little Green Book of Grammar, to name just two, not to mention my old News Ltd Style Guide.
There is a wonderful TED Talk, only nine minutes long, from the New Yorker sub-editor Mary Norris, that perfectly and humorously encapsulates the burden and the freedom that is the Style Guide. You must watch it.
But what I have learned over 20 years of writing , is that the only way to get better at writing is to practice. You must write and then walk away from it, then come back to it and re-read what you wrote. Then edit it. Carefully.
So, blogging will help you find your voice because it gets you into the writing, writing, writing frame of mind. Go back and re-read your posts. Assess the tone with a critical eye – does this hit the notes you wanted to? Does this blog post sound the way it did in your head when you wrote it? Now that you’re coming at it with fresh eyes, a clear head and no other voices crowding out the words you’re writing, does this sound the way you thought it would?
If not, make the changes you need to make in order to get it sounding the way it did in your head. Keep making changes until you’re happy.
*May or may not be true. I read it on the internet! 🙂