In the comments to my writing goals post, Sparky (aka kingmidget — he’s Sparky @ TC) wrote:
I consider blogging to be a distraction from my fiction writing, which is what I “should” be doing. Yes, it’s writing, but it’s not … trying to come up with the right word for this … meaningful.
He goes on to say that taken as a whole he finds his posts meaningful as a record, but maintains they’re a distraction on an individual level.
I disagree, and I’m going to try to articulate why.
Some of my posts are not writing. For example, sometimes I blog a quote or a comic or a video. I do consider these posts meaningful, however, because generally they capture something I’ve been thinking about or meaning to write about or trying to find a way to put into words. For example, if I’ve posted a quote about topic X on my blog (my commonplace book) when I do start writing about topic X, it’s easy to find and refer back to the quote I posted about it, even it was months earlier. Often it’s these bits and pieces I’ve collected that help me work through a topic and pull my own ideas about it together.
Some of my posts are writing (technically) but not particularly meaningful as stand-alones. For example, when I post about a new issue of TC or what progress I made on my dissertation. In these posts, the meaning isn’t in the content (words) of the post, but in what it represents. (Generally: research or writing or editing elsewhere.)
And some of my posts are both writing and meaningful. The ones where I actually write about something. My book posts, for example. I try to avoid calling these “reviews” because they’re not reviews in the strictest sense. When I write about a book, I’m thinking: what did I learn from this book writing-wise or life-wise? how or why did it affect me? what worked for me and what didn’t? etc. These are all valuable things to write down, even if my ideas about them are rough and incomplete.
All writing starts out rough and incomplete. Blog posts are version 1, the first draft. Or even version 0, pre-writing. As Anne Lamott says: shitty first drafts. You might say, but I don’t ever plan to do anything with that blog post. But the point is: you never know. That post might be the start of an essay or an article. It might even be the kernel of a story. All good stories have themes and in writing—just writing—you start to identify what themes and ideas are important to you.
Back in the nineties, the book that was pivotal to reframing myself as writer (i.e. “I am a writer” vs. “I want to be a writer”) was Writing Down the Bones. The most important take-away for me from that book was the idea of writing as a practice, a process, a way of life—rather than just a means to an end. In WDtB, Natalie Goldberg advocates filling notebooks and just writing (i.e. not worrying about the publication aspect) for at least two years after one starts to write. This completely changed my perspective on writing. It wasn’t about sitting down and banging out a complete story in a single draft, i.e. story first, writing last. (Which, by the way, never worked for me. All I produced via that method was steaming crap.) It was about writing. First you write—whatever—and out of that, the story grows. The writing guides you to the story.
Once I started looking at writing this way it made perfect sense. Whatever you do, you have to practice if you want to become good at it. To put it in running terms: it would be silly to say that the only runs that ‘count’ are races, therefore you’re not going to practice because practice runs are just a distraction from the real thing. If you skip the training runs, you’re not going to win the race; you’re probably not even going to finish.
What happens the more you run? It gets easier. You remember that first run, the first time you put on your running shoes and said: ok, I’m going to do this. How far did you get before you were panting and your legs were burning? How long did you last before you had to walk? And now? You’d kick first-day-of-running-you in the pants. Because you put in the practice.
It’s the same with writing. The more you write, the easier it gets. Even if you don’t do anything with that blog post, it’s still practice. It’s still words on the page. You can think of it as a warm-up, like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages.” It’s a way of clearing your mind and opening it to creativity.
And that’s why I think all writing counts.