Are you blogging away your best material?

Are you blogging away your best material? It’s a question raised by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann in Your Life is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir, a book I highly recommend. If you put all your best stories (and photos) on your blog—or on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or any other social media–what do you have left for your book? Likewise, if you spend all your time writing online posts, when will you get around to writing your book?

Life was a lot less complicated when we writers didn’t have all these instant outlets for our words, when we had to type a perfect manuscript, mail it to editors, and wait. As a longtime journalist used to writing articles every day, I am very comfortable with pouring out a quick blog post, peeling the Post-It note off my calendar and going on to something else. Took care of that story. But did I? Or did I do the Cliff Notes version, as Freymann and Peterson suggest, when I could have saved my story for an essay that might have been well-published and moved my career forward? Did I go shallow when I could have gone deep? I love blogging. I love being able to express myself and communicate with my readers, but when I look back on last year’s income and publications, could I have spent my time more productively? Did I give away my best material?

Another thing to consider is that once you publish something online, you have used up your first publication rights. Most editors prefer material that has never been published before, which means if it has been on your blog, they don’t want it.

Freymann and Peterson advise, “If you’re already blogging your life story, don’t give yourself away. Think of blogging as singing scales in preparation for the real concert to come.” As a musician, I like that. When I sing, I rarely start right into a song. I warm up my voice with scales and exercises. Otherwise, my high notes are flat, and about three songs in, I start getting hoarse. Warming up is critical. But if that’s all I do, when do I actually sing?

Sometimes I’m better off warming up by writing a couple pages in my journal. Occasionally, my words become poems or rough drafts for other writing, but most days they just let me clear my head in preparation for the day’s writing. Then I get to work. Blogging is good. Blogging is fun. Blogging keeps you connected with your readers. But there are millions of blogs, and very few of them attract large numbers of readers. The right blog post might be seen by a publishing power who can make your career, but probably we’d be better off just going ahead and writing that poem, story or book and submitting it.

What do you think about all this? I’d love to know.

Blog done. Moving on. 🙂

 Now let’s go write.

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‘Still Writing’ offers wisdom and inspiration for writers

Book review: Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
by Dani Shapiro, Grove Press, 2013

Still writing? It turns out I’m not the only writer who gets that question. I usually reply with some variation of “If I’m still breathing, I’m still writing.” Dani Shapiro, author of two memoirs and five novels, as well as Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, is also asked that question. She says she usually nods and smiles then changes the subject, but adds: “Here is what I would like to put down my fork and say: Yes, yes, I am. I will write until the day I die, or until I am robbed of y capacity to reason. Even if my fingers were to clench and wither, even if I were to grow deaf or blind, even if I were unable to move a muscle in my body save for the blink of one eye, I would still write.” Amen!

Sections of this book address all kinds of things about the writing life. Shapiro talks about writer’s block and finding time to write, common subjects in books for writers, but she also discusses insecurity, trust, envy, and luck. She shares generously of her own life, of her successes and failures and her struggles to balance family and art. Her reflections are personal yet universal because we are all equals as we face the blank page.

It took me months to read Still Writing because it was too beautiful to rush. It is filled with wisdom, inspiration and truth for the writer. Sermonettes is the word I keep coming up with. I recommend writers read this book not just once, but at least once every year, pausing between sections to reflect on what has been said. You will not find grammar advice, marketing tips, or how to build a platform here. It’s all about the writing, without which the rest is useless.

***

I recently purchased Your Life is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann. I haven’t read it yet, but the one section I read in the sample pages on Amazon.com changed my whole outlook on the memoir I’m working on for National Nonfiction Writing Month. Years ago, Freymann was the literary agent who spent a half hour on the phone with me explaining why she was rejecting my book and what I needed to change to make it work. She was so right. That book is Childless by Marriage, which I published in 2012. I’ll report back to you after I finish reading Your Life is a Book, but I suspect I’m going to love this book.

Meanwhile, we’ve got some writing to do.

Let’s go write.