I love to blog. For over seven years my blog has followed me through my life, marking meaningful events and shifts in my thinking. It has at times felt like a home where my mind goes to meditate even when I am not actually writing. It feels like so much a part of me, it is hard to imagine a time I was ever without it. I assumed ever since I began blogging that I would be doing it forever.
However, I did originally hope my blog would promote my writing. Although blogging is fun and worth doing for its own sake, I had always hoped that if I wrote for the right reasons, my blog would eventually, somehow, help me sell my fiction.
I dreamed of growing my following so much that I would eventually have an audience for the books I published. Or, if I decided to publish traditionally, I could show an agent how many followers I had in order to improve my chances of success.
For years I kept self-imposed weekly deadlines, and I have spent as much as 20 hours in a week or more to get a blog post exactly the way I envisioned it. However, I never attracted throngs of readers the way I had imagined. I quickly learned that just like novels, blogs have to be promoted; otherwise no one knows about them. And blogs, just like novels, are super-hard to promote — especially since legions of other bloggers are competing to promote theirs too. But even after I learned that my “marketing plan” was not going to work, I continued blogging anyway for the same reason I ate chocolate or played video games; I enjoyed it.
However, I also enjoy writing fiction. I enjoy it even more than blogging. I now have three published novels and three short story collections, and I am working on a sequel to my fantasy novel Paw. But as I have been concentrating more on writing my novels, I have had less time for blogging, and I am facing an uncomfortable choice.
One of my friends who is knowledgeable about marketing put it into words, “Do you want to be a blogger, or do you want to be a writer?”
It was strange hearing the question put that way. I had thought blogging was writing. I have always written my blogs the way I had written anything else. Writing is writing, I told myself. Not so, according to my marketing friend. What I had been doing was writing “articles” each week, mainly about writing, when what I should have been doing was building an online journal.
Writing my blogs instead of blogging them was fine as long as I was content to be a hobbyist, but if I wanted my blog to be useful to me as a marketing tool I had to view it differently. The career bloggers who actually made money off their blogs wrote brief posts — a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs — and updated frequently, many times in a day. And they did not just blog about whatever they felt like saying; they did research to see what was “trending” and they wrote about popular topics. Moreover, blogging was not really about the writing at all. The writing only had to be serviceable.
My friend went on to tell me other things I did not want to hear. As a writer seeking to promote myself, I had been doing it all wrong; I would be better off writing brief journal entries, kind of like expanded Facebook posts, than articles. I would be more successful blogging about what restaurant I was eating at or what books I was reading that how to generate creative ideas for stories.
“Real” blogging sounded tedious! Yet I had to admit that I had never been a very strategic blogger. I had followed the simple advice I had been given when I began it, because I had loved the sound of it: “Write what you are passionate about.” I had needed no convincing. My “epiphany” for getting over a bad case of block had been to write what I would want to read, not what I thought others would want to read.
The problem with telling writers to write what they are passionate about is that many writers end up blogging about their chief obsession, writing, which is what I did. While there is nothing wrong with writing about writing, it is only interesting to other writers. Science fiction and fantasy readers who care nothing about the craft are not wooed. To give myself credit, I did write about more than writing. I wrote about personal experiences, movies, critical thinking, agnosticism, books, and my bipolar disorder. But I always returned to writing because it was what I knew best.
Writing about writing was fun but strategy-wise and book-promotion-wise, it was not the most effective move. However, I loved the encouragement I got from doing it.
When I began my blog I had just gotten over a severe case of block, which had allowed me to write the first draft of my second novel The Ghosts of Chimera. In my blog I shared my experience of rediscovering my creativity. Readers on the writing Reddits began to tell me that my posts on writing had inspired them and helped them get “unstuck.” I basked in a warm plethora of “up-votes.” Although I told myself I was writing to crystalize lessons I wanted to remember, I loved that my posts were helping other writers, too. It filled me with a strong sense of purpose, and even though I made no money for my blog, it was too rewarding, I thought, for me to ever quit.
I brimmed with hope. The future bristled with promise. I was destined for fame. Starting a blog seemed like one of the best things I had ever done!
But my audience was severely limited. Reddit has strict rules about how often you could post your own work. Being ignorant of them, I ended up being banned from the site, so I started a Twitter account and began to build a large following. I ended up with 50,000 followers, mostly writers. There I shared everything I knew about the writing process and how to get past the kinds of insecurities and hang-ups that had once held me back. I never got many readers for my blog on Twitter the way I had on Reddit, but I often got comments from Twitter followers, usually a couple for each new post.
Though I enjoyed blogging about writing, it would have only been a good marketing strategy if my career goal had been to make a living off my 40 page, 99 cent e-book A Trail of Crumbs to Creative Freedom about how I had overcome my block. But blogging about writing made me happy, and compliments could sweep me up into a stratospheric “high.”
However, my mood disorder finally caught up with me as I discovered that my bipolar disorder-afflicted brain was not well-suited to Twitter or social media in general. It seemed to throw my moods out of balance. I stayed on Twitter for about three years, and by the time I had collected 50,000 followers, I was suffering from depression and chronic anxiety. Worries about inconsequential things disrupted my sleep and undermined my concentration. I ended up having to leave Twitter despite having 50,000 followers.
I hated to leave, but I needed my sanity more than I needed Twitter followers. After I left Twitter in December 2016, my sleep normalized and my moods stabilized. Thus, in 2017 I was able to focus on my fiction writing well enough to finish editing two novels, Paw and The Ghosts of Chimera, which I published.
However, in November of last year, I considered returning to Twitter. I missed sharing my blog posts with my followers and getting responses. It had been almost a year since I had left. The bad feelings had faded, and it seemed silly that I was unable to handle it. Other writers with bipolar disorder who were on Twitter seemed to be doing just fine. Whatever my problem had been in December 2016, I reasoned, surely I must be over it by now. Besides, some of my Twitter friends had been kind enough to continue to post my blogs and book links even after I had left. I regretted that I had been unable to tweet their links too. I downloaded the Twitter app on my phone and for the first time since I had left, I checked my account. It was a bad idea.
Though I kept my app for several weeks, I never tweeted anything. Considering the problems I had had before, I was reluctant to dive into tweeting headfirst. Instead, I tried wading in. I began with “safe” activities like following people. But even wading turned out to be too much for me. As I anticipated the day of my official return, my sleep was the first thing to suffer. I began waking up several times during the night with a feeling of fight-or-flight alarm and was unable to go back to sleep. My depression, too, came slinking back. My concentration floundered. After a point I felt as if practically no time had passed between the time I had gone off Twitter and the point where I had tried to return. It was like the past had fender-bumped the present.
In frustration I ended up deleting my app, but during the weeks that followed I was slow to recover and I shied away from all social media.
Though my mood finally stabilized, my disappointment was sharp. My days of sharing my blog posts with Twitter followers appeared to be officially over. But I had to face the truth: I had been getting nowhere with Twitter anyway, not really. Trying to market books on Twitter was like trying to sell pine cones on the side of the road, and even giving books away was nearly impossible. Twitter was possibly dying anyway; at least that was what a lot of news analysts said. And instead of marketing my fiction, I was pouring out blog posts on writing, which was fun but not helpful promotion-wise. Maybe it was time to move on. Maybe it was time to stop writing so much about writing and focus on my novels. Writing them. Selling them.
As often happens during times where my thinking leads me to places I did not expect to go, I suddenly longed for silence, a refuge from the chattering online world. I turned off all my social media notifications. From the Christmas holidays through January, I only blogged once to announce that one of my story anthologies was free. I wanted to be alone in my own mind, without the danger of anyone responding to my thoughts.
I had once fled to the online world to escape the mundane. Now I was more than happy to reconnect with the real world again, the world of cats, coffee, and cabinets, with books that have rough paper pages and slick, solid covers. But most of all I wanted to connect fully with my fiction. I am currently working on a sequel to my novel Paw called Prowl, but writing a sequel is turning out to be a daunting challenge that makes extreme demands on my concentration.
I had been working on it in short bursts when what I needed was full immersion without interruption. In January, during my break from blogging and social media, that was what I found. Having an extra 10 to 16 hours in the week to work on a novel has been extraordinarily beneficial, and I am making a lot of progress quickly without social media to distract me or a self-imposed blog deadline to pull me away from my fiction.
What my marketing friend said came back to me: “Do you want to be a blogger, or do you want to be a writer?”
If “writer” means “fiction writer,” and “blogger” means “someone who writes tedious text online according to a bunch of boring arbitrary rules with the intention of making money,” I suppose I have made my choice.
I am not retiring my blog, but I am turning a corner. I will still blog whenever I have something to say, and that might be often, but once a week is too much. I want to finish the Bastis Archives trilogy and start a new series.
I want to fully immerse myself in my stories. I want long stretches of creative solitude and silence. Sometimes I may long for connection. On those days I may venture out of my mind cave and be a blogger. But mainly I want to be what I have longed to be since early childhood: I want to be a writer.