A couple of years ago, after almost a decade of happily blogging, I quit.
Although I loved to blog, I quit because it was time-consuming. A single post sometimes took as much as twenty hours in a week—a part-time job. I wanted to free up more time for writing novels, which at least—according to my marketing friends—had the potential of earning a living.
One of them asked me bluntly, “Do you want to be a blogger, or do you want to be a writer?” He told me that I was unlikely to succeed at both. If I wanted to make money blogging, I would have to research what others wanted to read. I would have to write what was popular, rather than what I cared about. I would also have to blog daily, maybe even hourly. But if I focused on fiction only, I might have a chance of earning a living at that. If I had to choose, the answer was clear: I wanted to be a novelist.
Quitting my blog did free up a lot of time. And I did finish a new novel. But I missed blogging. And even though I was writing more fiction than before, I was writing less overall—and enjoying less what I did write.
My reduced productivity surprised me. I had expected that if I quit my blog, I would spend all my freed-up time blazing through novel manuscripts, especially at night.
It was at night that I had learned to make use of stolen moments. I did most of my writing during the day, but after supper I would sneak in extra writing while watching television with my family. Whenever a show began to lag, I would draw out my Android phone and work, surreptitiously, on my blog.
Without a blog to write, I could instead use those stolen moments for writing my novels. Whenever the TV plot stalled or pointless explosions began, I could escape into my own imaginary world. I wagered that if I wrote on a novel every time a TV show became tedious, I could be as prolific as Isaac Asimov.
But there was a problem I had failed to consider. My stamina for writing in noisy rooms, though robust with blog posts, withered when writing novels.
Inventing stories demands more of me than blogging does. A novel requires me to live in a tumultuous world, constructed only from words, for hundreds of hours, but first I have to make it all up—the walls, the people, and even the floors that they stand on.
Then I have to lie about it all in an entertaining way. Furthermore, my lies must seem plausible, even though my readers already know that everything I say is outlandishly false.
Keeping my lies consistent demands focus bordering on the superhuman, which is hard to come by when I am fretting about getting “caught” in a plot hole, just as if no one knew beforehand that I was only going to make stuff up.
Blogging allows me to simply tell the truth. Plagiarizing from reality is infinitely easier than constructing the stable edifice of lies called storytelling. So, when I quit my blog, I stopped writing anything at night, and instead had to watch television without any recourse when a show became tedious.
But blogging does more than offer sanctuary from bad TV. When my energy for making stuff up is drained, blogging gives me a way to shift gears. I can keep writing—just on a different kind of project.
Instead of dreaming up worlds, I can blog about a memory, express a point of view, or enumerate the antics of my cat. Blogging flexes different creative muscles than writing fiction does—but in a way that hones my writing skills generally.
It also makes me more receptive to new ideas. When I stopped blogging, fewer ideas for stories and essays came to me.
This is unsurprising. I had told my brain to focus on a single project exclusively, so that even when dazzling new story ideas came to me, I swept them under the couch cushions with the cat fur and stray pennies. Exploring my new ideas risked diverting me from my “more important” writing.
By “setting” my mind to pay attention to new ideas—even if they are unrelated to my main project—blogging encourages creativity.
It also motivates me. Embarking on a short project, such as a flash fiction story or essay, lets me enjoy finishing it after only a short time—a day or a week, rather than months or years. Completing short pieces, especially when I do it often, builds confidence. Quick bursts of success also give me the patience I need for the arduous marathon of writing a novel.
Blogging has another benefit. I often write what I need to read.
As a novelist I need to give myself constant pep talks. Writing is an intense psychological game that pits my ego against rough drafts that seem to mirror my deepest character flaws. Sometimes my writing is silly, self-pitying, biased, sententious, or sentimental, yet I have to look at my prose and say, “Yep. That came from me.”
It takes fortitude to face my Jungian shadow day after day, and to keep writing after my many embarrassing beginnings, which sometimes sound like the exuberant blather of a five-year-old.
In fact, many of my blogs have been discourses about why “blathering” is a necessary stage of the creative process, and why there is no reason to be ashamed of it at all; in a rough draft, anything goes.
Blogging is a way to remind myself of that. Whatever motivation or confidence issue I am facing on a given day has a remedy: I dig out a notebook and write a post about it.
When I stopped blogging, I found myself slipping into old habits of thought about how I might be losing my talent—the kind of thinking that never gets me anywhere.
Which brings me to an ironic bonus of blogging: sometimes I feel guilty for exploring my creative side ventures instead of working on my Big Important Potentially Lucrative Novel.
Whenever I feel any guilt about writing, I embrace it wholeheartedly as a sacred gift from the muse. Writing is at its most exhilarating when I feel like I am doing something forbidden. In contrast, whenever I feel like I should write, nothing is worse for my productivity. It only makes me want to take a brownie break.
So, instead of fighting guilt, I make friends with it. I use it as a source of energy. Naughty writing is prolific writing.
And despite what my guilt tells me, I do not have to decide between being a blogger and a novelist. I can be both. If I want to put novels first, I can still blog for short bursts while my coffee is boiling. Or I can just write a few paragraphs.
When I stopped blogging, I felt like something meaningful had vanished from my life. Blogging may not be necessary for a successful writing career, but when it was gone, I missed it. And I am glad to have it back.