Monthly Archives: April 2013

Is Blogging a Waste of Time?

A recent post by L.L. Barkat published on Jane Friedman’s blog has generated a lot of discussion in the blogosphere. Entitled, “It’s Time for (Many) Experienced Writers to Stop Blogging,” the post described the 180-degree shift in Barkat’s view on blogging.

An inveterate blogger, Barkat wrote 1,300 posts in six years, generating 250,000 page views. Barkat’s blogging helped start a large blogging network for which she later became managing editor, test-marketed five books she wrote and sold, and assisted other blogging contacts in securing book contracts. “I was a true believer in the blog world,” she wrote. On Saturday, November 10, 2012, she stopped blogging.

In the post, Barkat argued both sides of the question. She didn’t recommend everyone stop blogging. “It’s an excellent way to find expression, discipline, and experience. But if writers already have experience, and they are authors trying to promote themselves and their work, I tell them to steer clear,” she wrote. “If they’ve already found themselves sucked into the blogging vortex, I suggest they might want to give it up and begin writing for larger platforms that don’t require reciprocity (an exhausting aspect to blogging and a big drain on a writer’s energy and time).”

In the Comments suggestion, Friedman offered a thoughtful response to Barkat’s post. She said, in part, “Blogging can help both new and experienced writers with discipline, focus, and voice development. But it is indeed a waste of time if you’re doing it because someone admonished you to (e.g., to build your platform), and it’s a forced chore. If you’re not enjoying it, neither are your readers.

“Established authors likely have more reason to blog than beginners for the simple reason that they have an existing audience who seek engagement and interaction in between ‘formal’ book releases (or other writings). It may take less effort to interest and gather readers if you’re known, and it’s valuable to attract readers to your website (via a blog) rather than a social media outlet since you don’t really own your social media profiles, nor do you control the changing tides that surround them. You DO, however, own your website and blog (or should),” Friedman said.

Here are my thoughts on whether to blog:

Have a purpose. As Barkat and Friedman suggest, if you are blogging for the sake of building an audience and have nothing to say or because somebody told you to blog, it’s going to show in the quality of your posts. The initial focus of my blog was to share with novice fiction writers the lessons I had learned over the course of many years as a self-taught fiction writer. My blog has morphed into something much more—featuring book reviews, author profiles, and my reflections on the writer’s journey.

Set limits. Decide how much time to devote each week to blogging versus writing and stick to it. Don’t let your blog infringe upon your writing time. If the blog becomes too time-consuming cut back.

Use it strategically. I don’t write sci-fi so readers are not going to see a lot of reviews or advice on science fiction. I write family sagas so I tend to read and write about that genre more than others. I also follow a number of excellent fiction writing blogs and I leave comments on posts, which has attracted like-minded writers to my blog, which brings me to my next thought.

Share, share, share. Blogging is a great outlet to share your knowledge and insights. In that regard, Twitter is a great vehicle for sharing. I always send out a link to my blog posts on Twitter and I have found followers who do the same and I follow those people as well.

Don’t let blogging take over your life. It’s tempting to blog at the expense of writing. I find it easier to bang out a 500-word blog essay than to write 500 words of quality fiction. Don’t fall into the trap of blogging instead of writing. Carve out appropriate amounts of time for both on a regular basis.

What are your thoughts on blogging?

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An Evening with Sue Miller

It is a rare treat to attend a reading and lecture by one of your favorite authors. On April 15, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Sue Miller at the West Hartford Town Hall, sponsored by the Friends of the West Hartford Public Library.

The reading occurred just hours after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, which was not lost on Miller. She noted she lives in Cambridge, about three miles from the blast site, and made sure her friends were okay. Miller read several passages from her 2010 novel, The Lakeshore Limited, which is ironically about two terrorist bombings, 9-11 and a fictional explosion of a train. Gus, the fiance of the main character, Billy, is killed in the 9-11 attack, and Billy lives with the guilt that she was going to call off the engagement. A playright, Billy deals with her feelings by writing a play about an explosion of the Lakeshore Limited train in which the fate of the wife of the main character, Gabriel, is unknown, and he feels remorse over his unfaithfulness.

Following the reading, Miller was asked if she had ever written a play. She said she’d never written a play, but wrote about 20 lines of dialogue for the fictional play in the novel. “I’ve always liked writing dialogue a lot, but I’ve never thought about writing a play,” she said.

Asked how she approaches character development, Miller said she works out the structure of the story first and then focuses on the characters. “I like to understand why people do the things they do,” she said. One of the fiction writer’s pleasures is the opportunity to escape into other people’s lives, she noted.

Miller observed that writing is a lonely life. “I think there is a great tension between wanting to be with other people and the writer’s need to spend lots of time alone,” she said.

Asked if she maintains a daily word count, Miller said she is somewhat sporadic in her output. “I sometimes don’t write for several weeks, but when I was on deadline recently with the book I just sent to my editor, I went to a house in the country and just wrote all morning, took a break for groceries and lunch, and then wrote more…My writing schedule tends to be quite variable, depending on what stage I am at in my book.”

Describing her process for developing a story, Miller said she will write a whole scene very quickly and then fill in and revise several times. “Revision is really everything to me. If you saw the first version of some of my scenes, they are really bad. I’m constantly adding things, making it richer, adding more texture.”

She said she usually works out the ending of her stories before she starts to write. “I always like to know where I want to end up, but along the way, ideas come out of the blue, so it’s really a combination of planned and unplanned parts, but all of the parts need to click for it to work.”

Miller is the author of ten novels, including “The Good Mother,” “Inventing the Abbotts,” “While I Was Gone,” and “The Senator’s Wife.” In addition to her writing career, Miller is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, MA.

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Book Review: Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe

Miami, the locale for Tom Wolfe’s latest blockbuster, Back to Blood, is famous for its large population of African Americans, Cubans, Haitians, and recent Russian immigrants. Wolfe’s Miami is more of a boiling pot than a melting pot.

The hero of this sprawling tale is a young Cuban-American police officer, Nestor Camacho. The inciting incident occurs when Camacho, assigned to a marine patrol boat, rescues a Cuban refugee from atop a 70-foot mast of a schooner. When Camacho reached the top of the mast, the refugee attempted to climb down a cable that connects the mast to the bow. Fearing the man would fall to his death. Camacho wrapped his legs around the man and made the agonizing climb hand-over-hand down the cable.

Camacho became a hero to the public, but a pariah to his Cuban-American community, for turning in a refugee who would be sent back to Cuba. It got worse as Officer Camacho found himself entangled in multiple adventures as the story progressed. Reassigned to a drug unit by the Police Chief, he was captured on video subduing an African-American suspect while he and a fellow officer hurled racial obscenities. His girlfriend, Magdalena Otero, dumped him and became involved with her boss, Doctor Norman Lewis, a social-climbing psychiatrist who treats rich, sex-addicted clients. His main client granted Doctor Lewis entrée to the nefarious world of art dealers and collectors, who “See it! Like it! Buy it!

Back to Blood mines many of the same themes of his first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, where his targets were racial tension and the accompanying racial politics, America’s obsession with sex, money and status.

As one of the pioneers of New Journalism, Wolfe’s terrain is big societal issues. His novels are about the great issues of our times, not about individuals. From The Bonfire of the Vanities, through A Man and Full to I Am Charlotte Simmons, Wolf’s muscular fiction goes after big targets. The issues are writ large, but the problem is that so are the characters. Rather than getting down to the emotional level, Wolf’s characters feel more like caricatures.

Multiple story lines and a cast of nefarious characters rumble through the 700- plus page opus. Though the pacing is slow, and Wolfe’s marathon sentences are at times a chore, he weaves multiple story lines that gallop along, sustaining the reader’s interest.

Back to Blood is a mixed bag, but Wolf’s hallmark research and ability to weave multiple story lines makes this an entertaining read.

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