Editing seminar snapshots: writing for a blog vs writing for a book

image_00006smlThis week I’m running a series of the best discussion points from my talk at the Writers & Artists selfpublishing event. So far I’ve covered how producing a good book requires an editorial team, how authors need to allow enough time to use their feedback properly and author control. Today, it’s a rather thoughtful question about writing and self-editing in the digital age.


Who are you? Self-editing to self-censorship

I had a very interesting discussion with a lady who had written a book on creativity, and was turning some of it into a blog. She said she found she was editing differently when putting it on line. Where passages from the book contained deeply personal information, she was removing this, feeling it was not suitable for the public world of a blog, though she was happy to have it in the book.

I wonder, has anyone else experienced this? Are you a different writer in the depths of your book? Less self-conscious perhaps? More secure in your relationship with the reader? Is your blog more of your upbeat, ‘party’ persona and your book a buried, contemplative one?

Last week in Thought Catalog. Porter Anderson talked in about the modern phenomenon of writers sharing so much about their daily lives, which has never been possible before. He asked, does this ready familiarity with an author’s life spoil the mystique necessary to let a book do its proper work on the virgin snow of a reader’s mind?
He talks of ‘a certain remove by the artist of his or her daily private life from the stage…’ so that the book can speak for itself.

But after my conversation with the blogging writer, I wonder this: what might we keep back for a book, let ourselves tell only in a story? Surely a person who is committed to writing always holds something in reserve, a true kernel that gets its expression only in communication with the page, that indeed maybe doesn’t exist except in the private vault where the book speaks for us. That’s what makes us writers. Perhaps on our blogs we are comparatively extrovert. We may not mean to censor or conceal; we tailor our copy for a short-order medium. In our books, we inhabit an introverse. Do you?

Thanks to Henry Hyde for the pic of me, and to Sean Mundy on Flickr for the eye.

Anyway, let’s discuss. Does this say something about the different qualities of blogs versus books? Does it suggest what we might be missing if more of our reading time is taken up by ephemeral media such as blogs and newspapers, rather than books? Especially as we increasingly read them all on the one device? And where are you most you? Am I mad?

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  1. #1 by danholloway on December 7, 2014 - 8:53 pm

    I wonder if the question misses something essential about modern writing and, maybe, writing in general. Of course, you will get a different answer for different authors doing different things, but the digital age facilitates something that has long been part of many authors’ lives – something that is at times confessional, at times expressionist, at times communicative. Imagine Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Lytton Strachey writing in the 21st century. Would they have held back an “essential kernel” that belongs only i the confines of a book? Or were they the Lena Dunhams, Sheila Hetis, Megan Boyles and Tao Lins of their age?

    I think there is something quite strange about this degree of detachment between an author and their work, between what they express on the page and what they express elsewhere. Yes, of course we are not our fictions. But neither are our more immediate outpourings really “us”. Do we really believe there is an “I” that we can decontextualise from our expression of that I, and that our fictitious expressions are qualitatively different from others? I don’t think the notion that we are wholly constructed, exist only in as much as our expressions exist in a wider context, is wholly new – I think rather that the digital age makes the idea easier to see in action

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 7, 2014 - 11:42 pm

      Hey Dan! I should have known you’d get your teeth into this. In reality, I think we are all many people, drawing on slightly different personas and angles according to the situation. Columns aren’t the same as books, for instance. They’re lighter, easier to digest – though much of course depends on the personality of the writer and the circumstances they are writing about. I can’t imagine Jenny Diski could possibly be any more honest in a book than she is in her deeply examined columns for The London Review of Books. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
      And you’re right that the instantness of the digital age has changed a lot. Blogs can be whatever we want them to be. Some of us are very confessional in our blogs – many of the people I’m thinking about as examples are probably friends of yours, in fact.

  2. #3 by raulconde001 on December 7, 2014 - 9:05 pm

    Books are a whole different kind of animal. I am a better writer in my blog, though. I haven’t went into the deep waters of a book yet. I don’t know its experience, but am close to do it. Self-editing is much better then the traditional editing one, but yet we still need to correct our errors. An editor can check the author’s work, but can’t add the words needed in its books. It feels awkward for the author. I took an editing class and now see the difference of correcting a book. I have learned that symbols and grammar should be in there for the author to correct its typos. One or two typos in a published book can ruin the author. My communication as a writer is much better, then before.

  3. #5 by robertmgoldstein on December 7, 2014 - 10:32 pm

    There was a period when I was writing about street life and the language I used was very graphic…
    I find that I tend to “clean up” language and certain erotic situations in stories that have actually already been published in anthologies.

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 7, 2014 - 11:47 pm

      Hi Robert – an interesting example of how we might need to tone things down for public consumption. A book is more specialised and you might feel you already have permission to be more extreme, but a blog might be found by anyone. Is that your thinking? Thanks for commenting!

      • #7 by robertmgoldstein on December 8, 2014 - 5:18 am

        Exactly…! When people open a book they are also introduced to the writer…perhaps on the book sleeve
        he states his concerns and approach to writing and language…with a blog someone can land on a portion of the middle of a story–I also think that
        graphic descriptions of sex is more distracting on
        a blog…that one I can’t explain. Thank you for your reply…:)

  4. #8 by francisguenette on December 8, 2014 - 5:53 am

    Blog post or novel – it’s all removed from me to a degree. It’s all a persona of sorts. Interpretation is the act of the reader. Novel writing is more finely crafted – not to say I don’t craft a post but it’s more like an ongoing conversation. Interesting question and I’m going to continue to think about this for a while.

    • #9 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 8, 2014 - 8:00 pm

      Hi Francis! It’s shades of difference, isn’t it? I’m still thinking about the question too! Thanks for playing.

  5. #10 by Henry Hyde (@Henry__Hyde) on December 12, 2014 - 4:12 pm

    As someone who has been designing and writing copy for websites of one kind or another since 1996, I’ve had it drummed into me time and time and time again that people’s attention span on the web is chronically short. You have just a few seconds to engage them and grab their attention before they click away to somewhere else.

    Thus the kind of copy I put on a blog is normally very different in character to the way I would write if I know that my reader has already made the decision to buy *me*, in a sense, and is settling down for a longer, more intimate relationship with my words.

    As it happens, I am prone to writing longer, somewhat more journalistic blog posts where I feel that conveying the information I want to pass on requires a somewhat deeper engagement by the reader. I do get tired of following clickbait links to blog posts that turn out to be really rather shallow and that contain little or nothing that I haven’t seen a million times before.

    One thing that I have found really interesting since getting more involved with the writing community is the kind of thing that’s happening right here: a blog post asking an excellent question, which then evokes a raft of equally interesting and diverse responses from the site’s visitors. Perhaps it’s because we creatives spend such a huge amount of time on our own that we relish a good conversation!

    • #11 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 12, 2014 - 7:13 pm

      Hi Henry – welcome to my blog! That’s a great point about the clickbait world. I’m one of those people who, given half a chance, will try to gnaw a subject down to its very bones. That’s my default. I’m also the kind of person who will take any statement seriously, which often means I don’t get jokes!
      And as for gullibility, well, I’m the last word in gullible. If you tell me your cousin is buying a pet lion, I’ll ask, in all sincerity, ‘why?’ and ‘where from?’ It doesn’t usually occur to me to push a statement aside, I leap in with both feet and grapple with the things about it that interest me. (I wrote a post about this, which I bring out every April 1st.)

  6. #12 by monicasuswin on December 12, 2014 - 6:24 pm

    As the person you spoke with at the Writers & Artists S-P Conference in London, what remained for me afterwards and I have thought about since is the dilemma because of the nature of my genre of writing: creative therapeutic writing. As you said so clearly fiction allows for emotional processing through imaginative characters and plot. Or is that how I am interpreting what you said at the time?

    My narrative is embedded in showing (not telling!) the trajectory and benefits of writing for healing
    or well-being through personal writing and using my own life as example. I have absolutely no wish to write confessional material for its own sake. But explaining through example – rather than obliquely – requires a certain amount of revelation. And the blogging challenges me about what I do and do not include. And how I put my copy into context to make sense for the reader.

    Yes my book ms is a contemplative meandering around many issues we, as human beings may or may not face in a life and therefore may or may not be relevant to others. In as much as it does, then I will have a potential readership!

    With non-fiction too, I tread a careful path between me as writer and me as author to let the ideas and writing for the book do their own ‘proper work’. I have had a long lesson in learning how to let the book-writing speak for itself and how to earn my own keep on the page with rigour.

    Being an absolute novice blogger because of the changing publishing world and all that was discussed about independent publishing at the W & A Conference, this social media platform
    provides another set of writing rules to consider . . .

    • #13 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 12, 2014 - 7:18 pm

      Hi Monica – I’m delighted you stepped out of the shadows!

      ‘Fiction allows for emotional processing through imagination….?’ Yes, that certainly sounds like the kind of thing I’d say. I also say, frequently, that fiction allows us to tell a deeper truth, perhaps to explore what is not comfortably looked at or examined.

      I like your statements here about letting the writing and the book speak for itself. I’ve just finished the final edits on the Nail Your Novel plot book (it’s now in production), and in one of the sections I talk about revision – and how with successive drafts we develop the rigour to edit in the book’s best interests. This is what allows us to remove the indulgences, and make sure the book does the job it should. Although I’m mainly referring to novels, I think it also holds for non-fiction. Is this what you’re talking about?

  7. #14 by monicasuswin on December 15, 2014 - 9:20 am

    Hi again Roz – Several points to pick up on here:

    My sort of writing weaves commentary around pieces of writing which use all literary styles: poems, fictional extracts, imaginative writing and so there is an integration between fiction and non-fiction as I explain what exploratory and expressive writing is all about.

    It took about three drafts to make the creative therapeutic aspect work and another couple of drafts (will be ongoing before I am ready to S.P.) to allow the narrative of the non-fiction to fully emerge.

    I can only speak about my own process, but it has been rigorous to remove the unnecessary.
    So most of the aspects you discuss about ‘nailing the novel’ I can resonate with . . .

    The deeper truth in this kind of writing can be faced head on, or at a slant or through fictionalizing.
    And this process therefore can be both comfortable and fun, even if serious. That’s its beauty and effectiveness for those who want to write to understand themselves, but aren’t potential novelists.

    I’m enjoying this thread of conversation. It’s the first time I’ve dipped into ongoing discussion like this. I will blog on myself at some point . . .

    all best wishes

    • #15 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 16, 2014 - 11:10 am

      Hi Monica! It’s so interesting to get the perspective of a person who, as you put it, ‘writes to understand themselves’. Most of the time I’m concerned with writing to make other people understand. I imagine this requires more discipline because we have to excise what doesn’t fit. It’s a different kind of intention with the writing – though that doesn’t mean it is any less personally rigorous.
      This is particularly on my mind as I have a section in my next book about the mindset for self-editing, and how we have to reach a state of ruthlessness to work out what needs to be cut. I certainly recognise that near the end of a novel edit, I am removing material that early on I would have sworn was important.
      Different worlds!

  8. #16 by monicasuswin on December 16, 2014 - 5:24 pm

    Hi Roz – Yes different worlds indeed! I find the great thing about re-drafting, say if it takes a year to complete a draft, is style and competence evolves over the year so the following year distance allows for more discernment for the next draft. I like to think it’s all drafts until what I know will be a final edit. If you have time and inclination, I explain my own intention with my writing in my very first blog: ‘Travelling Fingers’. Having just re-read that piece, it does set out my aims for the reader. I’ve now done 3 blog postings and learning all the time. I agree the editor’s hat requires a ‘ruthless approach’ . . . after all the blood & sweat has gone on the page. I think that’s why in the early stages the copy feels so precious and vital, but not in the later ones.

    Here’s the blog address – if of interest: monicasuswin.wordpress.com

  1. Writing for blogs versus writing for books | wtf Am I On About Now?

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