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Learning How to Blog—the Hard Way

Photo by Jos van Wunnik on Flickr's Creative Commons [1]
photo by Flickr’s Jos van Wunnik

Today’s guest is Kim Triedman [2], an award-winning poet and novelist. Her debut novel, The Other Room [3], and two full-length poetry collections, Plum(b) and Hadestown, are releasing in 2013. The Other Room was a finalist for the 2008 James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and Kim’s poetry has garnered many awards, including the 2008 Main Street Rag Chapbook Award and the 2010 Ibbetson Street Poetry Award. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Kim co-organized and co-chaired a collaborative poetry reading at Harvard University to benefit Partners in Health and the people of Haiti. The reading was featured on NPR’s Here and Now with Robin Young and led to the publication of a Poets for Haiti anthology, which Kim developed and edited.

Kim’s post today is about how she came to blogging after a “long standing aversion to social networking.”

With all the changes in the publishing industry, writers these days find themselves called upon to do so many things they never imagined would be part of the job description. Moreover, for the vast majority of authors, these new promotional responsibilities require temperaments and skill sets that many just don’t possess. I’ve found this “other” part of the job to be not just challenging but downright demoralizing at times, and I’m trying to figure out my own best way to cope with it. Hopefully, some of these strategies may apply to others who are struggling with similar resistance and apprehension. In any case, the emotional hurdles alone may resonate in some way, and that alone may help to diffuse them.

Read Kim’s blog [4] and follow her on Twitter [5] and Facebook [6].

Learning How to Blog—the Hard Way

So it’s T minus 4 months and counting. The manuscript’s finalized, your cover’s been designed, and the ARCs are ready to send out.  Even the launch venue has been booked—you childhood bookstore!—and all your favorite people have promised to be there. Your debut novel—the culmination of so many years’ hard work—is fast becoming a reality, and you’re walking on air… right?

Ok, let’s run that one again: So it’s T minus 4 months and counting. You’ve been tweeting inanities, bothering friends with email updates (It’s coming! It’s coming!), and checking your author page with such pathetic frequency that you feel like your own best stalker. You haven’t had a creative thought in months, and your writing output has been reduced to 140 characters a sitting. Your debut novel—the culmination of so many years’ hard work—is fast becoming a reality, and you’re ready to poke yourself in the eyes with a shish-kebab skewer…

Sour grapes? Maybe.

Accurate depiction? Absolutely.

It’s no secret that the road to publication is a bumpy ride for first-time novelists. Gone are the days when in-house publicists beat the path so writers could be writers and their books (like all good things) could magically emerge nine months later. Today, debut authors—from the self-published to the A-lister—must take a leading role in self-promotion, which means doing things most of us never imagined would be part of the job description.

I’m a poet and a novelist, a woman of a certain age. I’m also a Luddite, by default and by temperament: I have a long-standing aversion to social media. Until 6 months ago, I didn’t even know what a tweet was, let alone where you heard one. For me, coping with the reality of pre-launch imperatives has been a mostly demoralizing ride. After much deliberation I decided to hire a publicist—which really helped—but in the end it was still up to me to network, to tweet and post, to book my own readings. To blog…

Which brings me to where I am today. Of all the overwhelming, unnerving, brain-scrambling tasks I’ve had to set my mind to these past months, none has prompted as much visceral resistance as blogging. Why? At the start I wasn’t sure—I only knew that on some level I felt I had no right. I was not an expert on anything. I didn’t teach or have an MFA. I had no experience in memoir or nonfiction. There was no reason to assume I had anything to say that people needed to hear. The whole thing felt presumptuous—unseemly—and as far as I could tell I had absolutely no business throwing my voice out into the ether, and yet…

My publicist sat me down—pleaded with me just to brain-storm. I stared at her glumly. She waited, so I started telling her about my resistance: how false and out-of-character all this self-promotion felt; how I was an introvert, how I needed time for reflection. I told her how social media made me feel manic and unfocused, and how deeply embarrassing it felt to call attention to myself in this way. I told her I’d lost the ability to be still.

COVER-200x300 [3]Write it down, she said simply.

So maybe I don’t have anything to offer beyond my own anecdotal experience.  But what I’ve come to see is that writing it down helps me—helps me to explore it, and make some kind of sense of it, and pull it together in a way that just might be meaningful to someone else. By untangling the cross-currents of this strange and frenetic time, I’m discovering things about myself and my writing that I didn’t know before, and I’m learning that blogging is no more and no less than any other kind of writing. In the end it is all about honesty. Perhaps this alone may resonate, in much the same way a well-wrought poem or a scene or a character may communicate some tiny commonality of experience.

And what I’m finding is that just writing again, just the fact of slowing myself down and allowing words to dance with other words, has been its own best reward.  I get to stare out the window at my Japanese maple again, let my thoughts deconstruct until something drops into my mind like a perfect plum. I get to feel that odd thrill of tripping down a sentence which seems to know just where it wants to go, and to play with the sounds and texture and rhythm of the words that go into it. And I get to reclaim—for part of each and every day—that person I was before.

For those who’ve had some of the same hesitations as I’ve had about blogging, I can only say that it may actually surprise you. It may, in fact, give you much more than it takes away. During the long dizzying months of social media overload, it may actually prove to be an anchor of sorts—a stabilizing force in the storm of trivia. The key, I believe, is finding those things to talk about that are already there, occupying your heart or your head, bobbing around every day just beneath the surface.

These days I actually look forward to blog-writing, not because I have a story to tell but because I have a story to uncover. Often I may only see as far as the first few words. Even today, with this post to write, I had no idea where I was going until that first sentence hit the page. And though frequently I revisit my old insecurities, worrying for the hundredth time that I have nothing important to say, I’ve created the space to explore what my mind’s been quietly minding—what’s happening down under, just out of sight.

I still remember what it was like writing my novel—those stretches of time when I’d lose myself so totally in the writing that hours would pass unnoticed. I remember how hard it was to let it go when the sun had finally faded from my office walls and the kids and dogs started clamoring for dinner. Blogging may never feel quite that rhapsodic, but right now it allows me to remember that, yes, I am a writer, and yes, this is where it all begins.

If you’re a blogger…how (and why) did you start? Is it something you naturally enjoyed or came to enjoy once you started? What are your feelings about social networking as a required part of the writing life?