Thursday, June 20, 2013

Blogging a novel: The journey so far

I followed a link on Twitter yesterday to a blog piece called "Should You Blog Your Novel?" Given that I am, in fact, blogging my novel, I thought this would be an interesting and pertinent read for me.

As I expected, the article and its comments were pretty solidly in the NO camp on this one. Some of the identified downsides are ones I also have reservations about - such as the irritation to readers in having to read episodically and read backwards; and the restriction it places on wholesale revision-as-you-go or major plot rectconning. Both of these issues have already reared their heads in the month I have been posting to my novel blog, and there's no doubt they represent real problems with the blog-novel model.

However, the main reason most of the commenters were anti-novel-on-blog was that once a work is published on a blog, it's *published* - out there in the freeverse, and therefore not attractive to commercial publishers unless you have some epic number of readers / followers and can show an existing, ready-made market (and maybe not even then).

This is no doubt true, and I think if you are aiming at mainstream publication, you'd be ill advised to do what I'm doing with The Ark at the End of the World. I respect the argument that blog published = published; legally, practically and ethically, it absolutely does. While I don't see myself as a fiction writer primarily, and have no ambitions towards a fulltime career in that direction, I do on occasion have a shot at competitions or publication, usually for short pieces (poems and short stories); those pieces are never blogged, or even blogged about, until I have determined that traditional publication is unlikely to occur.

However, I have said all along, and still maintain, I never saw traditional publication as the end game for The Ark. It's a heart project for me, not a wallet one, and it's more than partly about trying to find my own way into a writing mode that suits me. I still intend to offer the completed work as a PDF for free download from here once it's finished, and to decommission the blog at that time. I have a vague idea for a sequel; if I pursue that, in due course, I may opt to write that one offline and self-pub an ebook for either free or very cheap. But that's a future goal and I still don't see it as being primarily about income.

I am, let's face it, a dilettante with my fiction and poetry writing. I can afford to be; my career and my income is elsewhere (although utilising a linked skillset - I'm a technical and policy writer by trade). I write fiction because I want to, and because I think I have stories to tell. I very much want to be read, but I'd be happy to be read for free forever. That would be OK with me, and it liberates me from having to worry overmuch about the commercial implications of blogging my novel.

As to the mechanics of it, I'm finding the episodic character of blog posts quite helpful in chunking my story. It suits the cadence of my writing, which tends to come to several small peaks within each chapter (which I'm breaking down into 4 blog posts). I'm finding that it's much more achievable, and less intimidating, to tell myself that I'm going to write an instalment (typically 600-800 words) rather than a chapter or more in one sitting. On that level, it's working beautifully for me.

I have an (offline) plot sketch now, which helps to guide each instalment as I know the broad outlines of the events that need to occur and when certain characters are introduced. However, I am tending to let the characters guide the interactions and the dialogue. I've been surprised by a few things - a character I had intended to be very rough and folksy has turned out to be smooth, cynical and highly intelligent, and has resisted every effort I've made to drag him back to the idea I had of him. Characters who I thought were going to be central currently aren't, while background characters are a lot mouthier than I'd intended. I'm finding this quite interesting as a process, and enjoying seeing it unfold.

Probably the biggest drawback I've found is the inability to go back and change bits that aren't quite right without driving my kind readers (there are a few! I get emails!) batshit insane. This means The Ark, when finished, is going to need a savage edit before being offered as a PDF download. That's OK, though; I said I was going to do this out loud, mess and all, and I can live with my cringey bits hanging out there.

For me - a blogger for so long - novelling on a blog works. It motivates me and shapes my work in ways that I find productive and useful. It would not be this way for everyone, and I sure wouldn't do this if I had ambitions to traditionally publish this work. But as a creative exercise, as a learning process, as a platform - I like it, for this story.

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