Years ago, when I was active on a fan site for the TV show The West Wing, some of us started a thread for aspiring writers on the site’s message board. We swapped tips and tricks to stay motivated, solve plotting problems, and fight the inevitable procrastination that most fiction writers – and maybe many writers in general – seem to encounter.
One suggestion that a contributor came up with came from her teacher in a writing workshop. Have a toy truck, the message board contributor advised.
What she meant by that was to have another story or writing project that a budding author could turn to when she ran dry of ideas in her main project. The object was to take a needed break from the work in progress but to not lose the habit of sitting down and writing something every day.
It was good advice. Many self-help books on writing advise would be authors to sit down every day even if they do nothing more than stare at a blank screen. That advice, however well meaning, is counter-productive. Stare at the screen – or even a blank page – for too many days and you’ll throw in the towel for good.
Instead, sometimes when you step away and think of something completely different, your subconscious mind will still be working on the original project and will come up with the perfect idea or solution to whatever has been blocking you.
That’s true in every creative endeavor including research science. There’s a famous story of a nineteenth century German chemist, Friedrich Kekule, who couldn’t solve a mathematical problem pertaining to a formula he was working on. Finally, he just took a break from his work and went to sleep one night. During the night, he dreamed of a snake swallowing its own tail. That dream inspired him to solve the problem of the correct structure of the benzene molecule.
So switching gears, taking a nap or having the toy truck, helps you to step away and come back with a fresh perspective. At least, that’s what happened to me.
I stopped blogging because I wanted to try my hand at fiction. At first I was going great guns blazing. I did a short story that I posted on a Website for writers. I began a novel and wrote 58 pages, working steadily. Then I hit writer’s block. I didn’t feel like doing it any more. I actually knew where I was going with the broad outlines of the story but the motivation had dried up.
At about that time, a few bloggers began telling me how much they missed my blog. And truth to tell, I missed doing it too. So I began to spend more time surfing the blogosphere, posting comments on everybody else’s blog, writing occasional diaries for Raising Kaine, and even doing a couple of guest posts, at Jim Hoeft’s invitation, on Bearing Drift.
And guess what?
If you guessed that I got passed page 58 and ideas totally unrelated to blogging began to flow again in my other work, you would be right.
But, I’m actually a little embarrassed to come back after the great fanfare that accompanied my saying goodbye. So many people wished me well that there’s something to be said for quitting while you’re ahead and staying quit. Also, I don’t want people to think my good bye was some sort of ploy. I can assure you that at the time I was very serious and sincere about leaving.
In addition to the desire to do a different type of writing, blogging was taking a lot of time. Several bloggers had left citing the same reason. And I envied each and every one of them for walking away when they did. So I followed suit.
One of the strains of blogging had been the sense of obligation to post something every day. When I started blogging, the received wisdom was that you had to post daily, and possibly update your site several times a day, to keep your readers. If there were nothing new, they’d stop coming around. That seemed logical.
But now with blog aggregators it’s possible to post less frequently and still get an audience. As the blogosphere has expanded, almost nobody can keep up with everything out there, so more and more people are going to the aggregators’ sites as a one-stop shop to find out what’s going on and who’s saying what. Also, most blogs have Lefty Blogs, BNN, or Waldo’s aggregator on their sidebars. So, if readers go to one of the larger, better-known blogs, if a post somewhere else catches their eye, they’ll click on the link. Most people who use the Web are inveterate Web surfers, looking for other links anyway.
That works beautifully for me. I don’t take advertising and I don’t need constant traffic to my site. If I have nothing up and nobody clicks on my site for three days or three weeks, it doesn't matter to me. When I’ve got a post up, it’ll show up on the aggregators and people can surf over and read it if it’s something that arouses their interest. That’s good enough for me.
Also, since I stopped blogging, a lot has changed with the blogging software. Blogger has made it easier than ever to update a blogroll, post links, etc. Although I learned the basic HTML coding needed to do things on a site, it was never my ambition to do Web design. I wanted to write, not code and worry about graphics. But I wanted a crisp, professional looking site. And I wanted to link and have a blogroll that showed off other bloggers. Now I can do those things on Blogger with just a few clicks of a mouse.
The other thing was that I had been blogging with AOL dial-up for a good deal of the time I was doing it. Then I switched to Verizon, which kept crashing. The technology was frankly driving me bonkers because I’m not the most patient person in the world. Nor am I a computer geek who finds problem solving all that interesting. Again, I wanted to write, not fiddle with all the techie stuff.
But now that everything is running smoothly and I can concentrate on penning opinions again, I have decided to try my hand at blogging once more. Just as all the technical hassles had pushed me in the direction of leaving when I was sorely in need of a break, so the solution to those hassles and my own natural inclination to want to spout my opinions at the blogosphere have paved the way for me returning. It just feels right.