“A book,” according to the tormented writer Franz Kafka, “should be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us.”
I know what he’s talking about. A sea of ice — in the shape of a serious bout with depression — immobilized me as a writer and reader for much of last summer and fall.
Usually I read several books a week, sometimes devouring one in a one-day orgy of prose. But during this period I was lucky if I could get through a few paragraphs before losing interest or attention.
I also had the worst case
of writer’s block I’d ever experienced. Writing my weekly column, “Chip
on Your Shoulder” felt like trying to break through that frozen sea
with a teaspoon. Production ground to a halt. I blew deadlines for two
Eventually, a caring and knowledgeable doctor, a combination of therapy, a powerful daily pharmaceutical cocktail, and the love of friends, family and understanding colleagues pulled me free from the darkness. I began reading again and in January, I found myself itching to write.
But after three years and more than 180 columns, I looked down into the well of my experience and interests as a reporter, writer and teacher and saw, or at least, believed, it had gone bone-dry. I thought I had covered all the subjects that mattered to me and ones that readers had asked me to address. I needed to try something new. I wanted to blog.
Since the mid-1990’s when the first blogs began to emerge, I had made several abortive attempts to create one of my own. I missed access to the printing press that a life in journalism had offered for two decades. But I always ran into the roadblocks put up by my lack of techno-savvy.
I needed help, so I told my editor, Julie Moos, an active blogger who has made it possible for many others to find their voice online, that I wanted to try again. “Pull up a chair,” she said.
Within minutes, using TypePad, a weblogging service that provides templates and an Internet hosting service, Julie had assembled a home for a title I’d been harboring ever since I heard Jacqui Banaszynski talk during a seminar about two helpers that every writer needs: a mechanic and a muse. Sitting there, I wrote down a book title, “The Mechanic & The Muse,” that would be a kind of owner’s manual for writers.” That was the name I told Julie I wanted for my blog.
“The Mechanic & The Muse” was born on January 17. As of this morning (2/8/06), I’ve written more than 20 items and posted half of them. Many are long enough to be columns, Julie points out, but I’d much rather be blogging. Here are seven reasons I joined the millions who communicate through a form that is part reverse diary, commonplace book and soapbox.
1. Blog items respond to a rapidly changing media landscape. I like the way blogging lets me tackle multiple topics in a day or through the week instead of focusing all my time and energy on one weekly column. It’s the difference between being a beat specialist and a general assignment reporter. I can write on subjects that draw my attention. I’ve written about journalistic subjects and pointed readers to repositories of stories that represent best practices. But I’ve also written about fiction and memoir, two forms that are passions of mine. Like Cream, the ’60’s mega-group, sings, “I feel free.”
2. When I blog, my standards are lowered, always a key element in producing writing that can be revised, even after it’s published. A blog, by its very nature, is more informal than a column and less freighted with the expectations that a metro or sports column can impose. Blogging hasn’t made me indifferent to revision or accuracy; it just makes the process of generating words less susceptible to the inner critic.
In a recent radio interview, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins talked about his art, and it helped me understand why I like to blog.
“The real thrill is composition,” Collins said. “To be kind of down on your hands and knees with the language at really close range in the midst of a poem that is carrying you in some direction that you can’t foresee… It’s that sense of ongoing discovery that makes composition really thrilling and that’s the pleasure and that’s why I write.”
3. I’m my own editorial board. As a newspaper reporter, I was trained to keep my opinions out of my stories. In a blog, I can be as opinionated as I want. Case in point: my no-holds-barred reaction to the James Frey-Oprah’s Book Club fiasco. I feel free to have an opinion and share it.
4. Change is vital. Wise
editors realize that a reporter can burn out on a beat and so they
switch their assignments, knowing that a fresh pair of eyes will benefit
the writer and readers. They feel free.
5. Blogs are not new, but they’re still on the leading edge of communication technology. I’ve always been an early adopter and I don’t want to be left behind. In a time when reporters and editors are blogging on their news organization’s Web site, I feel free to be part of this experiment.
6. Let’s face it, a blog can also be a great marketing device. I’ve posted examples of my own writing, some published and others that have yet appeared in print, along with books I’ve written or co-authored with links that make online purchasing a snap. Like most writers, I harbor the dream that an agent or publisher may see commercial possibilities in my work.
7. To paraphrase Kafka: my blog is the ice-axe that broke the frozen sea within me. It has helped me find myself again as a reader and writer. It has set me free.
Blogging is like having an office but also keeping a studio where you can experiment, take risks with your craft, and share your discoveries with others.
Some things won’t change. I’ll always be grateful for comments, questions, story suggestions, and most of all, your companionship.
So why do you blog?