Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. . . . Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
Mark H from memecortex has sent me a link to a recent entry on Mark Bernstein's site on whether or not weblogs improve writing. Unlike my pessimistic entry from yesterday, Bernstein's post suggests that weblogs do help with writing, and lists the ways in which this is achieved. He makes some good points (although I'd like to know more about that "writing on a computer improves writing." Maybe some discussion of how this conclusion was reached. Does the improvement happen because it's faster to write on a computer than on paper? Because you can cut and paste text? Because of the paperclip offering you help when it thinks you're about to write a letter?)
But it's left me wondering how exactly you measure "improvement" in writing anyway. Does getting things published mean improvement? More readers of your blog? Or is it more to do with self-confidence? And while I definitely think that as with any skill, the only way to make any headway with it is to practice it on a regular basis (obviously), I do still worry and suspect that it is possible to write endless screeds daily and for it to be just as crapulous by the end of a year as it was at the beginning. Or even at the end of a lifetime.
Clearly, there have to be some 'breakthroughs' that happen along the way, things that make you realise what is not working with your writing and what you need to do to improve. I suppose the only thing you can do is to write alot, read alot (and think about what you're reading) and hope like hell that you'll achieve some sort of breakthrough eventually, if only to realise you are really just wasting your time and should take up gardening* instead. But I do also agree with what Kathryn wrote in the comments the other day about making sudden, unexpected improvements in your writing after long periods of staleness.
(*this is not to denegrate gardening in anyway, as it is a fine and noble pastime, and I only mention it as being some quite different to writing.)
This morning I've been reading over the comments written in response to my pre-Christmas post (Dec 23) on whether keeping a blog could help with other forms of writing. It seems that most people feel that blogging will not directly help with writing generally, and a number of people commented on having a different "voice" in their blog to that of their non-blogging material. I suppose the thing is that it is impossible to forget that you are part of the public sphere when you blog and this inhibits what you write. It certainly inhibits what you write about personal details (well, it does for me) but it also influences your prose writing. When I sit down to write a short story I always start by saying "This is the first draft and no one but you need ever read it." There is, of course, none of this certainty with a blog and so everything you write is in someway structured around the very likely possibility that someone will read it.
Boynton points out another drawback- that blogging takes up a lot of time, time which perhaps could be better spent writing something "real", or more sustained, or even mulling new ideas over. There's not much time for mulling with a blog. Yet she also comments that blogging can help you to "pitch" an idea- seeing what works, idea-wise in a blog may help you to ascertain what will work in other formats.
But as Gianna points out, blogging can build up your confidence by seeing your words "published". It also teaches you to consider your audience, I think, and there is no doubt that it is a good method for creating a daily writing habit, which is something I'm happy about. But I think that it's starting to feel to me that blogging is not enough, and to feel like a "lip service" to writing rather than real writing. I feel like each entry is the start of something that never gets properly finished, but is merely brushed across, then moved away from.
I've had this feeling about blogging before, and when I mentioned it to the Sensei he suggested having a break from it, or doing something different with the format. But I can't quite seem to let myself do that either, as there is something about the genre, something I can't really define yet, that makes me keep at it. Could it be that the obsessive side of my personality likes the ritualistic side of blogging and won't let me stop?
I actually rode my bike to work this morning, which is close to being a miracle and I am still glowing with the self-righteous sense of achievement it gave me. The only problem was that I left at the same time that I normally leave if I'm going to walk, and consequently arrived here at 7 am which even I can see is bordering on the obsessive side.
However, this has meant that I've been able to have some time to try and catch up on the backlog of blog information that has built up while I've been away. Boynton in particular has kept me busy with all her fabulous links. I spent some time perusing the Google 2003 Year-End Zeitgeist and have only scratched the surface of the Ask Yahoo! best questions of 2003. And the problem is that once there I discover many more questions that need to be answered, for instance, are there really such a thing as soy candles? And then I find myself with questions of my own, such as "Are the cicadas in Melbourne louder this year than ever before and are there more flies this summer than last summer?"
I've found myself involved in a number of conversations recently about cicadas, which makes me think that perhaps they are louder this year. Thieu's brother's kids attend a school that measures the decibels of the cicadas and if they reach a certain level the students are issued with earplugs. If they get any louder, the kids are sent home. But I wonder if this ever happens, or if it is like that pervading myth from my own childhood that if it reached 40 degrees you would be sent home. Petite pointed out the other day that it never seemed to reach this magical number- it would get to 39.5 and refuse to go any higher.
All in all it's been a quite exhausting morning and I'm pretty much ready to hop on my bike and return home.
Back from eleven days holiday. Had a great time doing not very much at all except for a bit of lounging by the pool, having barbecues, bike-riding and hiking, reading books, eating left-overs from Christmas day (which didn't last as long as I initially thought they might). It's been rough. But now I'm back and having that weird first morning at work after time off experience of forgetting how to use a computer. However, I'm sure after a couple of hours of deleting spam emails it'll all come back to me.