Ain’t life a funny old thing? The twist and turns that it takes you on, you never know where you’re going to end up. You need look no further than the guy typing this thing that you’re reading for a good example of that. I’m not even talking about major life changing events, of which I’ve experienced a few, but the little casual things that end up sending ripples through your entire life.
Seven months ago I was looking for a way to practice my writing skills. I had been plugging away at a novel for about a year, eked out a few poems, and written a couple of short articles. I had opened an account at one of the many self-publishing houses on the web, Lulu.com, in the hopes that people would actually buy the material of an author they had never heard of.
Something was missing though. No matter how many words I wrote, or how many pages I’d publish, nothing felt right. I was getting bored with my own writing, and it was a struggle to remain interested in what my characters were doing. I figured that wasn’t a good sign: if I wasn’t interested in what my creations were doing who the hell was going to be.
To make matters worse all my ideas were beginning to feel and sound contrived. I’d read some dialogue and wonder if that’s what people really sounded like or if a piece of action was realistic in the context of what I’d created.
Then I realized it wasn’t a matter of what the characters did or said that was awkward, it was the way in which they were doing and saying things that was strange. Instead of my words seamlessly piecing together the little pictures of a jigsaw puzzle to create one final image, I was forcing them to fit together with a sledgehammer. The, if it doesn’t work use a bigger hammer approach may work for computer repair, but it sure doesn’t work for writing!
That’s when I made the decision that I should begin blogging. I needed a place where I could write about anything under the sun, and with freedom. It’s one thing to care about your writing, but another altogether to be uptight about it to the point that you can’t write anymore. I needed a place where I could write and learn to develop some emotional detachment from the work.
Heart and soul are valuable ingredients in writing, but when the investment becomes so great that you become paralysed by your worry about screwing up, there is something wrong. I needed to learn how to love my writing without being scared of the fact that it was important to me.
Another part of me also hoped that if I had a blog people would get to know of my existence and perhaps be intrigued enough to check out the writing I had for sale at my store front. Hell, maybe some syndicate would pick me up to write a weekly column that could be sold across North America and my financial woes would be solved.
With dreams of sugarplums and contracts dancing in my head I set forth into the blogsphere and began writing. Such was my naivety and innocence that I had no concept of how many millions of people were already out there doing this, and how it was almost next to impossible to be noticed amidst the noise of all those voices shouting for attention.
So I learned about RSS feeds, blog listings, search engine tricks, and all the other little nuances and ploys to attract people to your site. If I ever wanted to be read by more people than my wife and our friends it seemed like I’d have to spend as much time promoting my site as actually writing.
It was during one of those forays into searching for a means to get my name out there, that I came across a site which offered links to a variety of places that published blogs in online magazine format. Thus, was my affiliation with Blogcritics.org born. I knew absolutely nothing about them, but it seemed like a place where I could publish my blog and gain some notice.
In spite of my initial reluctance to understand that proper spelling and grammar could somehow be important to an article, I began to find a comfortable niche within the Blgocritics circle. I knew people were reading my articles because I would receive comments in my inbox on a daily basis, sometimes they agreed with my opinions, sometimes they didn’t.
Aside from the standard amount of abuse from people who don’t understand what the word argument means, most of the comments were intelligent, thought out responses which forced me to be even more careful with arguments. I had to learn how to get an opinion across in an intelligent and comprehensible manner. Thankfully there have been many willing and able teachers and editors at Blogcritics who have taught met how to put my best foot forward when it comes to presenting my thoughts in typeface.
By refusing to accept mediocrity on their site, and by assisting those willing to achieve the standards they have set, they have established an atmosphere that inspires creativity and self-discipline. Not only are those traits essential for good writing but, to my delight I have discovered that it was an imbalance between them that was causing my dissatisfaction with my work.
I have never lacked for the initial impulse that would propel the birth of a story. It has always been in the completion, or the communication of the idea, that I have stumbled. Awkward constructions, clumsy reasoning (in print anyway) and poor organization had conspired to make everything a struggle and sound awkward. These days I feel much less a fraud when I say that I am a writer.
When I was an actor I had the usual performer’s low opinion of critics and reviewers. It went without saying that they were all failed performers, writers, musicians, and painters. Imagine the surprise on my younger self’s face if he could see me now. Not only do I review and critique work on almost a daily basis now, but I actively solicit publishers, publicists, and others for copies of their artist’s work to write about.
The bonuses of this type of work are both obvious and subtle. First it gives me access to all sorts of wonderful music, films, and writing that otherwise I would never have had a chance to appreciate. Of course there is also the feelings of importance you get from having U.P.S. show up at your front door on a regular basis with packages from all over North America for you, and the Christmas like excitement of opening packages on a regular basis.
The other, less obvious benefit for me has been the noticeable improvement in my critical thinking. I’ve been able to look at my own writing with a much more dispassionate eye ever since I started evaluating other’s work. I’ve trained myself to look for what works, what doesn’t work and figure out what’s needed to make something work properly.
Each time I review something; I’m actually learning a little more about how to present my own work. The medium under review is irrelevant to the lesson being learned, because there is always something that can be learned from the way one artist does something, even if they’re musicians and you are a writer.
Timing is everything, as they say in comedy, and in the instance of my joining Blogcritics it was spot on. Not only have I hitched my wagon to a site that is fast becoming a presence on the Internet, it came at exactly the right time in life. I needed that extra push that the site has provided to push my writing to the next level. The slightly nebulous idea of: I want to be a writer, has been solidified into I am writing.
Seven months ago when I had the initial idea of starting my own blog to hone my writing skills I had no idea of the twists and turns that path would entail. I’m nowhere close to nearing the end of the process, I still have plenty of room for improvement, but now, at least I know where I’m going.