I had written a long post describing my motivations for writing my novel, but on reflection I won’t publish it because it belongs more to my personal journal than on a public website. That is to say, it’s probably only relevant to me. But to sum up in a sentence: my main reasons for writing a novel were 1) to prove myself as a writer; and 2) simply because I enjoy reading and writing. Hmm, OK the long version is more interesting 😉
Another motivating factor, which I will blog about, was that I had something to say and I wanted to say it in a novel. So I’ll explore a bit here how writing in a weblog compares to writing a novel.
I said at the beginning of November that I needed a bigger canvas than a weblog. As I mentioned in my previous post, a week before I discovered Nanowrimo I participated in the “broadcasting vs conversational modes of blogging” discussion that was started by Clay Shirky. The pieces I wrote in my weblog on that topic left me cold. The one bright point was that I got a mention on David Weinberger’s weblog. Mr Weinberger is the author of a hugely influential web technology book called Small Pieces Loosely Joined, so it was a thrill to be linked to by him. It was right up there with being linked to by Marc Canter, Dave Winer and Clay Shirky (other A-Listers who have linked to me before). So what’s my problem, my message got some mass coverage so I should’ve been happy right? Well I was in that regard, but in terms of the actual content that I wrote – I wasn’t satisfied.
To me, that whole conversation boiled down to one subject, which has as many threads as the Web itself: two-way communication. On this subject, I didn’t think I’d gotten my points across to other people and I hadn’t even convinced myself. I couldn’t seem to compress what I wanted to say about two-way communication into a single weblog post. Some of the problem was that my conscious mind didn’t know how to express itself on the subject. I felt I needed a bigger canvas, something that would allow my subconscious mind to do some of the talking. A novel seemed like a good solution for me. In a novel I could pour out my thoughts, consciously and subconsciously. My thoughts and ideas would be wrapped up in a plot, sub-plots, characters, descriptive passages, the works.
And that’s pretty much how it worked out. One of the themes of my novel was two-way communication and I had a lot of fun pushing the boundaries of this in my book. So yes, the novel form was the “bigger canvas” that I needed. Bigger in terms of exploring themes in a deeper manner than the weblog format allows, but also bigger in terms of the number of topics I could cover. btw Lilia Efimova picked up on the “bigger canvas” topic and wrote on it too – with a slightly different take to mine.
The other thing that concerned me about my blogging prior to Nanowrimo was a feeling that my weblog writing was, subtly and in some small ways, motivated by getting attention. On the Web, Attention = Inward Links. I’m not saying I wrote blog posts that were motivated purely by wanting to get linked to. My motivation for writing is never that shallow. I as a human being am not that shallow. But perhaps my blogging, in some subtle way, had become a little too focused on improving my Google Page Rank. For example, I think I was a wee bit shrill in my protestations that I am a broadcaster blogger not a conversationalist blogger. I raised my voice a bit too much. I waved my (metaphorical) blogging hands in the air: look at me, my posts were saying. Hey, Clay, give me some link-love baby! …well, perhaps I am exaggerating. But my point is, when I spent all of November absorbed in writing a novel a funny thing happened. I found I was concentrating on writing about topics and themes and characters and plot-points etc. I focused on the story. The story was all-important.
To translate this realization to the blogging arena, the story in a novel equates to ideas and topics within a blog. Ideas and topics are what hold the real value in blogging, just as the story holds together a novel. Sometimes one needs to go back to the classic forms of writing to realize the simple truths.
It’s still nice when A-List bloggers link to you though. The importance of this aspect of the Two-Way Web should never be underestimated. When A-List bloggers link to the rest of us, it gives us a chance to be read by the large audience that A-List bloggers (by definition) have. It turns the “on the Web everyone will be famous to 15 people” maxim on its head. The ideas take centre stage, where they belong. Further, it’s good for the blogosphere if A-Listers link to the masses. Similar to the genetic variation theory of Darwinism, the more people that can contribute ideas to the blogosphere and have those ideas read by other people…the more chance of successful innovation within the blogosphere. There is an oft-quoted saying among bloggers: the best ideas come from left field.
But we, the weblog masses, must be careful not to let our need for attention affect our writing. Remember kids, it’s the ideas that are central. If your ideas are good and you express them well, the attention will necessarily come. If the attention doesn’t come to you, then there really is a problem with celebrity culture in the blogosphere. But I’d like to think the Two-Way Web does have one up on novel-writing in that regard. Thanks to the magic of hyperlinks, anyone can be read and therefore new ideas are constantly being picked up and distributed to the masses.