How to transition from commenting on blogs to "real" writing
February 12, 2013 11:33 AM   Subscribe

In the last 9 years, I've written a Russian novel's worth of blog comments. Can you help me channel this energy into personal writing projects? NOTE : I am NOT interested in blogging.

Don't get me wrong -- I don't regret the time I've spent commenting on blogs. For years, my writing skill lay dormant, and it took Metafilter (and other venues) to revive it. However, I look back at all the time I spent chatting and debating with people on blogs, and I wish I'd spent at least some of it on personal writing projects.

I've started and abandoned a number of personal blogs over the years, and I'm not interested in that format anymore. Nobody reads blogs these days, and besides, I'd like to do something less ... ephemeral.

I'd love to someday write novels or short stories; I'm an absolute fiction addict, and I have nothing but respect for the dedication it takes to write even a bad story. However, from where I'm sitting right now, I wouldn't even know where to start. I'd also be interested in writing non-fiction, which would probably involve recounting some of my odd and varied life experiences.

I've found it's incredibly easy to write a response to someone else's writing -- especially if it's something I have a strong opinion about or there's an opportunity to make a joke -- but I have no idea how to motivate myself to write something on my own.

And so I turn to you, writers of AskMe. How do I channel my blog-commenting energy into personal writing projects? Have you made the same transition? How did you do it? Any rituals, habits, communities, or classes that would be helpful? Any materials I could read?

Thanks for the help! And don't worry, I'll thank AskMe in the acknowledgments for my first novel :)
posted by Afroblanco to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried using writing prompt exercises? Those are just some examples; there are plenty of different writing prompt sites out there. After a while, you could transition into writing a list of prompts for yourself -- things, situations, or characters you'd like to write about -- and then choosing one each day to write.
posted by erst at 11:38 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Write responses to imaginary writing, as Jorge Luis Borges and Stanislaw Lem did.
posted by kidbritish at 11:44 AM on February 12, 2013

Ha, I was just telling my friend this the other day - that I'm a really great writer but only Facebook comments.

I saw a writer speak last month and she said that she comes up with a big, important question first and then creates the story around that. So maybe if something in the news or something strikes your fancy, you could think about it that way.

Also, what about developing some of those comments into something of essay length? Not really a blog but just to get the hang of writing more.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:49 AM on February 12, 2013

Heh. I know more about this than you can possibly imagine.

1. Inspiration: Writing prompts aren't a bad way to get things flowing, and there are a billion sources of them out there. You could even pick a random AskMe and write a story around it, if you felt like it. For me, inspiration is the last problem, so I can't be a tremendous amount of help there.

2. Motivation: I decided very early on that I wanted to get a novel published, and I sought out resources on how to get published, authors' stories about publishing, etc. That has been a big help when a project is dragging - I spend a little time fantasizing about the next steps - even just things like writing a query letter - and seeing that path forward helps me chop through the jungle. There are a whole bunch of resources mentioned in this publishing-related thread. This may or may not work for you - again, if you *don't* have stories burning holes in your skull, I can't totally relate.

3. Dedication: This is the hard part. For me, it's always easier to comment or generally fuck around on the internet than sit down and slog through my own projects. (For example, my untyped manuscript is glaring at me as I write this.) So what I have to do is a) get out my of house and b) be internetless for two to four hours, three days a week (at least.) My baristas love me, I write with pen and paper (and transcribe while I'm at work) and I actually get stuff done that way, because once I'm there, there is no other alternative. I have tried other techniques, and none of them work at all. (If you must type, disabling your network card is always an option, I suppose.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:51 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider this an AskMe question about the outline of your first novel. Dear Afroblanco, tell me, in less than 10 comments, what your novel is about?

Now write out those 10 comments. Start at the beginning, and fit the story, in comment form, into the end.

Now take the first comment. "Dear Afroblanco, I'd like to know more about the first part of this story. Could you tell me how that bit happens? In 10 comments please!"

Write 10 comments, explaining how that first part worked out. Do the same for the other 9 comments.

Congratulations! You've now outlined a 10-chapter book.

From there, fill in from one outline piece to the next in prose form.
posted by xingcat at 11:53 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Write responses to imaginary writing, as Jorge Luis Borges and Stanislaw Lem did.

To expand on this, writing responses to imaginary anythings can be a fun exercise. Write a review of a nonexistent movie. Imagine a critic to write the review of the nonexistent movie. Imagine the director, who hates the critic because she used to be married to the critic's husband, the lead actor. And so on.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:02 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you should start with non-fiction, either your memoir/life experiences or op-ed sort of things about topics you feel strongly about (which is pretty much the same as blog comments, only better organized.) Starting with fiction is like starting with driving a F1 car when you've only recently taken off the training wheels on your Schwinn.

Recounting a great/funny/weird experience gives you a ready-made story, so you don't have to agonize about plot, characters, etc.. Just plunge in--begin at the beginning, and tell the tale.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:04 PM on February 12, 2013

Some tips that have helped me:

1. Give yourself a concrete, achievable goal. This may be a certain number of words per day, or a certain number of minutes per day with your butt in a chair, focusing exclusively on writing. Based on the fact that you're not quite sure what you want to write, I'm going to recommend you choose Number Of Words for your goal -- because if you choose Time Spent In Your Chair, it will be too easy to just stare idly at your screen. If your goal is (say) 1000 words a day, FORCE YOURSELF TO WRITE THOSE WORDS EVEN IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SAY. If all else fails, just write stream-of-consciousness, whatever pops into your head. You may write 990 words of garbage-- but you might find 10 words that suddenly suggest a great idea for a story.

2. Remember that your first draft will ALWAYS suck. Don't agonize if what you're writing is total crap. If you try to write a perfect first draft, you will never write anything. By contrast, if you let yourself write a crappy first draft, you will be well on your way to a competent second draft, a pretty good third draft, and maybe even a brilliant fourth draft.

3. unSane has some great advice for generating an outline.
posted by yankeefog at 2:32 PM on February 12, 2013

Also, The Three A.M. Epiphany and The Four A.M. Breakthrough are good collections of writing prompts. Each exercise is followed by an explanation of its utility.

Since you like responding to other pieces, try writing parodies and pastiches of distinctive writers. Is Hemingway the opposite of Proust? That kind of thing.

To build on Ideefixe's suggestion, remember that you can use anything you sense as material for fiction. Lots of novels portray real people and events. Ulysses, if I remember right, depicted some people accurately enough that there were questions of a libel suit. Mary gives Nabokov's memories of his first love to an even less likable character.

Writing memoirs and opinion pieces can be good practice for that kind of thing.

As far as rituals, I keep a notebook. If I hear odd conversations or see unusual things, I write them down. If a simile or likeness occurs to me, I record it.

yankeefog's tips are great. restless_nomad's recommendation to disconnect yourself from the Internet, at least for the first draft, is awesome.

Finally, read as much and as widely as you can. That way, you have lots of things to respond to when you start writing.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:11 PM on February 12, 2013

You might want to enroll in a creative writing class or something similar at your local community college. I could see the peer-review and discussion you'd be doing in the class help you transition from blog commenting to personal writing.
posted by youngergirl44 at 8:31 AM on February 13, 2013

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