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This Writer's Life: Instant Blogification

In late 2006, my editor at Writer’s Digest called me with an idea. “We’re putting together some blogs for our website. Do you want in?” At the time, I was wary of the whole blogosphere. I’d been under the impression that blogs were just online dream journals for tech-savvy, angst-ridden teenagers to share intimately detailed fantasies involving Prince William. Also, I’m not good at the Internet, as evidenced by my tendency to use outdated search engines and refer to it as the “Intranet.” But I was curious. So I decided to get informed.

In late 2006, my editor at Writer’s Digest called me with an idea. “We’re putting together some blogs for our website. Do you want in?”

At the time, I was wary of the whole blogosphere. I’d been under the impression that blogs were just online dream journals for tech-savvy, angst-ridden teenagers to share intimately detailed fantasies involving Prince William. Also, I’m not good at the Internet, as evidenced by my tendency to use outdated search engines and refer to it as the “Intranet.” But I was curious. So I decided to get informed. I called my friend Chad, who works at Google in New York City, to ask him what he thought about the idea of starting a blog.

“Kev, you’re like, four years behind,” he said. “Everyone has a blog now. Even old people.”

“I dunno, man,” I said. “On Ask Jeeves, every blog I found seemed to be some sort of teenage love fest—”

Chad cut me off. “Ask Jeeves doesn’t even exist anymore. Are you really that dense?”

“Sorry, we can’t all be techies in the Windy Apple.”

“It’s the Big Apple. And I’m hanging up now.”

Although my conversation with Chad wasn’t particularly useful, he did help me realize that if I’m going to be a 21st-century writer living in the Web 2.0 world, I couldn’t afford to move to the side while technology played through. I needed to get involved in the Internetting game. So I called Writer’s Digest and accepted the opportunity to blog.

Three weeks, two aesthetic blog makeovers and one uploaded picture of me smelling a flower in a flowerpot later, we went live. I was excited. It was time for me to stop sniffing potted plants and get my blog on. I assumed that writing a blog would be like writing a non-edited column that could cover anything as long as it had something to do with writing. Plus, I could post images and videos. This was my chance to let my voice explode into the world with no editor to gird and grind it down, and strip its potentially award-winning uniqueness. Finally, I thought, people will see me, the real me, the uncut director’s version of me. And they’ll love it.

“How many self-portraits should I commission after a publisher inevitably scoops up my blog and offers me a multi-million-dollar book contract?” I asked my friend as we made our way through Switzerland on our European tour.

“Stop talking to me,” he said.

“Yeah. Three sounds about right,” I said. “Don’t want to get too cocky.”

The blog started out easy enough. I wrote an intro, and the fact that I was traveling through Europe and unable to speak anyone’s language left me a lot of time and material to exploit. But, as I returned to the States and began my cultural detox, the wheels slowly began to fall off of the blog wagon.

Once-a-week blog entries turned into every 11-or-12-day blog entries. Coherent posts turned into rambling personal stories revolving around pop culture and my Netflix queue. And I became a little too obsessed with the notion of being able to post 1980s music videos featuring Rick Astley. My clever Kevin-ness wasn’t exactly exploding across the ’Net as I’d planned. It was imploding on my career.

“So … I read your blog,” my dad said while I was out visiting him in San Diego.

“Yes,” I said. “And?”

He paused. “You’re not drinking during the day, right?”

My professional nadir came soon after, during a blowout fight with my editor about the content of the blog, which almost resulted in my termination from the magazine. Here I was, being so impressed with my own cleverness and ability to procure obscure material from the 1980s that I’d lost even the most remote bit of focus. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I don’t even think I was in the forest.

A blog is a complicated beast, filled with meta-narrative moments, unbridled prose and emoticons. The immediacy is what’s so addicting. Write it down, press post and instantaneously your work is out there. In an industry that prides itself on lethargy, slow-turnarounds and keeping the snail-mail organization in business, the instant gratification of seeing your work “published” is no small thing. But that instant gratification leads down a slippery slope without discipline and the ability to stay focused.

And I, friends, need discipline in my writing. I’m used to writing columns and stories on deadlines. These are very specifically focused projects written and edited over days or weeks, and they usually consist of several infuriatingly different drafts, lengthy talks about content with my editors and eventually a stern e-mail demanding I finally turn in my notes. Annoying as these things seem, I value them, for I’m not a self-motivator—but to write a blog, you need to be, so I’m learning.

On advice from my editor, I now set my own word counts and deadlines and pretend they came from an authoritative figure. I also ask for occasional feedback (though I sometimes get more than I ask for) to make sure I stay on point. This new setup has been mutually beneficial: Consistent posting has upped the number of users visiting the site, forced me to focus my work and prevented me from indulging in six-hour marathon screenings from the second season of “Gilmore Girls.” Plus, it’s stopped my editor from taking scissors to my contract (I don’t know why he hates “Gilmore Girls” so much).

For now I guess I’ll just keep working on self-motivating and improving my blogging skills. Once I ace those, I can kick my feet up and wait for those publishers to make me an amazing offer. After all, those portraits aren’t going to commission themselves. [WD]

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