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To Blog or Not to Blog? Using the Blogosphere to Shape Narrative Voice

by Towles Kintz

blogWhen I was in my second year of graduate school, my favorite mentor, who had been a book editor for more than twenty years, likened my nonfiction manuscript’s narrative voice to a World War II documentary voice-over – which would have been fine if I hadn’t been writing about Nashville songwriters. My main character’s struggle to make it in the music industry played out like a scene from D-Day; my staunch narrative marched alongside her as she stormed the stoops of Music Row.

This “default voice” was characterized by a flat documentary tone that promised to poison my manuscript. My motives were pure – all I wanted was to come across as a serious writer – but the results were disappointing. Worse, my manuscript’s fix required something deeper and much less tangible than better reporting skills; it required that I get to know myself as a writer, and that I gain the confidence to put myself on the page and into the narrative.
 
In that pivotal critique by my mentor, I realized on some level that narrative voice wasn’t something that could be taught. It also wasn’t something that I could read my way into without adopting the tones of my chosen writers. (I’d once gone through a bizarre Robert Penn Warren writing phase after reading All the King’s Men.

To discover my writerly self, I needed practice that felt purposeful, and I needed a venue that felt casual, but that also somehow held me accountable. At the beginning of my third semester of graduate school, I wrote “NORMANDY” on a scrap of paper and taped it to my laptop. Later that year, I started a blog; I knew that the only way I could grow as a writer was to become vulnerable, and in this day in age there is no better venue for vulnerability than the blogosphere.

Blogs enable us to create personas, pseudo-selves who can expose our real personality traits with less trepidation; e-mail, which allows us to write what we would not, or could not, bravely say face-to-face, emboldens the avatar. Both electronic avenues can enable one’s literary persona to emerge.

Blogging offers a veiled reality that can be a serious advantage to the writer who is not quite sure of himself or who is in need of some narrative soul-searching. Online, we can shape our eccentricities, smooth and polish our rough-edged fears, have good fun with our own insecurities, be caustic or witty in moments when our real selves might brood, get flustered or hold back.

When I launched my blog, I did so cautiously. My first post began as though it was the introduction to an AA meeting for aspiring authors: “Hi. My name is Towles. I’m a writer.”  

I began that way not only because I wanted to clear the air – this would not be a navel-gazing, self-deprecating, here’s-what-I-ate-for-lunch sort of blog – but also because I needed, for myself, to declare that this fledgling attempt at self-publication meant something to my professional development. 

After just a few entries, I found that a vital shift in my writing style had begun to take place. The low-pressure blogging environment freed me in a way that a Word document never could. I had fooled myself into thinking that the blog was just for fun – albeit intentional, professional fun. I also knew that my audience, a small contingency of family, friends and trusted colleagues, would forgive me for less-than-perfect prose, but that they would also scoff at, and potentially deride me for, gratuitous language or precious description. 

As a result, my WWII seriousness began to dissipate; the brevity required by online writing tightened my prose and forced me to discern the correct tone for the subject at hand. Slowly and naturally, a reliable narrator evolved – someone people felt they knew, but not entirely; someone who saw herself, regardless of the number of publications or rejection slips, as a writer with real potential.

Just as there are piles of great and not-so-great books in bookstores, there are scads of beautifully and poorly written blogs on the Web. The immediacy of online publication brings readers closer to writers, though, and when a blogger successfully harnesses his or her own unique, colorful voice, magic happens. If taken seriously as an effort to hone artistic skill, one’s online persona will emerge as a narrative strength that will readily transfer to more traditional, more literary, hard-copy forums. 
 
The first step is to begin. The second step is to let your every living acquaintance know that you have launched a blog, and that you need their support and criticism. Without the second step, the first step won’t matter. Posting regularly is key, otherwise readership and self-confidence will dwindle.

Somewhere along the way – say the third or fourth post – your blogging voice will strike a balance. It will glimmer with sincerity; it will not take itself or its aims too seriously; it will ignite in the writer her passion for language; it will prove to the reader that language is as life-giving and expansive as it is delicate and detailed. It will bend in a way that it could not, or would not have allowed itself to, in a staid Microsoft Word document, or on an all-too-inconsequential legal pad. And you, the evolving artist, will suddenly find yourself in possession of a trusted narrative persona, a persona both you and your readers will find is a voice worth listening to.


Recommended sites for beginning bloggers:

A List Apart (specifically, http://www.alistapart.com/articles/writebetter)

ProBlogger


Towles Kintz is a freelance writer and writing tutor based in Atlanta, Ga. In addition to writing consistently for Proximity Magazine, a collaborative blog, her work has been published in The Writer’s Chronicle. Kintz holds an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College.