Blogging and Novel Writing

Originally published 04/11/2018

Well, believe it or not, Penstricken was three years old on Thursday. That’s three years(!) I’ve been knocking out these humble little reviews, writing tips, author interviews and flash fictions.

As is so often the case, this week’s post has come about as a result of something I’m trying to figure out for myself. And so, this week’s post will be rather introspective, specifically focusing on the challenges of running this blog while also trying to write a novel. I do hope, however, that if you’re a novelist yourself, perhaps considering starting a blog of your own, that it might also provide you with food for thought.

I only started this blog as a little exercise to get me used to working to tight self-imposed deadlines. You see, before I started the blog, I often fell into the trap of sitting down at my desk and lamenting the fact I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I had started other blogs in the past, but they never really got anywhere for that very reason. Running Penstricken to such a strict but manageable schedule has helped me to change that attitude. In addition, writing this blog often doubles up as a kind of writing journal where I can keep track of everything I’ve learned as a writer (you’re never too good to stop learning your craft) or through studying other people’s stories so that I can review them. Furthermore, it has given me a bit of added confidence in my own abilities whenever I have received positive feedback and even had certain posts shared on other writers’ websites. In short, running Penstricken has made me a better and more confident writer.

And yet, it’s quite a lot of work, especially when you think that I’ve got a full time job, a one year old daughter (neither of which I had three years ago) and… oh yes, I’m writing a novel.

You see, I am the sole editor and writer for the Penstricken blog (though please, drop me a line if you’ve got a burning desire to contribute a post or two). I post approximately 1,000 words per week, every week without fail*. I also manage the tedious but very necessary Facebook page, Twitter profile and e-mail inbox associated with it, which helps to drum up readership and encourages feedback. It’s also how I get in touch with authors for interviews (like this one! [2]) and reviews etc.

If it wasn’t for the novel, running this blog would be a piece of cake. My time may be limited by other non-writing responsibilities, but I have managed to organise my week in such a way that I can squeeze in a couple of hours of writing time every day, more so on a Saturday. That’s more than enough to get the blog done on time. The trouble is, these weekly deadlines mean I have no choice but to prioritise the blog over my novel, which has not got the same deadlines attached to it. As a result, progress on my novel has ground to a snail’s pace. No, it’s worse than that: progress isn’t just slow, it’s irregular. There are sometimes whole days where I don’t do any work on my novel because I’m too busy trying to get my blog sorted in the poxy few hours I have available. Other times, I actually have two or three weeks worth of blog posts ready all at once and that gives me loads of time to work on my novel.

Slow is fine. Not ideal, perhaps, but the tortoise always beats the hare if the hare keeps stopping for coffee along the way. But having my novel slaved to my blog in this way is not good. There’s nothing quite like routine to keep the creative juices flowing and this blog is a great big thorn in the side of my novel writing routine, despite all the other ways it has benefited me as a writer.

I don’t know what you think about Penstricken as a whole, but I’m quite proud of what I’ve built up over the last three years. I hope it will carry on for another three years or more. But I can’t help thinking it’s time to make some pretty big changes so that my novel can get a bit more action week by week.

Should I reduce the maximum length of my posts? In theory that will save time, but often the most time consuming part of the writing process is editing out unnecessary material. These posts you see each week are often much longer than 1,000 words to begin with and need to be shaved before I can publish them so I’m not quite sure how much time I will really be saving by having a reduced word count. It will just mean more editing!

I have also considered posting less often: say, every two weeks instead of every week. The thing is, I do find the tight deadline quite helpful and it’s hard to maintain readership on a blog that isn’t updated regularly. My research has suggested most blogs like Penstricken are updated far more often than once a week.

I could do more short posts, such as ‘Useful Posts on Fiction and Writing’ or ‘6 Six Word Stories’. But that feels like a waste of time doing these too often. Some of the posts I’ve had the best feedback on have been meaty writing tips posts such as the series on Non-Human Characters [2] [3] [4] and I want to keep these going.

I don’t quite know what I’m going to do yet but I’m open to suggestions.

To those of you who are working on a novel and thinking about starting a blog, especially if you’re not yet a published author, I say this: be realistic with your time. Blogging is a great way to practice your craft, to network with other writers and publishers and to drum up readership but it’s also a lot of work, almost like trying to juggle two novels at once. I don’t want to discourage you from blogging (far from it!) but I would encourage you to assess your time, your abilities and your priorities realistically before you begin.
*Fun fact: since Penstricken’s last birthday, I’ve published exactly 50,515 words on this website, not including unpublished, incomplete, or rejected posts, nor does it include comments, pages (such as ‘about’ or ‘contact’) or anything I’ve tweeted or posted to Facebook. That’s almost a novel’s worth of words; meanwhile, my poor actual novel is still languishing at 27,485 words of the second draft.

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Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

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