Vacuum, an e-mail list I’m on, has all sorts of interesting discussions and today’s topic initiated by Ed Vielmetti, was on turning blogs into books and whether it’s possible. Several people commented on the concept noting that the two are very different animals, but it got me thinking so I decided not only to respond to the thread but also to post what I wrote here:
I’m curently in the process of writing a nonfiction book (well, a few chapters – just beginning the agent & publisher search) and posting to a couple of blogs. I’m also a new mom so I find myself with smaller chunks of time to work with than I previously had. I was one of those people who could stay up all night and write a chapter or two, or a few scenes of a play, at a time. But now I don’t have that kind of time.
I have discovered that I can actually write for my book the same way I write for my blog in terms of organizing a thought, knowing how much space I need to fill, writing that copy, rewriting and posting. Therefore, I think turning a blog into a book would be theoretically possible, but it would require a great deal more effort and planning before beginning.
Basically you would be writing one page at a time – maybe two – instead of a chapter at a time (15-25 pages). It wouldn’t be as well-done as a book because it wouldn’t have the same editorial process including the opportunity to go back and rearrange things that might be ordered differently. For example, the chapter I’m working on currently I had organized one way and I decided it would logically flow better with a different layout of sections. If I were writing it in a blog, it would have already been too late because I would’ve published the first section before I realized it should be reordered.
What I think is interesting that I discovered while editing a few books is that sometimes chapters are presented to the editors out of order and never revisited by the author before printing, so nonfiction books can be pieced together rather haphazardly not unlike blogs. That actually bothered me because I like to look at each work I produce as a whole. Writing this kind of book requires a detailed outline from the beginning, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the author will stay true to it 100%. If you built a book from a blog, there would be no room for deviation.
The other concern is style. Most bloggers are more casual in their writing style on a blog; whereas most books are a bit more formal. I think that’s both a result of the different audiences targeted and the forum. However, if I wrote what I’m writing for my book in my blog, I think it would have less interest as a sum of its parts than it would as a whole. But that wouldn’t necessarily be the case in a diary-type book.
I think the metaphor of serial vs. parallel processing also applies. The traditional book development process is more like parallel whereas the blog style (also as in serialized articles, just with smaller parts) is more linear. However, I recall reading once that Isaac Asimov typed every single book he wrote on a typewriter, never correcting, as he wrote. Maybe he developed that style as a result of his medium. I suppose with fiction it could be easier also to just let the characters take you wherever they want to go, but I can’t imagine remembering all of the little details about them without some additional character guide not unlike an outline. In any case, it’s still an impressive feat.
One last note – a friend of mine from high school, Chris Baty, started the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) phenomenon a few years back and it’s done annually – coming up again in November. If you want to try your hand at writing a novel, the goal is volume/quantity over quality. They figure you can always polish the final product after it’s done. The goal is total number of words (over 50,000 constitutes a “novel”), presented at the author’s leisure so some people do it a chapter at a time and others wait until the end.