Slate's Culturebox: Stop Blogging and Get to Work

Could blogging be a distraction for serious writers? Blogger Sarah Hepola thinks so — she had hoped blogging would help her write a book, but it kept her from writing a book instead. Hepola wrote about her experience for Slate, and offers a commentary about giving up her blog.

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Ms. SARAH HEPOLA (Commentator, Slate Magazine): One morning last month I woke early, finished a book I'd been reading and shut down my blog.

CHADWICK: Freelance writer Sarah Hepola had been writing that blog since before most of us even knew what a blog was. Sarah wrote about her decision to stop blogging in the online magazine Slate. Her commentary is adapted from the article.

Ms. HEPOLA: I'd kept the blog for nearly five years, using it as a repository for personal anecdotes and travelogues and the occasional flight of fiction; all of which I hoped eventually might lead to a novel. And then somewhere between the bed sheets and 6 a.m., I realized something. Blogging wasn't helping me write; it was keeping me from writing.

I started the blog, thinking no one would read it and secretly hoping they would. The blog was the perfect bluff for a self-conscious writer like me who yearned for the spotlight and then squinted in its glare. When I needed to pretend that people were reading, I could. When I needed to pretend that nobody was reading, I could.

Blogging became the ideal run-up to a novel, but it also became a major distraction. I would sit down to start on my book, only to come up with five different blog entries. I thought of them as a little something-something to whet the palate, because it was easier, more immediately gratifying. Because I could write it, and post it, and people would say nice things about it, and I could go to bed feeling accomplished. But then I would wake without any progress on the novel.

I couldn't help but notice, even my cat couldn't help but notice, the growing number of successful bloggers-turn-novelists. They were sexy, dishy women with pseudonyms, like Wonkette and Opinionista. I was starting to feel like the only one left in the blogosphere without a book deal. Actually, agents and editors did contact me after reading my blog. At the time, I was living in Dallas, and to be emailed by an actual New York agent felt like the 21st-century equivalent of being discovered at the mall.

The emails were flattering. But ultimately they all asked the same annoying question. Have you written a book? Apparently, this was a requirement. When I told them I hadn't yet, they moved on to the next blogger with potential, and I was left back in the mall where they'd found me. Every once in a while, those agents would check to ask how that book was coming. And the book wasn't coming, and wasn't coming. And I became one of those people who talk about a book but never write it.

I had shelves lined with other people's prose, while my best efforts were buried on a website somewhere, underneath a lot of blah-blah about American Idol and my kitty cat. So I stopped writing the blog. I suspect I'll come back to it eventually. It will be something I quit on occasion, like whiskey or melted cheese, when the negative effects outweigh the benefits. Now, if I can just turn off the TV, I think I can finally get started on the novel.

CHADWICK: Sarah Hepola is a writer living in New York. Here's part of what she wrote in her final blog entry last month.

(Reading) This will be like losing a traveling companion. Those moments when you turn your head, bristling to share a thought with the person beside you, only to discover no one is there. But I like that I am ending at another jumping-off point. A child of '80s episodic TV, I've always appreciated a cliffhanger. The problem with cliffhangers, of course, is that they require a proper resolution. Now I have to figure out what happens next.

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