When a blog reader (let’s call her Rachel) sought my advice about writing a novel while running a blog, I was thrilled to help. Little did I know that our conversation would help me more than it probably helped her. She gave me permission to share our thoughts back and forth. The following is some of Rachel’s first email to me.
 For a long time I’ve wanted to blog and also start writing fiction again, and I end up not committing to either because they both seem so time-consuming to do well. Like right now I’m reading my second Nicole Krauss book (Great House), which is so deep and wonderful, and I can’t imagine her blogging! Both because blogging seems to me like a  different sensibility from fiction (almost polar opposites really) and it would be tough to switch back and forth.                                                                                                                                                                                                              
Do you find yourself writing fiction less because of the blog and attention to social media? And if so, what has made it worth it? (I know you’ve limited yourself to the once a week blogging, but still, I imagine it’s tough striking a balance.)
I answered in a list and somewhere in the middle started asking questions then answering them—about myself. Aren’t I helpful? The summary:                                                                                                                                                                     
  • I explained that blogging has forced me to develop a confident writing voice as well as complete short assignments once a week or more.
  • I admitted that the instant gratification of seeing my work out there and getting feedback on my thoughts has kept me coming back to blogging like a drug.
  • I explained that blogging tends to work best within the blogging community, which means you have to read other blogs and leave comments if you expect your audience to grow beyond your family and friends.
  • I acknowledged that this all absolutely takes away from the fiction, which I didn’t mind that much since I wasn’t enjoying writing fiction anymore anyway.
  • I surprised myself when I wrote that last bit to her. I’d known it for a long time, however I’d been operating under the assumption that I was still an aspiring novelist, and I had yet to say otherwise to anyone.                                                                                                                                                                                                       
We continued to email.
Hi Nina,
I’m under no delusions that blogging is not time consuming. Even if once a week. What I’ve always loved about your posts is how thoughtful and well-written they are, so I’m quite sure you’re coming at them the same way I would—that you don’t just dash them off (and then, like you said, there’s the social media).
Fiction has long been at the back of my mind (per your “just do it” post) and I’ve certainly dabbled. But I feel like to do it well, you need time—time to get in the mindset, time to simply string one sentence together with another, time to shut away the world and go deep into yourself.
That’s tough I think when half of what one is doing is ‘world aware’ with blogging, not to mention work itself or parenting and whatever else one has that’s squarely in the world. So in other words, they both take time. How to decide?
Everything you’ve said makes sense. And it makes me wonder . . . why we all even want to write fiction anyway. It’s lonely, the industry is getting tougher for writers, it pays (on the whole) terribly. Blogging on the other hand connects you to like-minded people, gives you the chance to inspire others on a more frequent basis, etc. etc. And yet . . .                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
So I guess that’s part of it for you. . . could blogging in and of itself be enough?
I’ve been coming back to Rachel’s last question for the past few weeks. The rest of this post is my answer. Rachel will be reading it for the first time here.                                                                                                      
Rachel asked, “Could blogging in and of itself be enough?”

Believe it or not, for now the answer is yes.

The blogging/essay form works for me. Like Rachel kindly said, I don’t ever throw something together. When I mentioned finding weekly blog posts easier than fiction, I think I meant “more fun.” It’s not always easy, but I love it anyway. And here’s a major benefit—people seem to enjoy reading my non-fiction “stuff.”

A random essay I wrote last fall on TC Jewfolk.com was shared on Facebook 500+ times and used by two rabbis I’d never met in their High Holiday sermons. I think each of my short stories has been read on average six times. (By the editor who chose it, by my parents, my aunt NanC, my aunt Barbara, and a few of my most loyal blog readers.) I have always felt a sense of satisfaction when one of my stories gets placed in a literary journal for the simple fact that it’s so dang hard to get stories accepted. Still, there’s an “if a trees fall in the forest” reality to the short story world and even the novel world. It’s lonely out there for most writers of fiction, which brings me to my next issue.

For the past year or more I’ve had this nagging “sage and classic writing advice voice” in my head telling me that if I love writing so much I should worry less about having an audience and just enjoy the process. This voice accuses me of confusing writing with publishing. This voice says that real writers don’t care if people read their work.

You know what? That might be true for some writers and other creative types, and it was even true for me when I took my first fiction class for fun one summer when I was 22. At this point in my life, however, “just enjoying the process and never thinking about getting work out there” sounds like a bit of utopian writer bullshit.

I believe that advice is absolutely true for writers deep into their publishing careers who are tired of the marketing and begging that goes hand-in-hand with trying to sell books nowadays. But for those of us on the other side, it’s not always the most helpful thing to hear. It reminds me of times I’ve been tempted to tell first-time moms-to-be to enjoy their pregnancies because they’ll miss certain aspects of it once the baby comes. I probably did that after I had my first baby. Four babies later, I get that it’s annoying to hear “appreciate these days” when you’re chewing your twentieth Tums of the afternoon and your back pain makes you feel like you’re growing an elephant in there.

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people who spend time writing do so with the hope of seeing their work in the world one day, and there shouldn’t be any shame in that goal. I still want to be a “real” writer, meaning I would like to eventually stretch beyond the world of blogging, wherever it takes me. For most of my life, I’ve imagined fiction as the only way I could be a “real” writer. I’m starting to come around.

I’m tired of calling myself an aspiring novelist when I’m not writing a novel right now. I haven’t been writing a novel for a year, and I don’t plan on writing one any time soon. It feels good to say so to myself and to say so here. Turns out I’m not up for the solitary experience anymore. I think Rachel is right when she states that writing fiction requires an inward focus that’s different from the type of writing I do now.

At this point in my life, I write to communicate. I’m drawn to non-fiction so why on Earth would I fight what feels natural? Letting go of fiction for a bit gives me some space to explore other non-fiction avenues—not in book form for now, but maybe more on the personal essay/freelance side. I don’t know . . . the good news is that erasing the label “aspiring novelist” from my mental tagline frees me from feeling bad about the time I spend on the blog and social media. I do seem to have a knack for this particular gig and instead of feeling crappy about that, I suppose I ought to work it while I can.

I have no idea where the world of non-fiction will take me. I have limited time to write (see the fabulous picture below), and I just want to explore. The blog/essay/article ideas come all the time. I have 40 unfinished posts in my WordPress draft folder. 40! I have a folder of half-written stories and novels as well, but even glancing at that little icon on my desktop gives me a stomach ache. Not exactly a good sign for an “aspiring novelist.”

Could blogging be enough, Rachel asks. Seems like it’s more than enough. Seems as though, for now, I have plenty to say. On the day that I’m ready to go inward again, I can revisit the imaginary world.

So it turns out I’m experimenting with thinking of myself as an essayist. What to do with this? I’m not razor-sharp funny like David Sedaris, Steve Almond, Sloane Crosley, Dave Berry, or others who have made careers out of humor. I’m not a journalist or a reporter. I’m not Joan Didion with wise words to share about living through tragedy.

In my dream writing world of the future, (after years of practice and experience), I’d become a combination of Nora Ephron, whom I admire for her wit; Anne Lamott, whom I admire for her honesty and insight; and Cheryl Strayed, whom I admire for her stunning courage on and off the page.

Of course in the end, I can only be me. And yes, for now that is enough.

So readers, that’s the (long) summary of my writing identity crisis. Can you relate? Can people on other career paths relate? And back to Rachel’s main question, is it possible to write novels and a blog and do both well?

A special thank you to my blogging friend and fellow writer, “Rachel.” We’ve continued to email about her writing journey and mine. Maybe one day we’ll meet at a writing conference. I have a feeling we will. 

NOTE ADDED TO SAY: The conversation is so fantastic in the comments section, and I don’t want to interrupt the flow with my two cents and my little avatar. I’ll be responding to individuals via email and visiting blogs this week. I’m here listening and reading, but I’ll visit you at “your place.” Keep the discussion going!

As long as I’m getting uber-personal in this post . . . From left to right: Elissa (3), Nathan (6 months), Sam (7), Rebecca (5)

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Nina is a columnist at The HerStories Project and a contributing writer at Kveller.com and Greatnewbooks.org. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and have been syndicated in Jewish newspapers across the country. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines, and she loved participating in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother. Nina is a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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