Since I started working in earnest on my new book (tentatively titled The Big Book of Christian Mysticism) last month, I’ve written about 13,000 words and have harvested another 10k or so from various parts of this website. That represents a little less than 1/6 of what the total book should be (yes, that’s 150,000 words, like I said, the tentative title has “big book” in it). Of course, all this is first/rough draft material, which will be revised, reworked, rewritten, reorganized, many times before I dare to let my editor see it.
Even though I’m barely into the project (my deadline is 1/31/09, so I still have thirteen months to go), what I’m already noticing is a tension between blogging and bookwriting. Blogging is, to be blunt, more fun. Immediate feedback, questions or criticisms that force me to rethink or more persuasively argue my points, the ability to dance across a wide range of topics, the freedom to be humble and tentative about all my “I don’t knows,” the challenge of always thinking about keeping my entries short enough to avoid losing readers (ha! I’m not very good at that one) — in short, the rules are considerably different for maintaining a blog and authoring a book.
I’ve had a website since 1996 (when I was writing my first book), but didn’t start blogging (via LiveJournal) until the summer of 2003, and for the first fourteen months or so on LJ, I was worse than sporadic. So really, it’s only been since the fall of 2004 — when I began to realize that I was being called to enter the Catholic faith — that I have been regularly blogging. That is also, not coincidentally, about the time that I finished writing my last two books (366 Celt and the co-authored Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses, which were written more or less simultaneously). So, basically, I was a book writer who happened to have a website from 1996 to 2004, when I stopped writing books and took up blogging.
So now I’m going for the Hegelian synthesis, since I want to keep blogging while I write the new book. Much has changed in the last three and a half years: in the summer of ’04 I knew I was in love with Christian mysticism, but I had no connection with the monastery where I now work, I had never heard of the emergent community, or house churches, or even Google alerts. So in many ways, not only am I spiritually in a radically different place than I was at the writing of my last book, but I have an entirely new and different perspective on writing and information as well.
But I’m digressing a bit. Back to the point of this post: in just the past year (and for the first three months of 2007 I was on a “blog sabbatical”) this website has received almost as many page views as the combined sales of all ten of my books. And it won’t be long before my blog readership overtakes my book readership, given how rapidly the hits on this site continue to grow (it looks like December could be as high as 15% above November’s traffic). I suppose this bodes well for the sales of my new book (which won’t be published until late 2009 at the earliest). But on the other hand, why put so much energy into a big, clunky book which is neither interactive nor conducive to ongoing discourse, if I’m already reaching a large and growing readership via the blog? Frankly, the only reason I’m writing a book at this point is because I’m getting paid to do so. I guess my editor should be thankful that I haven’t monetized this blog!
Which makes me wonder about the future of the book. I know this is a big, pretentious, portentous topic, and up until very recently I thought the cyberwonks who are predicting the demise of the book were overblown. But now, I’m not so sure. As much as I’ve loved writing books over the years (and so far, I’m having lots of fun with the newest one, too), I’m beginning to wonder, given the power and flexibility of the blog and the onset of new, eye-friendly technologies like Kindle, if books as we’ve known it really are heading in the same direction as the 8-track tape.
I’ll try to keep you posted on my thoughts re. this topic over the next year, as I continue to simultaneously blog and bookwrite. Meanwhile, this morning I found a blog on this topic that looks interesting: Institute for the Future of the Book.