The blog and the book: two ways of writing…

My post from yesterday is getting a lot of hits, and I appreciate the comments people have left. I need to go on the record as saying, yes, I love books too! As anyone who has been to my house can attest, it is full of books and I keep getting more all the time. My post from yesterday has as much to do with the joy of writing as with the future of “the book” as a media format.

I found this person’s feedback interesting:

If you feel called the write this book, as it seems to me you clearly do, this is God speaking to you. It’s not up to you whether the book is a success, is published or anything else. That’s up to God. It’s the process in your own life and between you and the Divine that matters. Follow your calling!

What’s ironic about this comment is that the only reason I am writing the book is because I already have an offer to publish it. Without that, I wouldn’t be writing it — I’d be writing for the blog instead. And I think that’s really my point: as a writer, I feel the tension between two kinds of writing.

  • Writing for the blog: short (hopefully) pieces, little or no editing process, willingness to publish untested ideas and perspectives which I may or may not choose to defend later on, since the blog is more of a laboratory where I can “try out” ideas and arguments, seeing how they fly with readers who are willing to comment on them, usually within 24-48 hours of publication.
  • Writing for the book: a much longer project, both in time (13 months) and length (150,000 words), obviously a much greater emphasis on structure, organization, polish; text needs to be edited for coherence and flow and tightness of my logic; I’ll have a small number of readers who will help me edit the book before publication, but most reader feedback will only come after publication, meaning a year or longer after the actual writing is completed.

Obviously, since I have a family and a full-time job and a spiritual practice, I only have limited writing time. Which means I have to be thoughtful about how much time I spend blogging (particularly on topics not immediately relevant to the book) vs. how much time I devote to the book. That’s the tension I alluded to earlier.

I won’t choose one of these media over the other. Both are necessary, and I am convinced that the blog will, in itself, be perhaps the best editing tool I’ve ever used for writing a book. That is actually quite exciting for me; as I said yesterday, I wrote all my other books before I began blogging in earnest. But I have to acknowledge that blog-writing and book-writing are different. Not everything that appears in the blog will be appropriate for the book.

Meanwhile, perhaps the larger question is this: I am currently 47 years old. Let’s say I live to be 97 and I remain healthy throughout my life and that I remain both interested in writing and hopefully in demand as one. This means I have 50 years left to write. How many books will I write over the next fifty years? Between 1995 and 2004 I wrote nine and a half books (one was co-authored); I don’t believe that I will ever write that rapidly again — I was trying to make a go at being a full-time author, which is no longer an ambition of mine. For now and for the future, I’d rather write fewer books, having more fun doing so and hopefully writing better books as a result. But how few? Will I write one book every five years? One every ten? Or, at some point, will I simply stop trying to write another “book” and simply pour my energy into the blog? In other words, I suspect I’ll keep writing as long as I enjoy doing it and believe that it is of some small service to others. But whether I write books, articles, or blog entries (or how much time will I end up devoting to each format) — that’s the question. I wonder if, as more and more talented writers pour their energy primarily into blogging, how this will change the face of publishing?

These are the questions that I, as an author, find lurking beneath the competition I feel between writing a book and maintaining a blog.

Following the Ancient Path Today
Sister Joan Chittister and the Way of Paradox
Mainline Neo-Monasticism?
Seven Essential Thomas Merton Books


  1. I must say, I find blogging a love/hate thing because of all these reasons you mention above. I am an aspiring, as-yet unpublished writer, and I love blogging so much that the thought of writing a book seems harder and harder to me (unless you published each chapter you wrote as a blog post ;)

  2. So I was off base! :)

    Then, I wonder if your ambivalence about this project is also telling you something? Perhaps God is asking you to choose between what looks like an excellent project- writing a book, and what really feeds your soul? Classic self vs. Self stuff. Probably I’m off-base again, but it’s fun to try!

  3. Oh, I don’t know if you’re off base, but I think this isn’t about an off-on switch so much as a rheostat. It’s not a question of book vs. blog, but of how much energy goes to each.

  4. rodney neill says:

    Happy New Year!

    I always enjoy reading your blog. This year as an experiment I plan to select and read/comment on 10 specific blogs consistently rather than the scattergun approach I have had up to now. There are so many good blogs that it is hard to choose from! You are one of my chosen 10 (aren’t you lucky!) I look foward to your blog this year!


  5. Thanks, Rodney. What an auspicious first comment for 2008 yours is. I hope it will prove to be worthy of your selection. And if there are any blank spots (several days without a post), just chalk it up to bookwriting.

  6. Carl, your blog is a nice resource for spiritual seekers and writers. I saw this post listed on the WordPress Dashboard.

    I liked how you divided the blog writing versus the book. Both are from God, don’t you think? I think more about listening to my inner wisdom with these matters, but I find it dangerous to assume I know the mind of a God who exists someplace outside of myself. Just my way of living.

    I’m 47 too, and I live in Georgia. How intersesting! And I’m a writer, albeit a newcomer to the biz.

    Happy New Year!

  7. The issue may not so much one of writing, but of reading. With the recent reading survey results released by the National Endowment for the Arts, which I wrote in my blog, and some of the comments I’m getting make me feel we’re on a path to the oblivion of book reading.

  8. hello..

    thanks ;)

  9. i would caution you as to the unpredictability of tomorrow. i would not think of things in terms of how many years you have left to write. keep in mind that spirituality is first and foremost the grasping towards god’s Will. this means we must strive and trust our heart. the world is not as-yet fit for [ ]. it will fool you in to following your own ends.

    always let the words do the writing. let the lord do the writing. then you will not write in blogs or in books; you will simply Write.

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