Have you ever thought about becoming an author but don’t have a clue how to get started? Taking a sabbatical to carefully pen your manuscript isn’t a realistic option for many budding writers, but a blog is a great way to build up an archive of chapters and make a strong pitch to a publisher.
Alison Taylor, journalist and lecturer, released her first book The Still Single Papers after a literary agent read her blog, Lovefool Forever. The blog featured diary-style posts that featured Alison’s thoughts and musing of dating and London life – a formula that proved a hit with readers.
Now working on her second novel (in her words, a sort of follow-up), I spoke to Alison about how she made the transition from blogger to fully-fledged author…
When did you start your blog, Lovefool Forever and where did the idea or inspiration come from?
I started my blog in the summer of 2008 after being single for a while and having lots of funny/galling/ridiculous experiences. I was telling a lot of stories to my friends, as you do after a date, and one of them suggested I started writing it down. She’s an author and said even if you’re not specifically planning to write a book or have any grand plan for the content, it’s really valuable to get it down anyway. She was right. For one thing, it was so therapeutic but also I was able to express myself completely free of the restraints of individual publications, as you are as a journalist. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was craving an outlet for writing in a different way. Blogs are brilliant for this. You can experiment so much with content, voice and structure.
When did you start to realise its popularity and how long did it take to gain a real following?
After a couple of months I started to get regular followers who kept leaving comments and encouraging me to write more. I also – and this is the nicest bit – had messages from women saying how much they could relate to what I was saying and my blog made them feel better about their own experiences. I felt like I’d hit upon something, which was that I was speaking to people in a way that perhaps they hadn’t had before. That’s another reason I started to write the blog, actually, I wasn’t reading anything elsewhere that I could really relate to in the dating and relationship realm. It was all very clichéd, not funny at all, and the women didn’t seem to have any balls, so to speak. That needed correcting!
How useful do you think a blog is in organising your first drafts and ideas for a book?
Really useful! Mainly it’s just a brilliant way to get your ideas down (and see what the response is), start a narrative and assemble a body of work. You do it bit by bit, maybe a blog entry every few days and it doesn’t take long to get the word count up. The final word count for the book was just under 83,000 words but I had so many more over two/three years of writing the blog.
What challenges did you face in transforming a blog into a full book?
Because a blog is episodic rather than an ongoing narrative the challenge is to link the episodes together. I used a diary format in the book so blog entries work quite well (it’s not that different) but you have to think about character introduction and development, and remember that you don’t have to keep repeating information about characters like you might in a blog entry. The biggest challenge of all though was deciding on a ‘narrative arch’ – in other words, what is the beginning, middle and end to my story? What timeline am I going to plump for?
What tips would you give someone looking to write a blog or novel?
Start writing! Think about something that you have a passion for/point of view about and experiment with writing on that subject. See where it leads – don’t over analyse your process too much or think about end games. It’s more important to just start getting your ideas down. Keeping a diary could be a good place to start and then you’ll see the kinds of material that comes up and you may find a dominant theme that could become the subject of your book!
Have there been any mistakes you’ve made and learnt from along the way?
I don’t know about mistakes but you do have to be careful when you’re writing about other people. I’m not mean (or at least not very mean) but because my blog was so personal it was anonymous and I didn’t name any names. When it came to the book, I ‘came out’ as me so suddenly people weren’t quite so anonymous even though I didn’t name them. I had to have a lot of legal discussions about protecting people’s privacy and my key friends in the book all had to sign disclaimers to say they wouldn’t sue my publisher, Random House! Sounds funny now but it was super stressful at the time and I literally had no clue I would face this barrier.
Have you thought about starting your own blog or are you an aspiring novelist who’s looking for a way to jot down some ideas? Let me know by commenting below.