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Blogging – a writer’s sketchbook

August 6, 2016

How often have we noticed artists sketching architectural scenes? Or people? Or animals and wildlife? I remember my father always had a sketchbook with him along with a selection of well worn pencils of different grades. He was an architect by profession, but he enjoyed painting for relaxation. I used to love it when we went to the park as children and he would sit on a bench and draw. Later, he would select one of his many sketches and produce the most beautiful water colours based on the images he had recorded in his little book.

These days, many artists take photos and use them as their ‘sketches’ but I still see others now and then with their notebooks full of finely detailed drawings. So what do writers do to prepare for their books or stories? I know many who keep journals of impressions, stories and ideas. They write in cafés, trains and anywhere they can sit down and make notes or write short pieces of things they have suddenly thought of or observed. These are their sketches.

Then, there are the many who prefer to write short stories or flash fiction as a means of honing their skills. These writers frequently go on to develop full length novels from an idea they have first sketched out in a much shorter narrative. Added to that, the discipline needed to write a complete piece of fiction in a limited number of words can be beneficial to improving a writer’s skill for encapsulating atmosphere, setting, thoughts and emotions with deft economy.

But there are still others – and I am one of them – who use a blog as a means of practicing their craft. For me, my blog is my sketchbook. It is the place where I write a complete piece every week to keep my writing current, vivid and alive. I use it to write descriptive texts or accounts of incidents, often involving dialogue and humour. Sometimes, it is simply a diary of certain events going on in my life; at other times, I write travelogues about the places I have been to and explored with my partner. Occasionally, I use it to publish interviews with other authors and even to write about writing techniques, but more often, my posts are the sketches from which I gather the ideas for my books.

My blog has been a valuable source of material mainly for my travel writing and my memoirs. I have frequently dipped into it to find descriptions that I have written about people or places I have known. This is particularly true of my books about the harbour where I live. My blog is a record of events as they happened in my watery world so that when I needed to remind myself of certain situations or incidents, the posts revived those events and the feelings they evoked in me as if they’d happened the day before and not several years ago. I also used my posts for information about trips we’d made in Belgium for my Walloon Ways memoir. We spent three years living there part-time and several more exploring the country in regular trips across the border. As a result, many of the ‘incursions’ have been described on my blog, so it has helped no end to prod the memories back into life when they have been dormant for a while.

Another point is that a regular blog post is a tremendously good routine for a writer. If, as in my case, writing is not and cannot be a full-time job, it is often difficult to find the time to work consistently on a project. As a consequence, it would be all too easy to spend several weeks without producing more than a few pages of the current book-in- progress. With no other writing outlet, the will and self-discipline needed to keep going with a book can wither away before slinking off to a dusty, unused compartment of the brain where it can quietly die. That might sound a bit melodramatic, but it’s painfully true and a familiar fear for many writers.

This is where I find my blog is not only useful for keeping up the momentum, but it also provides me with the challenge of working up something that is (I hope) interesting to read, creatively stimulating and also enjoyable to write. My book-in-progress is not forgotten and I never lose sight of it, but I don’t feel the frustration of not having written anything for long periods. As a writer, I need to write and keep writing to improve (wasn’t it Stephen King who said that?), so at those times when I cannot work on my main project, my blog is a sufficiently diverse creative outlet to keep the muse satisfied.

In effect, then, my blog is my notebook, my journal, my creative palette and my recreation all in one. As someone who makes a daily living from teaching others the basic mechanics of the writer’s craft, my blog is also my weekly relief from the more technical side of the skill. It is where I can play with words, sentences and images; it is where I can be myself and have some fun.

So coming back to my original idea, we often use the word ‘sketch’ to talk about brief
performances or rough unfinished drafts, don’t we? I believe this is what a blog can be
as well. It can be a platform for a short written ‘performance’ , which can then serve as the basis for a complete book or story: in short, a blog can be what I suggested at the beginning of this article – a real sketchbook for writers.

If after reading this article you’re interested in my ‘real blog’, here it is :


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  1. jomcarroll permalink

    I’m a writer in cafes, Val – and love your blog!!

  2. Ah, thank you, Jo! I actually thought of you when I wrote that about café writers!

  3. Love your use of sketching and palette for blogging: mix, stir – and paint the lovely, unique words that you use to enrich readers through your books and blogs. Thanks for sharing this creative color wheel with other writers.

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