Blog because you want to: Carrie Snyder
In addition to being a 2014 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize finalist for her novel Girl Runner, Carrie Snyder writes the blog Obscure CanLit Mama. We asked Carrie a few questions about how she balances the writing and all the other responsibilities in her life.
You have four children. And two dogs. Both of your books have been finalists for prestigious writing prizes. You bake bread. You do readings. How do you have time to blog?
I need to write every day. Before blogging, I used to journal. I suppose the blog takes that place in my life, though I still keep a journal for particularly private moments. Also, to be fair, I rarely bake bread these days. I’ve had to make changes as my professional life gets busier, and as my children’s extra-curricular pursuits do too. I still cook supper from scratch, and source local ingredients, but this summer was the first in a few years that I didn’t can my own tomatoes. I just didn’t have time.
What motivated you to start blogging?
I pressed publish on my first post in the summer of 2008. I had reservations about (self) publishing my (unedited) work for free, given that I was striving to become a “real” writer (at that stage, I had published one book of short stories with Penguin Canada). But I wanted a forum for expression, and admired the blogs of several friends. My youngest was four months old, my eldest was seven, and I was eeking out three hours a week for writing time. My creative life felt starved and constrained, and I quickly discovered that blogging was an outlet that I could squeeze into the margins of my child-centred days. I could tap out a post while my youngest napped. Soon, I added photos, and discovered an affinity with that form of creative expression too. [Photos give] me another way to tell whatever story I'm offering on any given day. Sometimes the photos fill in for narrative, and often they're simply illustration. I've never been good at drawing, but my imagination is very visual—photography has given me a tool for expression I didn't have before. Blogging never took the place of fiction writing; instead, I found a new forum for connection and creativity.
You write about your children on your blog. Do you talk to them about it? How do you decide what is ok to write about and what might be too personal?
I’ve changed how I write about my children as they’ve grown older. I’ve always used pseudonyms for them, which they helped to choose. I’m not sure how to define the boundaries, but I know that some things are private and don’t belong to me. I like to capture snippets of dialogue, or little scenes that we’d otherwise forget, that we’ll find funny years later. I try never to be hurtful or to embarrass a child: mainly I want to capture their voices at the ages they are, because these change so quickly that it’s quickly forgotten. My kids love sitting around the table reminiscing, and they love hearing family stories and stories about themselves when they were little. Without question, there are many experiences our family has gone through that I’ve chosen not to write about. So far, my kids have enjoyed being part of the blog. That said, the eldest is only twelve and as they get older, they may want not to be involved; I will respect their wishes. There are plenty of other subjects to write about.
How does your blog influence your fiction writing and vice-versa?
I consider the two forms very different. A blog is of the moment. By its nature, it’s episodic and never-ending, a bit like a soap opera, maybe, without the invented drama. Sometimes I think of it as serial publishing, similar to how Dickens would have written and published work like The Pickwick Papers. You write as you go. Material comes to you. It’s like scrapbooking, and the subject matter is as changeable as the days themselves. Fiction, on the other hand, is meant to last - at least, that is the hope a writer has. I dig more deeply into story, into character, when I’m writing fiction. It’s also shaped and invented. Fiction requires structure that builds tension and pace. It’s a less fluid form in many ways. But it can also go much deeper. That said, I think the cumulative effect of reading a blog offers a kind of depth too: more informal, more like friendship. I often write a post as a kind of warm-up to my writing day, and sometimes the themes that I’m working through in my fiction get wound into the posts, too, but in free-flowing ways. More stream-of-consciousness. Less settled than I would want them to be in my published fiction. Also, I don’t rewrite or revise my blog posts. They are what they are. Fiction is all about revision.
You keep your blog pretty up-to-date. Do you do this for yourself, or because your readers expect it?
I write the blog for myself. It is like a family scrapbook, like a personal journal, like a photo album, like a shoebox of memories. I like keeping track of where we’re at, and where I’m at. I read old posts and marvel at how constant change is. I think if the blog ever feels like an obligation or a burden rather than a pleasure and a comfort, I will simply stop blogging.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to start their own blog?
Blog because you want to. That’s my main piece of advice. Don’t blog because someone else is telling you it’s a good idea, and don’t blog to further your career. Blog only because you feel compelled to express yourself. If you want to blog, don’t sweat the direction of your blog. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself, unless you’ve got a really fabulous idea you want to run with (Brain Francis’s Caker blog comes to mind). Be yourself. Use your blog to explore what interests you - welcome all facets of your personality. Know and respect your own boundaries and never share anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Photo credit: Nancy Forde, courtesy of the author