Wit and wisdom for wordsmiths

Are blogging boot camps a waste of time?

RoyalMarines Are blogging boot camps a waste of time?

Royal Marines, Creative Commons Flickr Image

Want to lost weight? Get six-pack abs? Excel at Pilates or zumba? Learn to make a beurre blanc?

Sign up for a boot camp.

There are boot camps (and their close relatives, webinars) for everything these days, including how to  become a better writer or blogger.

Zen Habits Leo Babauta and Mary Jaksch offer “A-List Blogger.”    Penelope Trunk is starting a boot camp for bloggers, though something about her sales page makes me think her heart isn’t completely into  it.

Why the popularity of boot camps? Why do so many of us want to be kicked in the butt?

Originally the term meant basic training for Marines or juvenile offenders.  Tough, sweaty, hell to get through, but essential for esprit de corps.

But somewhere along the line boot camps morphed into group learning, in person or online.  No butt kicking, just encouragement at a price. Granted, it’s serious encouragement. Boot camps discourage slackers.

Are they worth the cost, in money and time?

Happiness Project blogger Gretchen Rubin offers 8 reasons to sign up for a boot camp:

  1. “Because you have to get so much done, you don’t have time to listen to your internal critic. You just get something done and keep moving.
  2. “Progress itself is reassuring and inspiring. Panic tends to set in when you find yourself getting nothing done, day after day.
  3. “Because you’re so focused on your project, you begin to make deeper connections and to see more possibilities . . . .
  4. “Because of the intensity, you can hop in and out of the project, without having to take time to acclimate yourself.
  5. You lower your standards. If you’re producing a page a week, or one blog post a week, or one sketch a week, you expect it to be pretty darned good, and you fret about quality. Often, however, folks achieve their best work from grinding out the product.
  6. “Practice, practice, practice. . . . The more you practice, the better you’ll become.
  7. “Because you have a voracious need for material, you become hyper-aware of everything happening around you — and ideas begin to flood your mind.
  8. “It’s fun! I don’t have the urge to climb mountains or run marathons, but I got the same thrill of exertion from writing a novel in a month.”

I can buy the first four of those, and maybe the last one, though it depends on your definition of fun.

It’s the two about lowering your standards and the value of practice I find bogus.

Another NaNoWriMo?

Lowering your standards so you can produce a flood of words is the same argument made by fans of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month –where people write a 50,000-word “novel” in a month. It’s going on right now, in fact;  November is NaNoWriM month.

I wrote about it last year at this time.

Last year, 200,000 writers joined the fray, collectively writing 2,872,682,109 words. (No statistics available on how much of that ocean of words ever got published.)

NaNoWriMo’s website says founder Chris Baty, “with his startlingly mediocre prose style and complete inability to write credible dialogue, has set a reassuringly low bar for budding novelists everywhere.”

If low bars appeal to you, go for it. I’ll make some yeast bread instead.

The second argument, that practice by itself makes you a better writer or blogger, is just as bogus. Practice means doing the same thing again and again. Since that includes making the same mistakes again and again, what’s to be gained?

Granted, most boot camps include forums or other ways for participants and the leader to critique you, which may be useful.

But practice by itself? Not so much.

Learning how to think

Good writing takes good thinking. And learning how to think is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.

Instead of a boot camp, I’d say follow Jon Morrow on Twitter and sign up for any class he offers.

Jon is Associate Editor of Copyblogger and a demon guest blogger. He writes 1500 words a day, emphatically not on auto-pilot. He does not set the bar low.

Currently he’s offering an online course in guest blogging  that’s worth every penny of the price. (Full disclosure: I’m a member.)

Other ideas to improve your writing and blogging?

Read A-list bloggers like Sonia Simone to see how they do it. Read newspaper columnists like The New York Times‘s Gail Collins

Read blogger Andy Borowitz, who nails current events faster than anyone alive.

Read Garrison Keillor, who, whatever you think of Camp Woebegon, knows his way around words.

What do you think of boot camps? Have you ever signed up for one? Did you learn anything? Post your opinion in Comments.

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