Oct 19, 2011

What Should Writers Blog About?

Your fiction is stellar. I know it is. Beauty comes a-skipping when you give Her a call. The Muses bow to you. But writing for the Internet is not about pleasing the Muses. You see, imaginary beings from ancient Greece don’t give a fig whether you run a successful blog or not. Flesh-and-blood readers do.

The best blogs around share a few attributes: strategy, focus, discipline and simplicity.

Can people describe your blog in one sentence?
Unless you have a vision for it, no, they can’t.
“Oh, I write about things and stuff.”
Right. How often do you update?
“Uh, sometimes it’s like twice a day. But I haven’t posted anything for six months.”

Let’s take a brief look at 2 fundamental components that I, a reader, look for in a blog:

1. Strategy: What do you want to do?

Seth Godin once listed all these great blogging strategies under a single heading, How to Get Traffic for Your Blog.

Strategy 9 was “Write short, pithy posts” while 12 encouraged you to make them long and definitive. 42 was “Write about a never-ending parade of different topics so you don’t bore your readers.” However, strategy 51 begins with a dour commandment: Write about only one thing.

These strategies work -- just not all at the same time

I’m among those people who believe writers should maintain non-fiction blogs, rather than post their fiction haphazardly on the web. There are two ways to go about this:

a) write about a lifelong interest / something related to your work in progress / your line of business.

I’ve had the good fortune of connecting with Kelly S. Gamble on Twitter and finding her blog about the Hoover Dam. The real-life stories she collects over there are fascinating to begin with, but it’s Kelly’s love of her subject that makes them shine.

b) write about craft, genre or the publishing industry.

  • Janice Hardy runs an immensely helpful blog for writers, packed with well-written tips on plot, characterization and more.
  • At TalktoYoUniverse, Juliette Wade concentrates on linguistics, anthropology and world-building in SF and fantasy.
  • Chuck Wendig keeps his readers informed and entertained with a heady blend of wisdom and profanity.  

2. Is Variety the Spice of Blogging?

Remember Seth’s rule #42, 'write about a parade of different topics'?

Diversity is fine, but your readers need a roadmap.
You don’t want them feeling lost. That old juggernaut from the print world, Wired, fully understands the risk you take when you give online readers too much. That’s why they provide you with a dozen RSS feeds. (OK, a baker’s dozen.)

Now, look at the way some of those Wired blogs pitch themselves:

GeekDad: ‘Tips on tech toys, science projects and other nerdy things to do with your kids.’

This Day in Tech: ‘If Wired.com had been there then, we would have covered it.’

Try going out on a drive with a friend that keeps taking random turns, refuses to ask for directions and stops to take a hundred pictures of any landmark that you chance upon. That’s what random blogging feels like.

If you’re a writer and you blog like that, please stop. (I said please.) The sad fact is, you’re not the Arthur Rimbaud of blogging. There will never be one. Rimbaud gave up poetry for gun-running at the age of nineteen.

People are only tolerant of geniuses that have proven themselves.

Imagine your blog is not yours, but somebody else’s. How would you recommend it to a friend? Why should they read it?

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