Write It Sideways

Not Just Another Writer’s Writing Blog

Today’s post is written by regular contributor Susan Bearman.

“Actually,” explained Edward, “it depends on what kind of writer you are. What kind were you intending to be?”

“A writer who attracts readers.”

“Then for heaven’s sake, don’t write writing. Write reading.”

— from A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End by Avi

Write reading. The most brilliant writing advice I have ever heard comes from a children’s book by Avi.

The general consensus is that writers need an online presence to promote themselves and their writing, and that a a blog is an essential part of that presence. But deciding who you want to be online can be a tricky business. As agent April Eberhardt recently told us, you need to be authentic. But what does that mean? As writers, I think our biggest mistake is defining and positioning ourselves online so that other writers will find us.

What we want is for our readers to find us.

I love writing. I love everything about writing: doing it, talking about it, reading about it. But I don’t (usually) blog about it on my own blog.

If you write a blog about writing, I have probably read it. And I probably love it. If your goal is to attract other writers, if you’re writing a book about writing, or if you just love writing about writing, great. Your blog is doing it’s job. But if you are writing a picture book about reindeer in Siberia, or a thriller set in New Orleans, or an epic love story that spans three generations, then your blog is probably not reaching your potential readers.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have a blog about writing. And it doesn’t mean that your blog should be nothing more than a tool for shilling your book. I read a tweet today with a link to a post written by a librarian about blogging; it’s the perfect blogging motto:

“Don’t broadcast, engage.”

Use your blog to engage your readers.

Write Well

Demonstrate your best writing in every post. This is essential. Your blog may be the first exposure a potential reader (or agent or publisher) has to your writing, so do a good job. Think through your post. Make sure you have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Proofread before you post. Better yet, ask a picky friend to proofread for you. Correct mistakes immediately.

If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it in a post. A stale blog is pointless, but a boring blog is deadly. Keep it fresh by posting regularly, and keep it interesting. Be on the lookout for good ideas. You keep a notebook with you at all times, right? (Your smart phone works just as well.) Start a list of possible posts right now.

A great way to keep your blog fresh is to write several posts at a time and schedule them in advance. For example, write three posts over the weekend and schedule them to go up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Once you start writing, you tend to get into a groove. Writing online usually works better when it’s short, anyway, so you don’t need to worry about writing three chapters of War and Peace every weekend; 200-400 words is plenty.

Be Creative

How can you write a blog that readers want to read?

First, think about your target audience. If you write YA, your blog should be targeted to the wants, needs, and interests of teens. If your hero is as skateboard-riding teen crime fighter, maybe you should blog about skateboarding. Or teen crime fighters.

Think about writing something different. A blog is a great place to flex your writing muscles. If you write fiction, try a creative nonfiction blog. Stretch yourself.

A friend of mine writes literary fiction, but she loved the soap opera All My Children, and was saddened when it went off the air. As both an homage to her favorite soap, and as a way to try a completely different kind of writing, she has created a “blog opera” called Pine Lake, posting episodes once a week under a pseudonym. “I write it between noon and 1:00 p.m., when I used to watch All My Children,” she says. “I’ve discovered that episodic writing is fun, but really hard work.”

Another writer, E. Victoria Flynn, dreams of one day opening a hip artists’ hangout for creative types, where they can work, play, and socialize. Money and time limitations make it difficult for her to pursue that dream in the physical world right now, so she created a virtual version of her dream called V’s Place. Her motto: “If you can’t find your community, make it.” You’ll find writers, painters, musicians, and artists of every ilk hanging out at V’s Place. You should, too.

Picture book writer Carolyn Crimi wrote a book called Dear Tabby (about a cat who writes a “Dear Abby”-esque column). She also created a blog called Dear Tabby, where she posts in the voice of her character. Just plain fun.

The point is, use your creativity to develop a blog that engages your readers.

Write What You Love

One of the keys to a great, engaging blog is consistent posting. If you’re excited about your topic—if it keeps your mind hopping—then chances are you won’t run out of things to post. Writer Shona Patel has a mutli-faceted blog that includes her musings about the writing process, but also has a whole section devoted to tea. That’s right, tea. Shona was raised by a tea planter in Assam, India, and clearly still has tea in her blood.

If the topic you love doesn’t relate specifically to your book, that’s OK. It can give your readers an inside look at who you really are, and most fans love to get the inside scoop. If your passion does relate to your published work or work in progress, so much the better. But make those connections with skill and subtlety. You can do it. You’re a writer.

(For example, watch how skillfully I weave in a plug for my own blog, Two Kinds of People, right here.) I started blogging in early 2008. The originally idea had been to write a newspaper column (kind of Erma Bombeck meets Dave Barry) based on the “Two Kinds of People” (2KoP) theme. Sadly, I came up with the idea at just about the same time newspapers stopped hiring columnists. When I thought about writing a blog, I was terrified that it would become a rambling brain purge, where I dumped endless rants on an unsuspecting readership. The 2KoP idea resurfaced and gave me the perfect proverbial hook upon which to hang my blogging hat. (See how I worked that right into the conversation.)

If you are going to write about writing, pick a specific niche and do it well. One of my favorite blogs is called Detectives Beyond Borders by Peter Rozovsky. Peter is a copy editor by day, and devoted crime novel junkie and blogger by night. He uses his love of crime writing as jumping off point for all kinds of topics on his blog, and frequently poses specific, thought provoking questions—a great way to engage readers in a comment-based discussion.

If you haven’t yet started a blog, think about your potential readers and how you might give them some added value. If you already have a blog, think about ways you can up the ante and reach out to readers, not just writers.