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Blogging: An Existential Crisis
[box type="note"]This post is modified from one on my personal blog.[/box]
Do you blog? Do you dare to blog?
Some writers agonize over if they should blog or not. For me, the question isn't 'To Blog or Not to Blog?' but 'What Should I Blog?'
It's more complicated than it sounds.
We've all been asked at some point during our writing endeavors, 'Do you have a website? Do you have a blog?' New writers trying to break into the industry frequently wonder if they should start a new blog, continue an old one, and how/if they should 'clean up' some of their older material. And let's not even talk about the agonies of finding a beautiful, functional design that screams professionalism while still showing readers the quintessence of your very creative soul.
The pressures of marketing and utilizing social media are greater than ever before. There are so many platforms and so many rules for search engine optimization that even maintaining an existing blog can be overwhelming.
To make matters worse, social media is changing. Blogging used to be The Thing, but now that everyone does it the value has decreased (Read this for even more evidence that blogging just isn't as effective anymore). You no longer need to write lengthy posts to have a conversation with your readers; you can chat with them on Facebook or Twitter, exchanging short snippets about minutiae and brief emotions. For example, 'I love cookies!' will never qualify as a quality blog post, but put that on Twitter and you could get dozens of retweets and even new followers. (Shout out to our cookie-loving contributors ;-) ).
With all these new ways to access and distribute information, its value is changing. I read a post by a social media guru saying that you have 'currency' with your readers, and if you post too often, or post things they aren't interested in, your currency with your readers goes down, and they will begin to ignore you.
This statement rang true for me. I personally barely keep up with any blogs because I'm just not interested. My attention span is so short that if I'm not entertained immediately, I stop reading.
How then do I dare to run my own personal blog? How do I dare to attempt to create my own brand online?
Going through the Pub Crawl redesign really put this issue in the forefront of my thoughts. We thought a lot about branding as we transitioned from LTWF. How could we carry over the message of LTWF? How could we infuse personality and uniqueness into Pub Crawl while maintaining accessibility? I think our lead designers did an amazing job with the colors and design here, and I especially love our themed headers and topics, such as Recent Brews and Home Brews to talk about our posts and the books of our members. But this was all accomplished by first agreeing that we had to define our message, and only then could we build a blog around it.
Defining the message of Pub Crawl was easy, compared to the issues I'll discuss below. We wanted to provide information about writing and the industry to new and developing writers, while maintaining our culture of friendliness and accessibility. Our platform is aimed at a specific audience (writers), with a specific purpose (education).
But your own writing blog won't necessarily be about that.
Personally I've been blogging for nearly a decade, starting with an embarrassingly self-centered livejournal focused around posting quiz results (can I get an Amen?). As I moved into the professional writing sphere, I noticed bloggers around me grow into niches, much as LTWF and Pub Crawl established a writing-centered niche. Some writers now maintain personal blogs, separate industry blogs, and then separate hobby blogs. Cultures have grown up around different blogs, and writers have to define their platform if they hope to gain a dedicated readership.
Have you guessed the point of this article yet? Your blog now defines the message you send to the world.
And if you're like me, then you've had a really hard time selecting a message.
Let's consider the options, using myself as an example:
Instructional Articles about Writing: I decided against this one for several reasons. Firstly, I have Pub Crawl for that :-) Secondly, why should I offer my opinions when there are agents and published writers out there giving advice with far more experience and knowledge to back it up? (We have the most amazing ones here on staff already, obviously). Thirdly, your platform as a writer isn't necessarily for other writers. It's for your readers, most of whom, once you are published, will not be writers.
Articles about My Personal Life: This is one I see a lot. Which is fine if you have a really interesting life—and there actually are people out there like that, unfair as that is. ;-) But me? I have a boring life. So unless my audience wants to hear about my work deadlines and what I made for dinner, this option is totally out. If I went this way my following wouldn't grow much beyond personal friends.
Short Stories and Excerpts from Novels: Don't you just love those writing blogs filled with absolutely wonderful short stories and exciting excerpts? Sadly I'm not prolific enough for that, and usually when people sign with an agent and go on submissions they stop posting excerpts. There are various reasons; sometimes they're afraid of people copying their ideas, but mostly they don't want to show the world their 'unedited' writing, especially since so much might change between first and final draft in the publishing process.
So then I began to think about personableness. Consider this, who are your favorite writers? The ones that you follow no matter what, whose projects you buy just because their name is attached? I like a lot of writers, but there are few I absolutely love, and though their genres are different they share one thing in common: I feel like I know them. In essence, they're personable.
What I have learned from blogging is that information is all good and well, and definitely serves its function, but a true following forms around your ability to connect with your readers.
The best advice I ever received about blogging was to just blog what you're passionate about. Some days that's going to be the Oxford comma, yes. But other days it could be your dog's unwavering loyalty, the most hilarious stories in your family's history, your exact plan for the zombie apocalypse, or a certain trend you've noticed in the media (I recently spent one very amusing week tracking how many times Maurice Sendak complained about children's books today to various publications).
If you blog what you're passionate about then your personality can't help but come through. Your honesty, your innate humanity, will call to your readers and they'll respond in kind. I consider a blog post successful not by the number of comments or views it gets, but by the length of the comments I do receive. If you can get your readers to talk back to you and tell you their own stories then you've established a connection.
In summary, should you blog? Unless you have a fear of exposing your true self to the internet and the world at large, I think yes (but feel free to ignore me; I've always written publicly so my opinions are slightly biased). Blogging shows a history of dedication. It creates more opportunities for readers to find you through google. And most importantly, when people go looking for you they'll hopefully consider your online presence an extension of yourself, and therefore feel as if they've connected with you personally.
So throw all those insecurities about blogging and marketing out the window. DARE to blog fearlessly! DARE to blog with what you're passionate about!
And, yeah, you should probably read up on what makes an effective blog post and what's a turn off for readers, etc. But ABOVE ALL don't forget to blog with PASSION! You are worthy to share, and you are worthy to be heard. Never forget it.
(And if you're interested on the message I finally decided on [warning, it's a little gooey], feel free to visit my own post here)
What is your personal blogging message? Do you have any rules for your blog about what you will or will not post?