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The BIG Question: What Should Fiction Writers Blog About?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Social media is constantly changing and evolving. One of the things that is changing is the nature of blogging for fiction-writers. Many are coming to the conclusion that blogging doesn't build a large platform for novelists, particularly before publication.

That raises the question, "Should fiction writers blog at all? Why bother?"

Well, I for one don't think we have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, I still think blogging can have a role in a fiction writer's career. It can still be beneficial in many ways. Here are the top two benefits:

First, blogging can help us build friendships, a team of people who can support us through the ups and downs of the writing life. Those friends will usually become some of our strongest supporters during publication and beyond.

Second, blogs can serve as a home base for unpublished writers who aren't quite ready to put the time and money into a website. If agents, editors, or other professionals want to find out more about us, we will at the very least have a page with a professional-looking picture and our contact information.

Yes, blogging has many other benefits as well. But . . . fiction-writers need to be careful about how much time and energy they're pouring into blogging. Writing our books and stories always needs to stay paramount, because those are the things that build a readership, not blogging.

Fiction writers who take the plunge into blogging invariably grapple with the question: What should I blog about?

I'm of the opinion that there really isn't a right or wrong choice regarding WHAT a writer blogs about. I don't think WHAT we blog about is as important as HOW we blog.

What do I mean?

I mean, blogging is a lot like crafting a novel. Some writers can take any setting or idea and can craft an exciting, enchanting, and endearing story from it. Other writers can take the same basic setting and plot and put us to sleep with their story.

No matter the medium (books or blogs), we have the power to shape words so that we grip our readers. Or we can bore them to tears.

So how do we take ANY subject and make it gripping enough for a book OR blog? Here are a few things I consider:

1. Write about something that elicits passion inside of us. If there's a niche, topic, or subject of expertise that we love, then we should go for it. When we LOVE something, that tends to come through to our readers versus writing about something that excites about as much as scrubbing a toilet.

On the other hand, if we don't have a niche or area of expertise, then we shouldn't worry. We can keep a running list of ideas that interest us and draw from that. We should approach idea-hunting for blogging the same way we do with our stories: view the world through writer eyes, see things others don't, take notes, and keep a growing list of possibilities.

2. Balance our passion with something that also interests potential readers. Yes, we want to write about things that get us excited. But . . . we have to continually keep in mind what our readers will want and need. This is a fine skill to learn with our stories and one I think we can also attempt to do in our blogging.

Again, I think we can take any subject and turn it into something that can elicit pondering, discussion, and even debate. Perhaps we'll encourage, motivate, or inspire our readers. The point is that we have to connect with our readers on some level. Otherwise, our blog simply becomes a personal journal.

3. Say it with our unique voice. We can't stop with putting our passion together with reader interest. We have to take the next step, and that is to find our unique writing voice. I personally think blogging is a great place to experiment with our voice, to try different ways of writing and expressing ourselves until something begins to click and feel natural.

So what should fiction writers blog about?

Anything goes. Write about your writing journey, your family, your interests, things you're thinking about, issues that bother you. Dig deep. Discover what makes you tick. And then share it in such a way that is worth reading.

The above saying by Robert Frost is so true: No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

Ultimately, good writing has to move US before it can move our READERS.

Have you struggled with WHAT to write about on your blog? What are you currently writing about? Are you taking into consideration HOW you're shaping your words?

22 comments:

  1. I've come to the realization that I blog for me. It has replaced my journaling. And so it's okay that it's not building a huge readership; it's building a smallish community while I'm doing something I'd do anyway. Or, something I might feel compelled to stop doing if I didn't have this platform, and without which my life would be infinitely poorer.

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  2. This is so true. I haven't blogged as much as I used to, but when I do I feel motivated to write and have had friends comment.

    However, topics to blog about do not come easy to me. Thanks for providing some ideas! I will do my best to blog about my passions.

    Thanks!

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  3. I really agree with this. I just try to be me on my blogs.

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  4. Great post. I try to keep my blog balanced between news about my own writing and reviews of other books/author features. I do agree that working on your main project should always be a priority though!

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  5. I've heard of bloggers like Jen Lancaster and Julie Powell who turned their blogs into successful books and became best-selling authors as a result. But I think that one advantage they had in particular was that they started blogging when it was still relatively new and not a lot of people even knew what blogging was yet. Also, you're right in that the way people write about something can draw readers in or keep them away. I've read writers who wrote about ordinary things like trip to Wal-Mart or the laundromat, yet the way they described it was very entertaining. That always made me want to read more.

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  6. Now that I've given myself permission to blog once a week, instead of five times a week, I feel a lot of freedom. I'm only blogging about what I'm passionate about, like what you said. If it's a chore, then my readers will sense it too.

    But, then I had this idea to blog for 30 days straight about chivalry, which is the main theme of my newly released novel. The pressure's back on, and it remains to be seen whether or not this is a good idea. But the point is, I'm the boss. I can do what I want. That includes making mistakes.

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  7. Good morning, everyone! I'm appreciating all of your insight this morning! I think one of the keys is to remember that blogging is individualistic. If we try to have cookie cutter blogs, then we loose the fun and purpose of the blogging experience!

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  8. So much truth to this and it seems to be the consensus I'm reading from other voices in the market. The balance is creating an effective platform (many publishers require it before they'll even work with you), yet as you said, making sure writing is the first priority.

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  9. Great article. I love blogging, it's a big part of my routine. I try to be diverse and, like you said, write about things that interest me or I'm passionate about in addition to writer "stuff". When I have writing lulls, blogging is also a great way for me to keep my head in the game and get myself on track with the actual writing.

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  10. When I started blogging, I tried to determine what unique angle I could bring to the table. I focused on where and who I was -- a mother, a former teacher, a reader, and "just" another writer pursuing publication.

    In the course of my blogging I've sold two books and have walked readers through that experience, but I've never really felt comfortable with the role of expert that inevitably falls on the shoulders of authors who mainly blog about publication. To that end, I often write about what I'm reading, showcase books that I think would work well in classrooms (I run a recurring series called Classroom Connections), share writing and reading quotes, and talk about the things that make me wonder about this writing life. One of the most widely-read series I've run is called Navigating a Debut Year and largely came about from my need to process all I was experiencing as a new writer: the things I liked, the things I wanted to avoid, the things I knew I wanted to make a part of my life as I continue on this journey.

    In a lot of ways, my blog is a place for me to think through my reading, my writing, my passions. It's nice when people occasionally stop by and comment. ;)

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  11. I've been tempted to join the A-Z blogging challenge, and I did ROW80 but I knew it would take too much of my time to keep up with the blog posts and leave me little time to write my novels.

    I'm with YelenaC. I only blog twice a week and sometimes it gets the non-writing stuff out of the way so I can go back to focusing on my stories.

    It's been beneficial in helping me connect with other writers who in turn have helped me better my craft. It's up to the individual, I think, to decide how much time they want to devote and if the outcome is worth the effort. Great post Jody.

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  12. You are so right it makes my face red to read it. You know how that goes, when someone says something so truthful, so undeniable, so inarguable, that you are embarrassed you did not say it ~first~.

    It's like that.

    I built friends and business connections, but I don't see that blogging will help with distribution. I have never done twitter, because it is too ADD for me, but I do FB. It is already becoming cumbersome, and as I link with more authors, I find myself constantly pitched to buy their book, or someone else's book.

    My FB has officially been reduced to a Mexican bartering market.

    So I'm not even sure FB is going to help in the future. We are so overwhelmed by social media, that I think we need to read your article carefully, as writers, and remember that we do this for FUN and FRIENDSHIP.


    - Eric
    Digging With the Worms

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  13. I blog about the research behind my writing, like what people wore and ate in the 18th century. I enjoy it so much I constantly need the reminder that my (novel) writing is more important - thanks, Jody.

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  14. I keep reading that fiction writers shouldn't blog on and on about their writing/author work-world if they want to attract readers. But it seems like a challenge to hit the right balance of things that interest readers who haven't read your unpublished work.

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    1. Yes, unpublished writers aren't necessarily going to be attracting their "genre" readers to their blogs the same way a published author might. But I still think unpublished writers can entertain or encourage the whatever readers they are attracting. Whether those blog readers are other writers, friends, family, etc., I think we can use our blogs to practice the art of being captivating with our writing. :-)

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  15. I really enjoy my blogging. It's a fun way to interact with friends and readers and to offer content outside of what appears in my books. It's like having a website, but with added interactivity. Kind of like a mini-forum.

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  16. Choosing a topic that works with what you are writing like Elizabeth Saunders does is a great idea because it brings the right readers to your fiction which is the point of most writer blogs.

    Disasters I've seen which do the opposite include political and religious diatribes, blogs written with such poor grammar, spelling, and jumbled content that it tells the reader that this person's books will be incompetent, and blogs where the author trashes people in the industry, other writers, and some readers.

    From talking with other writers, I knew that a blog talking about writing wouldn't sell my fiction, let alone any book on writing I did because most new writers are cheapskates of the worst degree, but I am by nature and profession a teacher, and I've also taught writing courses online so I decided to go ahead with a writing blog.

    After blogging for five years, I've discovered that those other authors are right. I almost never get a click on any of my books from those at my blog or my website when people come in through a search engine to one of my articles although they do spend a great deal of time reading articles. Maybe one in a thousand will click on my workshops.

    But I'm happy enough doing what I do because it satisfies my inner teacher, and my articles on copyright issues are so important to authors and readers that the blog is worth the time for that reason alone.

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  17. Thanks for answering my question Jody! To be candid, at first I found your advice confusing... but then I thought it over, and now I find it freeing and very motivating! The story is the main thing, whether in a blog or novel. I get it now. Thank you!

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  18. "Writing our books and stories always needs to stay paramount, because those are the things that build a readership, not blogging."

    I needed this reminder, Jody. Thanks! :)

    I've been pondering blog topics for writers since late autumn, when I posted 13 Types of Writers’ Blogs – Pros and Cons. I decided to stick to blogging more about my genre (science-fiction) and less about general writing advice (which is a go-to topic for all unpublished writers who aren't sure what to blog about just yet).
    But now that the new year has begun and I've started brainstorming for blog topics, I'm surprised to find that I still come up with more general writing related topics than specific genre related ones. Looking at the blogs I follow, even those of media-gifted sci-fi writers (like John Scalzi and Charlie Stross), I find very few genre specific blog posts. Most are speculations and personal rants, and of course writing advice. Which brings up the question again: WHAT should an unpublished writer blog about, if he doesn't have own books and strong opinions yet, but also doesn't have the expertise to give fresh writing advice?

    I definitely agree with you that anything goes as long as there is passion and a clear voice, and as long as fiction remains our foremost priority. But still... sometimes, finding a niche for one's blog is a lot harder, and a lot more important than we might think at first. Because it shapes our online presence and the relationships we make, and even the types of people who choose to interact with us.

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    1. I think before publication, most writers will draw other writers to their blogs. I didn't give much "writing advice" before I was published. But rather, I shared honestly and openly about where I was at on the writing journey, my struggles, joys, fears, frustrations. And other writers could relate because they were experiencing the same thing. We could dialogue together about those things.

      But if we're also attempting to draw in true genre readers, then we can talk about more universal struggles and experiences that everyone might have so that we can potentially reach an audience beyond writers. I don't think we necessarily need a "niche" for blogging. But can perhaps cover a variety of interesting and engaging subjects.

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    2. Thanks for the reply, Jody. :)

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  19. wow, I just stared. Congratulations on being awesome. I have come some advice to your success. Thanks for sharing.....Luis Fandos

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