How to blog effectively: a guide for writers

Over at There Are No Rules, Jane Friedman recently discussed something near and dear to my own heart: "Why Start A Website Or Blog If You Have Nothing To Promote?"

Excellent question. Here's my answer: even though I have nothing to promote yet, I expect to at some point. When that day comes, it would sure be nice if I weren't a rookie at the whole online presence thing. I started this blog for practice running a blog, as an outlet for my writing, and as a way to interact with and learn from other writers.

As I read Jane's article, it turns out these are all valid reasons. Am I lucky or innately shrewd? There's no way of knowing... or is there?

One of the latter parts of that article includes a list of suggestions for "What do you put on your site or blog when you have no book?" That's a decent set of metrics, so let's see if I've been doing this right, shall we?
* Do not write about the writing & publishing process, unless you have some very unique insights, or a very unusual spin/voice.
Verdict: FAIL I'm just a guy trying to dish up an extra-large bucket of awesome prose, with an occasional side of equally-awesome poetry. However, part of what I do here is to talk about the writing process. When I get some more info on publishing, I'll probably talk about that too. Is any of it unique? Nope. My struggles with craft, motivation, finding time to write and overcoming fears and doubts are no different than yours.

I might sometimes wax eloquent on the basics of writing, but it's too much of a stretch to call my insights or spin unique or unusual.
* Unless you are the most boring person on earth, you have passions and interests that aren't tied to writing & publishing. These things might be witnessed in your written work (maybe you have a fascination with a historical period), or they might be complementary life pursuits to your writing (e.g., librarian or teacher). What perspective or insight can you offer related to these things?
Verdict: FAILI have a lot of passions and things that are important to me. Do I write about them here? No. People don't come to this blog to hear my strongly held views on politics, religion, homeschooling, the designated hitter rule, forgiveness, the value of manned spaceflight, breastfeeding in public or Windows 7. That's why I have those other eight blogs and Twitter accounts.
* What do you know about, intimately, that no one else does (that you can still write about!)?
Verdict: FAIL From the standpoint of purely technical, factual knowledge, I suppose my own constellation of knowledge is unique and distinct from anyone else's. I can tell you how to re-gap a spark plug, poach an egg, properly apply a tourniquet, tie a taught-line hitch, etc., etc. So what? Do I pour any or all of that into my writing deliberately? It would make for pretty clumsy blog posts, no? "Today on Landless: How to build a window-box solar collector for only $5!".

What about things that are not just technical knowledge? What about the emotional landscape of my life? Is that unique? In its specific snowflake-type arrangement, sure, but again, so what? A multitude of joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, hopes and disappointments - I've had my share, more than some, fewer than most. I've seen children born, I've seen relatives, close friends and co-workers suffer and die. Can I claim to be unique in this?

No, I don't think so. The trick here is to express it all in a uniquely compelling style. I could get maudlin and pour out my pain, or get rhapsodic and bellow out my joy, but that would be biography, not fiction. Wouldn't you really rather hear all of that coming from the characters in my stories?
* What do people compliment you on constantly?
Verdict: WIN A sense of humor. I like to think that people get a kick out of the humorous pieces of nonsense I put up here, such as that line about having eight other blogs and Twitter accounts (see above).

Come to think of it, though, sometimes the humor falls flat. Ah, well. You can't win 'em all.
* What types of media/materials/books are you always reading? Are there observations you can share? Snippets from your consumption?
Verdict: FAIL I suppose I could share snippets and observations, but I'm not sure it would be anything outside of fantastic examples of marvelous prose. I'd have to preface it with, "See? See? Isn't this great? Now THAT's how to write a seduction scene!", and then I'm right back to the whole writing-about-writing thing.
* Would it be appropriate to review books?
Verdict: FAIL Nope. I don't have time to review books on a regular basis. I know people who have done this successfully, but that's not me.
* How about interviewing people who interest you?
Verdict: FAIL Hmmm, although I've been thinking of interviewing people, I haven't done it yet. So, FAIL.
* Is there content/media you can curate?
Verdict: FAIL Not that belongs to me, no. This blog isn't an appropriate place for that, anyway.

So, how did I do?


Ouch! Wow, does it suck in here, or is it just me?

Nah, I'm only kidding. I give myself a WIN on humor, and I know where I stand on all the rest of it. When the day comes that I have a product to promote, I'll do it here, or somewhere else. Either way, this is a good place to hang out.

What do you think? Am I doing this wrong? IS there a wrong way?

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  1. Personally, I keep coming back to your site to read your serial. I'm new to your blog but I also find it interesting to see what your process is and what has worked or failed for you. Writing can be such a solitary art that connecting with others and finding new methods and materials is valuable, to me at least.

  2. I have one rule for my blog: I do exactly what I want. It's up to my readers whether or not they care. I don't think there's any set of rules for blogging, aside from organization and focus. Hence the serial blogs being separate. Thanks for your thoughts Tony. I like hanging out here.

  3. Valerie: I'm glad you're enjoying the serial. If you see anything else here you like, it's all gravy, then right?

    Carrie: I do exactly what I want LOL - yeah, that pretty much how I do it too, hence my FAIL, FAIL, FAIL, etc. of these rules. So be it; this is my page and I'll follow my own instincts.

    I'm going to just hope that these"rules" are more a set of guidelines, tho. 8-)

  4. LOL!

    Your post reminds me of the No. 1 rule for blogging, which completely overrides all others.

    "Be entertaining."

    (Or, some might say, "be interesting." Either way, you entertain.)

    Mission accomplished! :)


  5. ...And this is why we love you, Tony. While I appreciate Ms. Friedman's take on it all, what you do on & why you have a blog are usually personal reasons. I'm like you- I have no product yet, and I started my little thing to get better at writing. I'm mostly FAIL at that list, too.

    Why do I visit your blog? For the writing. In that department, you're definitely a WIN.

  6. Hi Tony,

    I give you a WIN on humor too. I also have no product, but may in the future. I recently read a similar article - I think it was on pro-blogger. They all have good points to keep in mind, for someday.

    But I am a blogger rebel too, I just do what I want. According to your stats and mine, I think we are doing just fine!

    Big party at my place this Friday!

  7. Hi Tony,

    Blogger's not letting me post my comment without a fight, so I'm going to try this again (for the third time) :/

    I hadn't read Friedman's article because I was afraid of how poorly I'd measure up. LOL. You've given me the confidence to have a look now.

    Your blog is entertaining and I enjoyed my visit :)

  8. Thanks for stopping by Jane; I guess if I'm going to do such an elaborate response to one of your excellent articles, it's comforting to see you start your comment with LOL!

    Gracie, Ann: The big thing is to keep at it and have fun. You can always tweak the process later, but if it's not fun, you won't want to.

    Madison: You get the prize for dedication in commenting! I'm glad you stopped by; don't ever be afraid to go see how the pros do things. If you want to be one someday, it's never to soon to seen how it's done.

  9. I say no one cares how many WINs you have, as long as you make me want to come back, and you do. ;)

    My blog goes against every single advice about blogging: it's random. People keep saying to focus on a topic, a specialty you have etc, but as the others said, I don't care. I'm a rebel too, heh.

    I put on Randomities the things I find interesting and might at least intrigue someone else. There are, of course, some advice, reviews, stories and other things, but they come as randomly as the pretty things I like to share there.

    Kudos on another great topic! I like dialectic thinking. ;)

  10. I agree with Carrie and Anne. Part of what I like about your blog and makes it unique is your voice, not just your humor. Personally, most of the items that you failed at would be boring to me if you started writing about them. I like you just the way you are, Tony!

  11. I've given up on Rules About Blogging. There were so many, and lots of apparent contradictions, that I ended up getting my knickers in a twist and decided it wasn't worth it. So, I do what I feel like. I give you a Win on humour, too :-)

  12. I thought this was all historical preservation for the future. Imagine what Asimov's blog would've been like?

    The number one rule for any site, blog, news, or even retail, is content. If there is content worth consuming, people will read it. Mine fails abjectly at this because I post so infrequently. Yours, however, does not.

    I have met more writers because of you and your blog than I would've otherwise. And, for lack of a better phrase, you provide a filter of sorts. My RL demands levae very little free time, if any, for things like connecting with other writers.

    But the writers you mention, who I've met by and through you and your presence on twitter and here, they are the ones WORTH connecting to.

    You can fail at ALL the categories lsited, but you win at the ones that mean the most to myself and likely the greater part of the people here.

    Now. About that novel...

  13. Aw, man! Rules on blogging?
    If I thought for one minute that there were rules governing blogging I wouldn't do it. Yes, there are libel laws to pay attention to, but the rest? Pfft.
    And are there really people who think there's no point having a blog unless you have a book or something else to promote?
    Geez, that's pretty limiting.
    Blog away, I say. It's still a free world here in blog-land. Blither at will. If people find you interesting, they'll find you. If they don't, keep on blithering. If it makes you feel good that's all the reason you need.

  14. I'm diappointed that the 8 other blogs were a humourous comment.
    I was going to go and check out your blog on the designated hitter rule.


    Anyway, I enjoy your writing style, including your humour, and unlike "X", I quite enjoy it when you prank me with twists and turns.

  15. My advice for anyone looking to build a blog is to pots each work day. It increases hits, build trust and encourages readers to engage.

  16. Mari, Laura, Josie, Cathy: Ah, rules, rules, rules. One of the things about rules is that you're only supposed to follow them sometimes. How do you know when to break them? Ah, that's where experience comes in.

    As Jane Freidman notes in her comment, though, the real first rule is "Be Entertaining/Interesting". That's right in line with my own mission statement as a writer: I will always make you want to come back for more.

    D. Paul: Asimov's blog would certainly have had at least three posts a day, and it would have been generating ad revenue right from the start!

    Expanding social circles, making connections and facilitating introductions are the best part of having old friend while making new ones. One of the things that comes with developing your skills and growing as a person is meeting a whole different set of people. That's the kind of thing that keeps life fresh and exciting.

    Bubblecow: That's good advice. In a discussion on Twitter, someone expressed concern about good traffic for #FridayFlash, but low at other times. My question was, "What do you post on the other days? Do you give people a reason to check your blog every day?" Insights ensued.

    It may be that you don't WANT to have to post something every day, that you don't have time, etc. If that's the case, be aware that sporadic or stale content is like a grocery store with mostly bare shelves, or a cable channel that's mostly re-runs.

    WA-side: Thanks! I'll keep trying to prank you, then. It gets harder as visitors come to expect some big twist, though. You're all onto me!

  17. I definitely don't think you're doing anything wrong. You have a tremendous following, and they're very loyal, RTing and commenting a lot.

    I don't think I'll ever achieve your success in this regard because your mantra seems to be (as you said in a tweet the other day) to give readers a reason to come back to your blog each day, and that works. You do it really well. I can't. I love my blog but I had to make a choice about the amount of time I spend on it, and I can't post every day.

    I'm sure there are a lot of ways to be a successful blogger, and as long as you're achieving what you intend, you've done it. You've created a great place to hang out, as you say. When you have something to promote you'll have won half the battle.

  18. Jen: Thanks for commenting. I love my fellow writers and tweeps, and I'm happy to interact with everyone here, on Twitter, FB, etc. That's a good definition of success for me.

    Someday, I might shift my standard of success to be something like "Another NYT Best-Seller" or "Another movie adaptation, this time with a Hollywood A-list star in the lead", but right now, I'm pretty happy.

    You've touched on something interesting: I don't think I'll ever achieve your success in this regard... What I've got going here at this blog is smaller than some, bigger than others. For that matter, it's bigger now than it used to be, and smaller than (I hope) it will be in the future.

    I brought my A-game to this blog when I got 20 hits a month; I'll do the same when I get 20,000 hits a month. I trust all of you to let me know if I get complacent and stale.

  19. Now if you can get that window-box solar collector down to just $4 you've got yourself a blog post! ;)

    You're doing fine, Tony. There is no right way, except to actually do it and not just think about doing it.

  20. :o) I go with all of this, Tony. I run hal a dozen blgos, I oost on Twitter and Facebook and even though I have books to promote, I write what I want at the time.


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