Blogging: An Extension of Craft
Despite the occasional rumbling of blog fatigue on the internet, blogs remain a potentially effective way for aspiring writers to develop and share their voice and work. At best, a successful blogger holds their audience loyally captive with entertaining, inspiring or informative posts. The blog serves as a helpful tool to help showcase their unique perspective as well as highlight (note, not obnoxiously self-promote) other work they’ve placed in lit journals and online medias. These successful bloggers continue to hone their work in progress, and maybe, attract the interest of the publishing world. At worst, an unsuccessful blog serves to add more clutter and noise online while rendering the writer distracted and putting them off their creative game.
When executed well, blogs help writers find their voice, hone their craft, connect with their audience and eventually, maybe connect a writer with an interested agent or publisher.
Blogging is quite possibly one of the easiest ways for emerging writers to start building their platform, but do writers need to blog just because everyone else seems to be doing it? Do blogs help the writer develop their craft or do they ultimately distract? What makes a blog successful?
I asked Rhonda Hughes, Portland based publisher at Hawthorne Books; critically acclaimed author Antoine Wilson (PANORAMA CITY); John Cusick, Literary Agent with Greenhouse Literary; and LitReactor’s own esteemed faculty, Suzy Vitello and Richard Thomas, to share their perspective on blogging. Here’s what they had to say.
Does blogging really makes a difference in a writer's career?
John Cusick: As an author myself, I see blogging less as a promotional tool and more as therapy. It's not necessarily a great idea to air one's dirty laundry on the internet, but that said, I find sharing the pleasures and pains of writing helps get me through those long months spent struggling with a new project or waiting for feedback. A blog can also function as a public sketch book, a venue to try new ideas, stories, snippets, character sketches, and generally let the your mind wander.
As an agent, when deciding whether to sign a new client, I like to read the author's blog to get a sense of the person behind the manuscript, the author's personality and everyday writing style. And hey, if your blog has six bajillion followers, that certainly doesn't hurt your chances of getting signed! But again, the greatest blog in the world won't help if your novel is sub-par or familiar. The off-line writing comes first, always.
What's the best way a writer can develop a blog?
Rhonda Hughes: Develop a personal voice that resonates with readers to build your audience. Lidia Yuknavitch and Peter H. Fogtdal do an excellent job of this.
Blog with Purpose
Antoine Wilson: The most useful reason to blog is to become comfortable with your own words appearing in the public sphere. Or semi-public, anyway, like writing in a notebook you're going to leave open for passers-by to read. This keeps the focus on the content, which is what you should be focused on, rather than the number of hits you're getting, etc. Sometimes simply seeing your words in print (even on a website) can help you develop a more sophisticated relationship to your own work.
Now, as a writer, whether aspiring or insanely successful, you don't need to blog if you don't want to. There will be no hole in the Internet shaped like the outline of your blog. If you're going to do it, do it consciously. The clearer you are on why you're choosing to blog, the better your blogging experience will be--for you and your potential readers.
How has blogging helped your craft?
Suzy Vitello: The practice of distillation and crystallization that a writer can access through blogging helps develop all sorts of writing muscles. Particularly economy of language. I’ve found it helpful for building authority of voice and clarity of purpose. Often I come to a post with a vague question and lo and behold, I’m taken to a deeper level with the question. Which for me is what it’s all about: accessing that layer of consciousness that’s mostly hidden in the everyday goings on.
Has blogging ever gotten in the way of your actual writing? If so, how did you keep yourself in check?
Suzy Vitello: Hell, yes! That’s the catch: sometimes I give my best writing self and peak writing time over to blogging—as well as visiting other blogs in my “blogosphere” community. I actually had a bit of a crisis over it recently. I’d lost control over the time-and-energy-management of my writing life and found myself dipping shallowly into so many different pools. I was completely fragmented, and neurotic. Like a border collie faced with sixteen different herds of cattle. Where am I? Which post was I writing when the phone rang? What WIP am I working on? What I did to bring myself back to sanity was simple. Cut down on all of it: writing and reading/commenting on blog posts in favor of working on my WIP first, and if the muse (though, I hate that word because when I use it I feel all elitist, like when people say memwah, instead of memoir) takes over and I don’t get to the blogging, so be it.
Your blog as your online anchor
Richard Thomas: If anybody is looking for me, my body of work, or to find out more information about my career as an author they inevitably land at my blog. I've had people solicit me for work via my blog, had authors ask me for advice, and been asked to come speak at local high schools, all by maintaining an online presence.
While I'm still relatively unknown, I try to act as if I've been here and done this before, for a while. What's that they say? Act the part? Dress for the job you want? Can you imagine if Stephen King or John Grisham didn't have a website? I know that a blog is more than just a website, the idea is to check in often, and talk about a variety of things, and that's what I try to do. And I hope by putting my experiences out there, I can help others achieve their goals.
Your blog as an extension of your writing
Suzy Vitello: Be careful about getting caught up in the noise--that itchy feeling that you could be missing out on something crucial if you don’t blog every day or comment on a thousand other blogs every day. Use it to practice voice or work out a writing conundrum or praise a book you love or start/participate in a particular craft or publishing question. Maybe put a time limit on blogging. Schedule it, even, as though it’s a conference call. Also, if you’re just starting out, pay attention to the aesthetics of your blog. Don’t make it too busy or fill it up with a zillion bells and whistles. Narrow your focus so your blog becomes an extension of your writing platform, not an escape from it.
As Suzy says, treat your blog as an extension of your writing and your greater author platform. Approach blogging to explore concepts, ideas and storytelling, not as a way to collect readers and sell your work - nobody likes cheap marketing and hard sales. Focus more on the clarity and quality of each post and obsess less with stats and analytics. Just as the quality of writing is ultimately what sells a book, so will the quality of your blog enhance your craft, help strengthen your online presence and earn you an audience as a result.
This topic was also discussed in episode 3 of Unprintable: The LitReactor Podcast.
Image via Gabriel Weinberg
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