It seems a little silly to call blogs new media, since they’ve existed since the late 1990s. Still, they are a new way for writers to engage with an audience and have been viewed with suspicion by mainstream journalists for far too long.
Blogs represented the vanguard of the social web, a place in which unfiltered (or lightly filtered) give and take between writers and readers — not to mention the informational cross-pollination that hyperlinking adds to the mix — has reshaped the expectations of the people formerly known as the audience. Ignoring blogging as a writer is possible in 2010, but it doesn’t seem very smart.
If you’ve never considered blogging before, there are a number of ways in which it could enhance your writing career.
- A blog provides a readily available sample of your writing style, tone, range, etc.
- Blogging can encourage daily writing and stretching oneself to create fresh content.
- Blogging can provide useful feedback from potential readers for test marketing your story ideas.
- Blogs are a good way to claim your expertise within a specified niche and connect with others who share that interest.
- Creating a popular blog can help you build “platform” for a book or film project.
Tips for creating a must-read blog
1. Start reading blogs if you don’t already. I can’t stress this enough. I have been amazed, when discussing blogging with folks in the corporate world, how many of them are all ready to fire up a blog without having ever read one in their life. While Web 2.0 technology has made the barrier to entry for tools like blogs non-existent, it doesn’t ensure that you will produce content anyone wants to read.
In this post, I include links to some good writing blogs. Visit some of them and see if you like them. Leave a comment on a post if it moves you. Once you’ve got 5-10 blogs you want to read regularly, pick an aggregation service, such as My Yahoo, or Google Reader, that will bring RSS feeds from the blogs to you. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to keep up with your favorite bloggers this way.
For further instruction in how to set up a blog aggregator system:
2. Claim your niche. Even if you’re planning on writing a free-wheeling blog about your personal literary adventures, recognize that your posts will have a personality and tone that differentiates them from everyone else’s blog. I often liken writing a blog to writing a column in a newspaper or magazine–people rarely read columns just because they want to know “about cars,” or “about” humorist Dave Barry’s improbable life. They’ve connected to the specific type of content delivered, the style and column’s offerings over time.
If you’ve been reading blogs for a little while before starting your blog, you’ll probably get a good idea where you fit within the section of the blog-o-sphere in which you want to become known. If not, ask yourself what you want to write about, then narrow it several times by subtopics, demographic groups (old hippies vs. Generation Y professionals), or your skill level or role in relation to the blog topic (passionate hobbyist, skilled teacher, detached documentarian).
3. Let your hair down… The best blogs read like a conversation. The blogger talks to readers like he would to his friends or colleagues, and commenters reply in the same spirit. The conversation can be serious, technical or even contentious, but it doesn’t become pedantic or bureaucratic.
Corporate blogs have to work hard to achieve this sort of authentic dialogue; if you are able to connect with other bloggers and blog readers (through linking or commenting on other blogs or other methods), you, as a solo blogger, may have an easier time expressing yourself with your authentic voice. And as a writer, being able to express in a style that is clear and genuine should always be your goal.
4. …But have some boundaries. Mostly, use common sense. What would you think if your post was printed in a magazine or newspaper?
Privacy is one of social web’s biggest battlegrounds. Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg reportedly doesn’t think much of privacy. And we’ve all met contacts on social media who commit other over-sharing faux pas. But even if you’re legitimately revealing intimate details in the service of a post that showcases your writing abilities, keep in mind that the reader won’t have the same investment in the minutae of your life as you do. (But identity thieves might!)
More quick tips for successful blogging
- Plan ahead. I make a blog post calendar every month. I often deviate from the posts I say I’m going to write, but it does make me think through my content and research posts ahead of time.
- Break a long post into a series of posts. I’m not really following my own wisdom in this post, but if your post is more than 1000 words, consider parceling it out over 2 or 3 posts.
- Understand, but don’t abuse, visit-boosting strategies. You should put your best posts on sharing sites like Digg and StumbleUpon. It’s OK, while you’re reading the blogs of others, to link to relevant posts on your own blog in your comments to them. However, if your entire life online looks to a third party as if all you do is seek blog visits, it will turn people off.
Bonus links on blogging
Here are 10 great blogs to visit for information on writing and blogging.
Many of these tweeting authors also have excellent blogs.
How to Decide What Blogs to Read (4 Steps) | American Express OPEN Forum
Author Rohit Bhargava gives four great tips for figuring out whose blogs to follow — and how.
10 Pathways to Inspired Writing | Copyblogger
Power blogger Matthew Cheuvront offers 10 somewhat surprising tips on how to perk up your blog posts. He makes such heretical suggestions as reading actual (paper) books and listening to entire music albums from beginning to end!
How to Keep Your Readers Coming Back to Your Blog | Social Media Examiner
How to use the CODA (Content, Outreach, Design and Action) system to improve one’s business blog.
9 Ways People Respond to Your Content Online
Great post on the Lateral Action blog that sketches out how people respond to material online, and how to truly engage them with your stuff.