Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Writer's Blog That's Not Just About Writing - Patrick J. Worden



A Writer’s Blog That’s Not Just About Writing
                                                              By Patrick J. Worden

Like many of us, I eased into the writing lifestyle. Kept my day job, wrote when I could, submitted sporadically, worked hard on improving my craft. It was years before I granted myself the tepid appellation “semi-pro.” Becoming a reasonably well-published author, novelist, and freelancer? That took decades.

Every career is different, no doubt about it. There are a few constants, though, or at least commonalities, that help define the expectations our readers and potential readers set for us. Head-strong individualistic creatures that we are, we might be tempted to defy expectations, and there’s surely nothing wrong with that. But do so cautiously, I’d suggest, lest it hobble your chances for success.

I learned that lesson the hard way, because for years I defied the expectation that every working writer should have a blog. Oh, I tried, to be sure. Enrolled in just about every blogging platform available in the Late Nineties and Early Aughts. I had no clear idea what to do with them, though, and inevitably turned each into an open, electronic journal, along the lines of “and HERE’S what I did today.” Within weeks, with every such attempt, I grew bored and disillusioned, and gave up. Soon I gave up on blogging altogether.

But here’s the thing about expectations: they don’t just go away. Every time I’d tell someone I was a writer, they’d say something like, “Great! Send me the URL of your blog!”

So round about early 2011, I decided to give it another go. This time, I vowed, I’d do things differently.
I began by thinking critically about blogging, and what I wanted from the process. The answer, simply and mercenarily enough, was that I wanted it to help further my writing career. So, I asked myself, what sort of blog might do that? At once I could see that the “daily diary” I’d tried creating so many times before was an absolute dud. If I found it boring, what might my readers think? 

My next idea was to tweak the diary format ever so slightly, and use my blog to report on my writing endeavors. I discarded that idea almost immediately. I was writing one book per year, roughly, and publishing shorter pieces just a bit more frequently. I couldn’t see myself generating enough bloggable content to keep an audience engaged.

What I needed, I decided, was a blogging subject, or at least unifying theme, that I could write about on a regular basis, that an audience might find interesting, and that I could spin occasionally into a bit of gentle self-promotion.

I’ll pause here to point out what’s probably already obvious: the ideas and solutions I’ve had (and continue to have) about blogging work for me. Are they right for you? I cannot say.
But again, there are constants and commonalities. For instance, every blog should keep readers coming back. That means frequent updates. How frequent? I recommend weekly, at a minimum. The blog should be easy to read, and visually appealing. Don’t go crazy with typefaces and backgrounds, lest reading it becomes a chore. Remember, you’ve got a lot of competition out there in the blogosphere. Clicking away from your page, and onto someone else’s, is one of the easiest things your audience can do. You’ve got to give them reasons to stay.

What I finally decided on was to occupy a niche—not necessarily writing-centric, but one with which I could occasionally discuss writing, when events warranted. And when I wasn’t writing about writing, I wanted to make sure I still had plenty of interesting content.

Thus was born Worden’s Cultural Deconstruction (pworden.com), which I subheaded “Culture critique, current events, and commentary.” With an e-colophon like that, I reasoned, I could concentrate on arts, literature, and the universe of pop culture (all things that I and millions of others find fascinating), but also stray into almost any other subjects that might tickle my fancy…up to and including relevant events in my own writing career.

It was a decent idea, I think, but even the best ideas don’t pull their weight unless they attract some attention. That’s what my blog needed: attention. It needed readers.

Here’s where the blog-slog begins. Because there’s no quick solution for building readership. It takes time, commitment, and constant effort. First and foremost, blog and blog often. Post quality content that’s well written and fun to read. Keep doing that, even if your hit counter is telling you that just you and your mom are the entirety of the audience.

Leverage social media. Build up a platform of friends and followers, and let them know every time you post. Be topical—find current events and trending memes that impact your niche, and opine upon them. And engage the blogging community. Find similar blogs, or even not-exactly-similar ones that you like, and read them, comment on them, and help promote them. Those bloggers are sure to return the favor.
As for platforms and tools available to today’s blogger, there are so many, of such varying utility, that I won’t make many recommendations, other than to say that if any of them seem interesting or valuable to you then give them a try. I will heartily recommend the Google Adwords Keyword Planner (https://adwords.google.com/keywordtool). You’ll need an Adwords account, but that doesn’t mean you need to create any costly advertising campaigns. The keyword look-up tool simply helps you find frequent Google searches, based on keywords you enter, that might help direct browsers to your blog. For instance, searching on the keyword “Culture,” I found that millions upon millions of people were Googling the phrase “What is culture?” every day. So I began tagging that very phrase in almost every post I wrote.

So where did this all take me? I won’t say my blog is setting the world on fire, but my readership has steadily improved. I’m getting about 400-500 hits per month, with noticeable spikes every time I post something new. Archived posts are pretty popular too, which validated my commitment to create good stuff even when no one was reading it. And at last count, I had about 1,500 subscribers. Not too shabby.
These days my blog has morphed from a self-promotion platform, to a central part of my writing life. I spend a lot of time planning content, I truly enjoy writing it, and I love the reception it gets. For someone who once foreswore blogging completely, I’m happy to now self-identify as a blogger. In fact, I’m as a happy to think of myself as a blogger as I am a working writer.

So for any other working writers out there who might be looking for a leg up, I heartily recommend the blogging life. I won’t say you should follow my program to the letter—in fact, I’d urge you to chart your own course. But hopefully my lessons learned might guide you a bit. The only advice I’m sure applies to us all, and it applies to all our writing, is this: Go for it. Happy blogging, and happy writing.

-Pat Worden (http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-J.-Worden/e/B002JB732Q/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1) is the auther of several novels, collections, and non-fiction books. He blogs frequently on culture and current events at Worden’s Cultural Deconstruction (http://pworden.com). He lives with his wife and daughter in Northeast Ohio.

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