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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

4 Reasons Every Fiction Writer Should Have a Blog By: Taylor Lindstrom of Men with Pens

Having a blog doesn’t seem like a high priority for many fiction writers. Some have personal blogs where they write about the frustrations and epiphanies of getting the right words on the page, and a few have business blogs designed to promote their other income-earning ventures. Not their fiction.

When your ultimate goal is to write and publish a full-length piece of fiction, is having a blog really valuable? Or is it just a waste of time?

There are definitely arguments on both sides, but I come down heavily in favor of fiction writers maintaining a blog for the following four reasons:

Your Blog Is a Place to Clear Your Head

In your writing career, you may have heard of a book called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. While not all her techniques work for everyone, the exercise I’ve heard cited again and again as invaluable is the practice of morning pages.

The idea of morning pages is to write three pages every morning, first thing. They’re not supposed to be good. In fact, they’re supposed to be kind of whiny. “I hate waking up, my head hurts, I’m out of coffee, I don’t want to write, and my mother pissed me off last night when she called.”

They’re not supposed to be literature or fine fiction. They’re supposed to clear all the worrisome, fretful stuff out of your head so that you can focus on your real writing – the book you’ve been trying to move forward on for the last few months.

Often, we can’t focus because we simply have so much other stuff going on in our brains, and the morning pages are very useful for getting all that stuff thought out.

Keeping a blog has a similar purpose, but it can be much more directly useful to you as a writer. After all, a blog full of rantings about how lousy your day is and how bad your writer’s block has been doesn’t make for good blog material. You have to focus on one particular topic – writing – and you have to come up with valuable and insightful things to say on that topic.

“Wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “The whole reason I’m having a hard time moving forward with my fiction is that I don’t know everything I need to know about character development or plot formation or creating the right atmosphere in my stories. How am I supposed to write blog
posts on those topics?”

Good question, and I’m going to answer it with another question: Have you ever heard the old adage that we learn best by teaching?

It’s true. When you write a blog post on the best ways to develop a character, you’re going to start thinking about that topic a little more thoroughly. You might do some independent research on what other people have said about it, and you may try to combine several theories to come up with new insight of your own. You’ll think of new ways to achieve this goal simply by
trying to explain it to other people in a simple, easy to understand way.

And that means you’ll have new knowledge about the mechanics of writing a story that you can then put into practice in your own fiction work offline.

Blogs Keep You On a Writing Schedule

One of the major obstacles that fiction writers face is finding the time, every day, to sit down and pick up the pen. And yet your favorite professional writers, the ones you admire and aspire to emulate, all tell you that this is the only way to get anything done.

Sit down, they’ll say. Sit down every day and write.

Many of us who write fiction as a part-time endeavor, between picking up the kids and going to our day job and spending time with our significant others and getting to the gym, say that’s unrealistic. Maybe two days a week, we’ll say. Maybe three if we're lucky.

The only way to develop a habit is to do it daily or at least two weeks. “Daily” is non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be for a long time – you needn’t write for three hours every day. But you do need to write at least every day, preferably at the same time, so that you get into the habit of producing writing.

Blogs help you do that.

The most popular blogs on the web are those are updated at least once daily. Since blog posts are brief and don’t require the same level of creative thought as a newspaper article (which must be backed by facts) or a fiction piece (which must have unique characters and story), it’s far easier to compel yourself to do a blog post.

And once you’ve started writing, you’ll find that you want to continue writing – perhaps on that much-neglected piece of fiction.

Blogs are invaluable because they start the ball rolling. A blog post doesn’t feel as scary as that story you’ve been longing to tell. It isn’t as close to your heart. It’s not the precious creation you gave birth to and want to protect. It’s just a blog post. It’s maybe 500 words. That’s no problem. You can do that.

Once you do, you’ll find that whatever you wrote about can probably be applied to that precious story of yours. And you’ll be feeling comfortable with writing. You won’t be afraid to keep going. Before you know it, you’ll have a daily writing schedule: one blog post, followed by another hour of writing, another five pages, another chapter in your book.

Blogs Give You a Platform

Self-publishing has a bad rap, and often for good reason, since there are definitely false publishers out there who take your money and give you very little in return. However, there are quite a few fiction writers who have risen to significant popularity after self-publishing their work and offering it free online.

To give just one example, the prominent sci-fi writer John Scalzi first published his novel Old Man’s War on his blog for download. Tor Books made him an offer and re-published it themselves in regular ol’ book format. That book went on to win a Hugo, and Scalzi himself went on to write many more books. He was also nominated for many more awards.

Now, you needn’t go the same route and offer your entire novel online. However, putting a few short pieces up for free download can definitely get you the attention you need to catch the eye of a good publisher or agent.

The more people you can get to talk about you and read your work online, the more likely it is that your work reaches the people who can help you get published.

Before you rush out and start a blog simply to get those fiction pieces up there, let me caution you against the sloppy approach: the reason that Scalzi was able to get such attention was that his blog was already quite popular by the time he put that novel up there. He had many eyes already willing to read his blog posts, and many of those eyes were also delighted to read his fiction. If he had started his blog and posted the novel that same day, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

So don’t expect overnight success if you’ve put no effort into getting a good audience for your blog. Blog for its other benefits and be sure to let your readers know that your fiction work is available. Even if you still have to find an agent and a publisher the old-fashioned way, you’ll have all the resources you need to do so available from that attention… which brings us to our fourth point:

Blogs Give You Feedback

When you put your words in a public format like a blog, you’ll get constant feedback from people who have dropped by your site. Some of that feedback will be complimentary, and some of it will make you cringe.

All of it, however, will be useful.

You’ll be able to see what people respond to and what they don’t care for in your work. You’ll be able to have conversations with regular blog readers and ask them what changes they’d suggest. You’ll hear lots of insight on your work from people who have no connection to you – and who therefore have no reason to soft-pedal their critiques.

For some of you, that amount of criticism sounds terrible. But most writers rewrite the same story several times before they get it published – and they can’t rewrite it if they don’t know how they should rewrite it. By putting that criticism to good use, you’ll be far more likely to have a viable story the next time you go seeking an agent or a publisher for your work.

Both agents and publishers are looking for fiction that is already very good by the time they lay their hands on it. They don’t want to have to provide an editor to get your work ready for the rack. With all the free critics at your fingertips on your blog, you’ll have a serious head start on making your work good enough to publish from the moment they read that first page.

What are you waiting for? Blogs are free, they’re easy to start, and they can give you invaluable boosts in the process of getting your work published. Let your blog catapult you to writing success.

About the Author: Taylor Lindstrom is the rogue woman writing at Men with Pens, a blog geared towards the craft of writing, online success, and creating income from words. Visit the site for more words of wisdom on fiction writing at Men with Pens today - or click here to subscribe to their RSS feed.


Anonymous said...

All four very good reasons for a writer to maintain a blog. Feedback is very important as its hard for some writers to ask people for its hard for some people to give it. A blog provides the opportunity for dozens of people to read what you post and many times they offer something insightful in their comments that the blogger may not realize.

Stephen Tremp

Ruby said...

You mention putting a portion of a novel in a blog. How effective would it be to write the blog in the main character's POV? And possibly telling a portion of his or her story?

Roni Loren said...

Great summary of the reasons to blog. I took the learn by teaching approach on my blog and it has been so helpful to me (and hopefully my readers as well.) Plus, as a bonus, I've met so many great blogging friends and fellow writers in the process. Totally worth the time it takes to write a daily post.

jessi said...

Very motivating post. Love this: “I hate waking up, my head hurts, I’m out of coffee, I don’t want to write, and my mother pissed me off last night when she called." Think I'll start every day by typing that quote. lol

Dee Jacobpito said...

Very helpful. Great advice, thank you so much.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

This was a great post. Thanks.

marye.ulrich said...

So many writers start blogs but after just a couple posts, the blogs die--or just rest in peace.

Thanks for the good reasons to keep the blogs healthy and vibrant.

Reminds me, better get the laundry off the treadmill!