In one of my online writing forums I have been following a discussion about what works and does not work in blogging. I found it fascinating that as the discussion developed everyone assumed “working” to mean “attracting traffic.” It is a valid discussion to have. In fact it is a critical discussion for a fiction writer who is using her blog as a promotional tool. However I found myself feeling a bit defensive about the whole thread, because for me traffic is not the primary measure of what makes a good blog post.
I’ve noticed a trend in blogging, it has become an established form. The blogger writes something interesting or insightful and then ends the post with a series of questions. The purpose of the questions is to engage the reader. It is an attempt to invite comment and hopefully make the blogging experience interactive. Unfortunately for me the questions often have the opposite effect. They feel like those Chapter In Review questions at the end of a textbook chapter. They say “This is what you should take from this post.” I never liked answering chapter review questions and so questions slapped on the end of a blog post often feel alienating to me. Often, but not always. Sometimes the whole shape of the post builds up to the questions and they flow organically from everything that went before. Then I am engaged, sometimes even enough to lure me out of my lurker mode.
This is why writers need to realize that blogging is its own form. It has demands and structures which need to be learned. Then you can blog in ways that engage with the intended audience rather than boring or alienating them. Fiction has genres, so does blogging. Using the structures of a mystery novel when writing epic fantasy results in a broken novel. Using the structures of an informational reporting blog when writing a personal blog makes the posts feel disjointed. Ultimately blogs which understand and use the appropriate structures will end up gathering an audience.
So how does a writer learn these blogging structures? This is trickier because blogging is a relatively new form. I know there are informational books out there which teach blogging. There are blogs about how to blog. Even the forum I read was full of useful information about when and what to post in order to draw more traffic. Ultimately the answer is the same as for any other form of writing.
1. Read lots of the kind of writing that you want to do. This teaches the structures to your subconscious.
2. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t be afraid to let it be awful at first. Everyone goes through the early awkward stages. Consistent practice will teach you what your voice needs to be, and your voice will be different from anyone else.
As for me, I’m trying to overcome my defensiveness about discussions of blogging among the genre circles where I hang out. Not everyone needs to love blogging for its own sake. It is perfectly valid to keep a blog as a news feed or promotional platform. I just love it so much that I want everyone else to see how beautiful and wonderful it can be. I’m still not perfect at it. Not by a long shot. I need to learn those deliberate “engage with the audience” tools which I saw under discussion. Engaging is scary. There is the possibility that contention or conflict will result. I don’t like that. There is also the awful possibility that my attempts to engage would be answered by virtual crickets. Yet I can see the power of a blog post when the post generates a conversation among those who read it. So here is my experimental attempt to engage without getting all Chapter-in-review-y. What are one or two blogs that you read which you feel are excellent and why do you feel that way? (Please include links. I’d love to expand my reading list. And yes, you can tell me about yours.)