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What Works in Blogging

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.)

11 comments to What Works in Blogging

  • I agree with you about the engaging tactics sometimes seeming forced or alienating. One blog that I have found that I feel does it well is called Early Mama (www.earlymama.com) which is a blog geared towards women who become mothers young. It’s designed as a support system against the societal prejudice against young mothers, and a lot of the questions she asks invite the readers to talk about how they feel about some of the comments they get. For example, there was a post about how many people believe that young relationships never work, and that if you’re getting married too young you’re dooming yourself to divorce. The post generated quite a lot of different responses from people at many different ages and stages of relationships and their personal experience. Personally, I keep my blog as a personal history. It put it online so that anyone who is interested can read about what’s going on with my life, but at this point I’m less concerned about advertising it. I’m trying to keep up with posting on a regular basis and keep the rest of my life in order. Perhaps I’ll reevaluate what I want for my blog in the future, but I’m happy with where it is right now.

    • Excellent point. Blogs like Early Mama which are trying to foster a community really do need to pose questions so that people get talking. I’ll have to check that out.

      Personal history is an excellent reason to blog. I can not count how many times I have delved into my own archives when I need to remember something. It sounds like you and your blog are in a good place right now. I’m glad.

  • Debbie Fox

    For other blogs that work, I can’t help you. Yours is the only one I bother to keep up with and that infrequently. What draws me back to yours is the very similar aspects of my life with what you have allowed us to know of yours; LDS mother of many with challenges, husband at home (and as much as he tries not to be, still underfoot) and a yearning for the opportunity to express myself creatively. I can say that looking at the prospect of doing a blog myself is scary, and that is something I need to get over.

    If it were not for some distinctly different challenges my family and I personally face that you and yours do not… your success, your ability to throw your whole self, acting in love and faith, into what needs you to do it and wrest success from an apparent impossible situation, it would be intimidating. Instead, knowing what I know, it’s inspiring. It’s a reminder that miracles can be made.

    • I’m so glad to be inspiring and not intimidating. You’re right that doing a blog is scary, but I have never regretted writing mine. The positive results have far outweighed the negative. That said, there is definitely a learning curve involved. Only you can figure out when such a challenge fits among your other challenges. Yes, miracles can definitely be made, or at least encouraged to grow.

  • Kacey

    I’m still working on using the internet as a learning tool instead of a timewaster. Since I want to be a writer (I just graduated high school) I keep up with just a few blogs that touch on writing – basically yours, Dan Wells’, and Gail Carson Levine’s. I’ve loved her ever since I read Ella Enchanted. She has a blog post every week on some aspect of writing and the comments are usually great discussions about writing by writers, many of them young or just starting out on writing. I also listen to Writing Excuses.

    One thing I love about writing is how you can hear people’s voices. That’s something you have down. You sound like a very real person, and your subject matter is enjoyable and thoughtful.

    • The internet is a perpetual time waster for everyone who touches it, and yet it is so useful. Sounds like you’re making a solid start on learning to be a writer. Half the challenge is developing the life structure to support creativity. The other half is working really hard. Or maybe it isn’t really half and half, but some other split. However it breaks down, the best thing a new writer can do is write something every day. In doing so, you’ll find your voice. Good luck!

  • Amy

    You know, I sometimes feel awkward about those questions at the end too, both when reading them and when writing them. Certainly there are times when they feel more organic, but I still don’t feel confident that I can reliably achieve that.

    Also, I adore blogging as well, and I’m so glad you brought that up! I mean, I think about traffic, but I love blogging just for the form of it (and honestly, if I didn’t, I think it would be hard to continue, given how slowly traffic tends to build). It is one of the high spots of my writing life.

    I’ve been enjoying Theodora Goss’s blog recently: theodoragoss.blogspot.com. I will admit, however, that I am something of a blog snob. 😉

    • About a month ago I was feeling quite cranky about questions at the end of posts. After reading Ferrett’s comments on the Codex forum and thinking more in detail about the various purposes of blogs, I can see why ending questions can be a very important tool. Like any tool it can be wielded clumsily or with finesse. I’ve decided that instead of being cranky I need to pay attention to why some questions annoy me when others don’t.

      I had a bit of an epiphany about blogging just over a year ago. Prior to that somehow blogging did not count as actual writing. Some of that attitude was created by conversations with fiction writers for whom blogging was a distraction from what they really wanted to do. After I realized that blogging mattered to me as more than a means to an end I’ve been much happier with my writing life.

      I’ll have to go read Theodora Goss’s blog. Out of curiosity, when you say that you’re a blog snob what is it that you’re looking for in a blog? Even as I ask the question, I’m not sure if I can answer it. I should go look through my blog list and analyze.

      • Amy

        Well, if you gain a greater understanding of those ending questions, please let me know!

        I think blogging definitely counts as writing. It’s just not fiction writing (well, at least not most of the time). I started blogging more seriously once I realized that I could start saying what I wanted to say and get it out to the world RIGHT NOW. I’m still serious about my fiction writing too, but there’s more than one way to communicate.

        What do I look for in a blog? Honestly, I look for a blog that isn’t boring, that isn’t the same old blog I’ve read ten thousand times. I think this can be achieved in different ways: through a distinctive voice, through a fresh take on old topics or tackling topics less covered, through a true specialty (for example, Juliette Wade has a great blog mostly about world building that’s a lot more helpful to me than most writing blogs). I don’t usually like fluff or filler or the same old same old. Or word counts. And of course, I always appreciate blogs that are well written. 🙂

        • Funny coincidence: I met Juliette Wade at Baycon this weekend. She and I had a lovely (if brief) conversation and I’m going to write a guest piece for her sometime. Now I’ve got to go look up her blog and read it.

          Thanks!