Tomorrow night I’m having dinner with a local author to provide her a little insight on the world of blogging and social media. Her latest memoir is coming out this summer and her publisher wants her to have a “social media platform.” She’s never blogged, never made a friend on Facebook, never read a tweet. What is she to do?
I thought of calling this post “To Blog or Not to Blog” but that Bard quote has been remixed so many times, and frankly, I thought the one above was pretty apropos. Because blogging — and all social media outreach — is sweet sorrow. It can be invigorating and it can be stultifying. It can help a writer — or a musician, or a painter, or an actor — develop her skills and grow an audience, and it can consume her time and creative energy.
I also know this is a topic of some interest to my readers. Last week I tweeted, and then included in my Creativity Tweets of the Week, a post by author Justine Musk on whether blogging for writers is a waste of time, and that prompted a lot of conversation with some of my fellow tweeps and bloggers. I plan to provide my friend that nugget of wisdom, and others (like this one and this one) to my friend, with my own observations in addition.
Let me note that while I only launched this blog in October of last year, I have been blogging regularly on various blogs since 2004, and as a former editor reminded me the other day, from 1994 to 1996 I posted short humor pieces weekly to a web site I had launched, long before the term “blog” entered the lexicon. (Now I feel tired.)
When I dine with my writer friend tomorrow night, I’m going to focus on blogging. She’s a writer, does daily pages, has written books and essays; I think it’s a bit easier for her to imagine writing for a blog than engaging in Facebook or Twitter. But I agree with Justine Musk’s description of these services as “microblogging,” and the lessons below apply across all social media use. So here’s my dinner presentation:
- Don’t blog if your heart isn’t into it. If you find after a few months of work that you’d rather carry Andy Dick’s love child than write another post, follow your heart (and stop blogging, but don’t hook up with Andy Dick). Last fall I spoke at the Future of Music Conference, and a musician panelist there said she was on Facebook because her record label made her. She had a few thousand “friends,” but she hated it. Hated having to post updates. Hated having to respond to fans’ comments. Hated spending time on the site instead of writing music. The audience was made up mostly of musicians who live and breathe social media, and they began beating the stuffing out of her in real time via Twitter on the conference’s hashtag. But I thought “No, she needs to get off Facebook now. Her fans will recognize if she isn’t willing to be ‘friends’ with them. She should focus on her music and l eave social media to those who can produce value from it.”
- Provide value to your readers. This point was articulated clearly by savvy bloggers at the recent AWP Conference. If you keep blogging about you, your book, your cat, your book, your husband, and oh yeah, your book, people aren’t going to come back. My friend Colleen Doran — who I met on my road trip across the U.S. interviewing creatives — gets huge traffic to her blog, so much it’s actually created an ancillary revenue stream for her through ads and donations. Colleen, a comic book illustrator and author, offers a lot of value. Every day she posts a new story-and-illustration page from her past work. She also writes short, humorous posts. Some offer advice, others links to interesting resources or odd stories, still others a contest. Now Colleen puts a lot of time into this blog, but she lives alone on a farm and works twenty hours a day. We can’t all be Colleen.
- Engage in conversation with your readers. Our 2.0 world is about conversation. When I blogged on public policy issues, many commenters who disagreed with my posts would ruthlessly attack me, generally preferring name-calling to substantive debate. It helped lead me to start an online campaign, iCivility, to promote civil discourse, and made me not want to engage in 2.0 conversation. But the people who visit creatives’ blogs are fantastic. They are smart, engaging, friendly, supportive. So engage with them, but in an egalitarian way. You’ll find enjoyment, learn things, and build a network of support.
- Avoid the hard sell. A blog is a great way to let folks know of new developments in your writing — a contract, a publication date, a reading, a book-signing. But if you keep pounding your book over visitors’ heads with post after post of excerpts or promotional quotes, they won’t come back. It’s only the SuperBowl where some watch just for the commercials. But an engaging blog with a responsive author — #2 and #3 above — can lead to book reviews, guest blog invites, speaking engagements, professional opportunities, and, yes, new readers. I discovered a great blog via Twitter — Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters — and I now retweet many of Rebecca’s tweets and blog posts. Why? Because she has insightful posts on issues I’m interested in — writing and art — and they are of interest to my Twitter followers as well. I’m now enthralled enough with Rebecca’s writing that I plan to read her first novel, The Bird Sisters, when it comes out April 12th, even though it’s not the genre I usually read.
- Manage your time. Oh my, do I need to remind myself of this. A lot. If I’ve learned anything after nearly eight years of blogging, it’s that it’s easy to fall down the blog rabbit hole and lose sight of your other work. After all, blogging is like an illicit drug in that you get an immediate high when you hit “publish” and then a follow-up rush every time you get a new comment. There are very few parts of a creative’s professional life that offer that kind of instant response. But a creative needs time to create, and do the other things necessary to propel his career. One example I could cite is author Erin Ergenbright, who when I visited her on my road trip was going through a creative awakening, which she linked to a brief hiatus from the online world. She had decided to foster her creativity by consciously limiting her time on her web site, on Facebook and in her email inbox.
Again, everything I’ve written here about blogging applies equally to microblogging social-media tools. I hope my thoughts are of value to my friend, but I know they will be very familiar to many of you.
So I’d love to hear your wisdom. Will blogging lead to a “winter of her discontent,” or is it “such stuff as dreams are made on”? Is there “method in the madness” of social media, or just a bunch of “pomp and circumstance”? Please share, and feel free to avoid the rather shopworn approach of appropriating Shakespeare to make your point.