What Does a Blog Do For Me as a Writer?

In the same post which anounced his quarter finalist win at wotf, Jordan discussed his take on the pros and cons of blogging as a not-yet-professional writer.  His general take, as I understood it, was that a blog of this kind is not worth the investment, and a couple of his points were that writers should be writing, not blogging, and that the number and quality of contacts kept and maintained through a blog at this level is negligible when placed beside the time commitment of maintaining the blog.

He had some valid points, and got me thinking, so I decided to discuss the subject myself.  It might be that the discussion belongs on my writing LJ, but since I see it as involving all of you, I’m going to keep it here.  The post’s also grown as I wrote, so I might try a series of sum-ups and cuts to make it easier to navigate and to keep those who don’t want to hear my oh-so-carefully stated arguments in all their gritty glory from falling asleep.

Not every writer is writing to an audience outside themself, and that’s okay, but I have always seen what I do as a craft and a business.  I am an artist only in so far as I can reach my audience, and that means I need to effectively capture their attention.  Whatever skill level I’m currently at, I believe my blog has helped me to grow and increase my abilities in this area.

First off, I have to say that one concern I had when I started blogging was that it would take too much of my writing time and energy, and that that has been a real danger more than once.  I also know that different writers have relative speeds at which they not only write, but type, so the time commitment varies with the individual, too.

However, I feel that I am a better writer now than when I began blogging.  Some of that was of course the intensive upper-class coursework I completed, and the fact that I worked through all of it with an eye toward it’s implications and improvements on my fiction writing skills.  I’ve also written a dozen or two short stories since beginning my blog, and read with a critical eye hundreds of words in either the tsj slush or my friends’ manuscripts.  All of this has increased the speed, perception and clarity with which I write.

But more than anything else, I credit this blog with having helped me find my voice.  Often I was writing for myself, or to some unknown and, I suspected, easily bored audience.  I had to find that happy medium between writing in ways which would engage and entertain my reader and writing on those subjects which most interested me.  And I needed to do this without knowing who my audience was.  I didn’t tell family and friends about my blog initially because I didn’t want it to turn into a blog which was written for that audience alone.  I wanted to find my voice as a writer, not fall into those habitual patterns of speech and communication which I use around family and those I’m close too.  Slowly over the last couple years I’ve learned which parts of myself I’m comfortable sharing, how playful a voice I can pull off and still live with myself, and how to listen to that inner writing voice inside myself while also remembering that I’m writing for an audience.

I’ve made significant contacts through my blog which have helpted me learn about the business of writing and know that I can draw on a network of fellow writers for support and friendship–my network. 

As if the above cut wasn’t enough, my blog has helped me to effectively reach others and build a network I can draw on.  While it’s impossible to know who will be pivotal in any one persons life, I can name a few circumstances that have already really helped me to further my pursuit of writing as a profession.

Meeting James Maxey through my blog.  I honestly don’t remember when or why I picked up Bitterwood, but when I blogged about my take on the book, James was kind enough (and professional enough) to discuss my pros and cons on the book.  He not only commented here, but at one point he mentioned what I’d said on his blog.  This exchange gave me the courage to go up to James and introduce myself at the upcoming Trinocon, something I never normally would have done.  Through this connection, I became a part of a writers group here in the triangle which was overseen by James, and this group, which also included Alex and Mike, has been hugely helpful in helping me to improve my writing.  I’ve also had several chances to pick James’s brains on all things writing–from book contracts, to agents, to what to wear when promoting–and these pointers have helped remove some of the mystery which shrouds this business and increased my confidence.

Also at the same con, I chatted with the talented Alan Welch, and bought one of his prints.  When he wanted to get in touch with me but didn’t have my contact info, he was able to do that through my web site/blog and the use of the email I list here–even if he had to be very patient in waiting for a reply.  We have kept up that contact and I now count him as someone I can chat with at a con and look forward to connecting with.  Through similar online contacts, I’ve ‘met’ other friends who I will now feel comfortable approaching at cons or arranging a signing with.  These are people who I might never have met had I not become active in the online community.  And while I could become a member of forums and drop comments on people’s blogs without having a blog of my own, I know that having a blog has helped me feel that my time on the forums was well spent, as people would not just hear a surface comment or two, but would also get to know a bit about the name behind the avatar.  Jordan, for example, is someone who I suspect feels a stronger friendship/acquaintance with me because he has read my blog than he would had I only dropped by a forum we both frequented.

As for the low numbers of readers which were alluded to in the comments on Jordan’s post, I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I’m very pleased with the number of people who visit my site.  I don’t know who you all are, but my blog recieves between 2,500 and 3,500 unique hits a month.  Obviously my total hits is quite a bit higher.  Considering that I’m sure the majority of these people are not personal friends or family, that’s a sizeable number of people who I can connect with which I would not otherwise ever know by any definition of the word.

Lastly,

my blog is an investment in my future status as a published professional writer.  I have watched friends as they recieved ‘the phone call’ and went under contract, and from what I’ve seen, the euphoria of delight quickly gives way to tight schedules and a long to-do list.  Imagine how nice it would be for such an individual to know that, as their name and promotion met with interested readers, those readers could come peruse previous blog content, thus taking off a little pressure on the newly discovered author to quickly get posts up and establish an online presence.

Of course, there are other benefits to a blog.  I like chatting–just ask my family how often I’m on the phone while fixing dinner!–and a blog is a chance to chat with lots of people in my favorite medium, the written word.  I’m a fairly fast writer and typist, so I don’t generally consider it any great sacrifice of my time, and it’s also a nice way to keep in touch with friends or family who I don’t see very often.  But are there strong benefits in blogging to a pre-professinal writer?  I answer that with a resounding yes.

8 comments to What Does a Blog Do For Me as a Writer?

  • Correct on all counts.

    I blog because:

    1. It’s fun to challenge myself to come up with something clever to say in a clever way. Keeps the axe sharp, so to speak.

    2. I like to see ‘behind the scenes’ stuff with the people who’s creative work I enjoy. Just thought I should return the favor.

    3. It provides a communication medium that may one day become a platform. At the same time, it will show that I didn’t just drop out of the sky with a new book.

    4. Man can only play so much Civilization IV.

  • Hi Suanne,

    A lot of what you’re mentioning in this post (contact information, etc) could be accomplished with a static web page, and not with a blog per se. I’m a firm believer that authors should have a web presence, but a blog fill with their daily activities? How does that help?

    As an aside, holy cow that’s a lot of traffic. EDF and Clarkesworld both only get 10-12K uniques a month. Are you sure about those numbers? I mean, I think John Scalzi only get 50-100K a month, and he’s like the tenth most read blog on the internet.

    As a web designer, I have to say, that if you are getting that much traffic, there’s something wrong with the design or coding of your website. Your site only has a PageRank of 1 out of 10, and http://www.compete.com shows you as having no traffic. You should be getting at least 10-20 comments on each post. I mean, the site doesn’t even show up first on Google for a search of Suanne Warr, which it should. In fact, on a search of “tales from the raven suanne warr” at Google, your comment at Without Really Trying shows up higher than the site, and that just isn’t right.

    By contrast, Without Really Trying gets only 900 uniques a month (granted it was a dead blog until recently), but it shows up right at the top of a search for “Jordan Lapp”. This is how your site should show.

    Are you using Google Analytics, or some other software? In my opinion, it would certainly be worth a couple of hundred bucks to get a web designer to look at your site and optimize it a little to try and leverage that amount of traffic.

  • Jeff,

    Those are good reasons, especially number four! And succinctly put–unlike my essay. Or was it a lecture? At any rate, I’m glad the blogger thing is working for you, too.

  • You’re right, Jordan–that would be a lot of traffic! Unfortuately, that’s not what I get. What can I say except it was late, and I accidentally added a zero. >blushes< I've gone back and fixed that. However, your other stats are still interesting, as I hadn't realized that even making two to three thousand (my record month this August was just over three thousand, six hundred) each month was as good as that. I also don't do any of the stuff you listed, though it wouldn't be as important to do it given my traffic is nowhere near last night's 'amplified' numbers. I have been surprised that searching for Suanne Warr doesn't pull my site up all that quickly--maybe 'cause it's not in my blogs or tags? I really should learn more about all the stuff one does to manage and maximize a site. I like the look and layout of your new site--very cool and professional. I guess the most fundamental reason I blog is that I like it. I believe my other points are valid, and stand by them, but if I didn't like it or if it encroached on my writing time, than it probably wouldn't be worth it.

  • Suanne,

    I think that it’s useful to blog even before you’ve been published professionally. I’d already published my first novel before I started my blogs, but I found it was useful to practice and find my voice in postings before my dragon novels were published. When they came out, I’d been blogging for a couple of years and when new readers googled me, they found my blog and contacted me through it.

    I really don’t see any downsides to blogging. 1. It’s free. 2. It can build useful writing habits. 3. Even if you only have a few dozen fans who bother to contact you, why not make it easy for them to find you and read about your work/life/philosophy.

    The arguments against it seem to boil down to:
    1. It’s a waste of time. You can spend ten hours a week blogging that you should spend writing fiction. My argument against this argument is adults are free to manage their time as they wish. You can spend 10 hours blogging and 10 hours on fiction and who’s to stop you? It doesn’t automatically lead to less time writing fiction.

    2. No one is going to read you. This is sort of a shrug argument for me. As a fiction writer, you may as well get used to chasing small audiences. A lot of anthologies you’ll appear in are going to have readerships of fewer than a thousand readers. Some of the “big” magazines have readerships of under 8k. In my early years, I published in small press zines that probably had fewer than 100 readers. Is it a waste to publish a story in these small markets? I don’t submit to them any more myself, but, really, I don’t think that any writing is wasted writing.

  • Thanks for dropping by, James, and sharing your insights. I find the he point about small presses especially telling. After all, we already know we’re not subbing to small press pubs for the money (unless we’re really really broke!) so we must be subbing for the same reasons we blog. To reach an audience, however small, to hone the voice and craft, to establish ourselves as professionals, etc. Excellent point!

  • “Blog” wasn’t a word a few years ago, and now it’s bilateral: a noun and a verb.

    (“He wrote vaguely, bloggily…”? Nope, not quite an adverb yet.)

    A blog is a newer form of written communication. It allows some two way exchange. For me, perhaps it’s values are speed and ease of use. Oh, and it can reach a wider audience more quickly than my paper planes.

    But it’s just a form. If it encourages a writer to develop talent, that seems to be good.

  • Hmmm…now I’ll have to see if I can slip ‘bloggily’ into a conversation. 😉

    And, of course you’re right. I suppose it’s like anything else. There will be pros and cons for any individual based on their particular circumstances–just as there are many routes to writing at a professional level, so long as writing is actually accomplished!

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