Wednesday 25 January 2012

Should writers blog?

Yesterday I was scrolling through a writing forum and I read a post by an author whining about blogging. Specifically she was moaning that writers are increasingly being urged to blog, to tweet, to engage in social media. Did writers really have to write blogs, she said?  My answer was pretty simple:  if you don’t like blogging, don’t do it.  Doh.  Horses for courses and all that. 

But then I thought a bit more about it and I started to scratch my head.  This is a writer speaking. A WRITER. Someone who uses words; who communicates with words; who presumably loves words. And I was really puzzled. 

People often ask me why I blog.  After all, writing is my day job.  I’m a journalist and an author. Words pay my bills. Well, in theory. J So why on earth would I want to spend my spare time writing for free?  Er, because I enjoy it.

This blog is my place:  the place I can rant, moan, emote, pontificate, whine, laugh, throw all my toys out the pram, whatever… There is no editor telling me to cover this and that; no marketing department asking me if I'm reaching my demographic.
A blog post – 500 words or thereabouts - takes probably half an hour maximum to write.  It’s a limbering up exercise, if you like, before I flex my fingers and start on the usual writing work of the day.
Hmm, maybe not a good reason...
‘But what should I write about?’ say the reluctant author bloggers.  Holy crap!  Look around you. What excites you? What interests you? What flirts with you? What tugs you by the shirt-tails?  If I had the time I could probably write four or five posts a day.  Seriously.  Because life is interesting. People are interesting. The world is interesting.  Isn’t it?  Surely, I wonder, it should be, and above all if you're a writer. 
I think maybe the problem comes because writers feel they should write about writing (yawn). Or they should be reviewing books (which is all well and good but it’s bloody time-consuming) or interviewing other authors (which can be interesting and is something I do occasionally – but not all the time).  But why?  Why should you limit yourself to anything? 

Blog alpaca! 
Some people are very focused in their blogging.  They write purely about parenting, or food, or pets, or fitness, or politics or knitting or gardening or…hell, I dunno.  Alpacas or juggling.  Niche.  And niche is nice if you can do it.  Niche can be madly commercial.  A guy I knew made a tidy living out of baseball mini-league or whatever it’s called.  And all power to his bat.  But you have to be one of those single-minded people, someone with a particular hobby or a focused passion (or, alternatively, your blog is your business and so you’re talking work).  Personally I can’t do that.  I get bored staying on message. 

But let’s think about writers and blogging again.  What purpose does a blog serve a writer?  Why might a blog be a “good thing” for a writer?  On one hand, it’s a showcase. Firstly, it shows the raw state of your writing, without any editing.  Trust me, the copy of even some of the most famous writers looks a bit ropey round the edges before it’s knocked into shape by editors (I would name names but, having been discussing  Online Defamation Law with some lawyer friends, I’ll be cautious…) Secondly, it shows you’re flexible, that you can write up a storm on any bloody thing you choose.  I’ve been given journalism work via my blog. I’ve been approached by agents because of my blog.  I’ve been taken on amazing trips (giving me huge inspiration for my writing) because of this blog.

Connect with your audience...
On the other hand, it’s a way to connect with your readers.  A lot of people who read my books also check out the blog. At first I worried that my honesty, my fallibility, would put them off.  But it seems not.  I think blogging is maybe a way of giving a bit of yourself; of showing what makes you tick; that you’re approachable, human.  Of course, as an author that might be exactly what you don’t want to give away.  In which case I’d say, why not share other aspects of your work – poetry, short stories, character sketches. Or share some of your inspiration – music, other people’s words, images.  If people love your writing, they will want to know more. Why not be generous?  Oh how I wish more of my favourite authors would blog, or be more generous in their blogging.  

And then, on the one foot (having run out of hands). Blogging as sales ploy?  Hmm.  Do people buy my books because of my blogging?  I doubt it.  I don’t mention my books that much.  Maybe I should.  But then, see, blogging becomes just a form of marketing and that’s boring again.  However I’m sure that some people’s blogs encourage readers to buy their books. Why wouldn’t they?

Can I squeeze out another fecking poem?
Then, the argument continued, aren't there too many blogs out there already? Aren't blogs just self-indulgent waffle, word-wanking?  Well, maybe.  But then again, you could say that about a lot of writing in general, couldn't you?  Someone said that they would rather spend their time writing their fiction, or coming up with a poem or whatever. And that's a good argument. Providing you are writing those things.  I dunno about you, but I have a limit on sustained creativity of the novel-writing kind. And I sure as hell couldn't sit writing poems all freaking day. 

Anyhow.  I ask myself again.  As a writer, should you blog?  No, of course not. No should about it.  Do what you bloody well like!  Should you want to blog? Well now, that’s a different question altogether.  What do you think?   


Expat mum said...

Although I love blogging, it's a complete time suck really. (As is Twitter.) Here I am with a huge writing project and a bit of a deadline (although it's months away) and I've been blog-commenting and tweeting about something completely different for the past two hours (with breaks).
I blog because I like to write about anything and everything, but if blogs went away tomorrow I'd get a lot more "work" done.

Helen said...

Great post Jane and answers a lot of the same questions I get asked about why I bother to blog. When I started my MLitt Creative Writing course, it seemed a good idea to engage with social media. My idea was to blog about being a mature student and giving up the day job. At first I wasn't sure if I really wanted to blog but I really enjoy it and see it as a chance for me to reflect on what I've experienced that week. And if anyone else likes reading it then that's a bonus!

Anonymous said...

From a personal perspective, yes, I think blogging is a great idea for a writer. In fact, I created my blog nearly 5 years ago in order to get my name out there as a writer, it was something an author friend of mine recommended. I've never looked back. It's given me huge enjoyment, most of the time(!) and introduced me to some pretty amazing writers - including you. Hell, you would never have looked round my house if it weren't for blogging!

Great post as always, Jane.
CJ x

Sessha Batto said...

What you say makes sense . . . but those are the things I write in my journal (yes, I still have an actual paper book I write in). Much of what I could write about - the things that intrigue, puzzle or excite me, aren't necessarily things I'm ready to share with the world at large. I'm not comfortable with being too public (I don't even have a picture of myself on display), my inner workings are a bit too raw for human consumption. Should writers write . . . absolutely. Should they blog . . . only if they are inspired, there is nothing worse than spending time on a post the writer obviously wasn't engaged with but, rather, wrote because they were supposed to blog today.

Tee said...

I agree, Jane!

It's theraputic for me to blog. Also, I like to write and I want to help others. Not that I help others much. But I love this whole social media thing, even though I am shite at it.

And really, it isn't all that time consuming. Not really. I manage it and I have a full time job, write, blog, vlog, tweet, facebook, plog and do a plethora of other things I can't post here. ;)

It's fun, though. IN the end. It's fun for me to blog.

And if I ever sell one of my books (fingers crossed everyone) I will continue to blog until the day I...can't blog anymore. :D

JOHN SHORTLAND, Cotswold Hills, England. said...

Totally agree Jane - blog if you want to, don't blog if you don't want to.

However, if you like playing with words without the angst or discipline of commercial work, whether a book or journalism then, I say, blog.

When I started blogging I really didn't think anyone would read it; after all, why should they? In fact they do read it and in quite large numbers. What can be more encouraging or gratifying to a writer than that?

So blogging doubters get blogging and if you find it isn't for you, then you can always stop.

Can I also give a plug, please Jane, for the first Chipping Norton Literary Festival to be held this April? 50 authors; details can be found at


Rob-bear said...

Too bad you're not running for Parliament, Jane; you'd definitely get my vote. (Assuming that a Bear who lives across the pond could vote in a Brit election.)

I'm an award-winning writer and broadcaster. I've decided I'm not going to work at those trades any more. (Good heavens, Millicent; I'm going on 67 — bl**dy enough, already.) I have other things I want to do with my life. Like learn to draw, and paint, and do Cleric calligraphy, and play my banjo, and read books to my grandchildren, and. . . .

But I enjoy the sensuality of putting words on paper. I enjoy seeing how one image can shake hands with another. I've arrived at the point at which I don't particularly care whether people read what I write (though a lot do, and I'm grateful for that). Besides, blogging is a whole new style of writing. If cooking is a game you can eat (as Mags says), maybe blogging can be a game where you can play with words, ideas, visions — without having to bother with an editor, or a neditor.

Yup, Jane; you got it right on! In Exmoor (and elsewhere).

Now, back to hibernation for Bear!

Exmoorjane said...

@EPM: if you get sucked into the reciprocal commenting, then yes, it can suck away huge swathes of your life. If I'm too busy to blog, I don't do it. But, like I say, it's a relaxation thing for me. :)

@Helen: good to meet you. Yes, write for you first and foremost - if anyone else reads, it's a bonus.

@CJ: Ah, Mistress of Blogging! An inspiration to all. :) And yes, you touch on something I left out - I've met incredible people through blogging.. btw, is A still in the haunted bedroom?

@Sessh: Good point. There's a lot, a helluva lot, I DON'T put on the blog...I have a journal too (well, umm, about three)... and, like you say, if it's not your bag, then don't do can tell the blogs that have DUTY written all over them a mile off.

@Tee - you're one of life's natural writers and communicators - and you do it every witch way. :) I spent a happy hour with your plog yesterday... I wish I were a better photographer! I tried the vlog thing - it was an.. interesting...experiment (not to be repeated). :)

@Johnson - exactly so! And yes, of course you can plug the festival. :)

@Bear - 'how one word shakes hands with another' - what a lovely way of putting it. Of course, sometimes they fight... Enjoy your hibernation, dear Bear... sleep tight, sweet dreams. x

Sally Townsend said...

I love blogging, whether or not anyone reads me is irrelevent but its enabled me to meet some fascinating people and wander down paths I wouldn't have found otherwise. Some readers even come and stay ! Great post.

Kelly Byrne said...

As always, you make great points. I personally have struggled with the whole social media thing in the past, but am coming around to it now. I think it's got a lot to do with perspective. If you look at it as a chore or a Job, it'll end up that way on the page like you said. If you change your mindset about it (which I admit, I've had to do since I'm not a naturally prolific writer of things not fiction related, or really anything for that matter, who are we kidding?) it makes all the difference in the world. I think taking yourself seriously as a writer (not necessarily BEING serious though) helps in that process. Having confidence in your skills and knowledge and feeling like you might have something to say about a thing or two or... wait, what was I saying?

Anyway, I've not ever felt very comfortable in the non-fiction realm (which includes all manner of vlogging & blogging and snogging and...wait a minute. That's not right. I digress. Which is part of my blogging problem! Must flog the blog to keep it in line. Mind wanders far too often and far too freely sometimes to keep thing coherent in said blog.

Anywho - point is - I dig yours! And you speak the truth. If you enjoy the process, do it. If it's akin to bamboo under fingernails, might wanna leave it be.

By the way - ropey round the edges - LOVE IT. Stealing it. Thank you muchly. :)

Janet O'Kane said...

I agree so much with what you say in this post, especially about not necessarily having to write about writing all the time. I try to treat Twitter and blogging as if they are parties where I'm meeting old friends and new people. I'd soon start being avoided as a crashing bore if I only talked about working on my novel, although I can mention it from time to time.
I keep a notebook where I jot down ideas for my blog as they come to me, rather than sit down and try to force them out. And I allow myself to blog just once a week, so that it doesn't become an onerous task but something I look forward to.
Reading others' blogs and commenting are my treats between novel-writing sessions.

Victoria said...

I agree, if you like writing, then why not write? I love blogging and to a certain extent it has been helpful in getting my writing career off the ground. I've received quite a bit of writing work, specifically through my blog and twitter. And after almost three years of blogging, I've gained enough confidence in my abilities to start writing a book.

Thinking of the days said...

This is such an interesting post!I've come late to the blogging party.

I only started a blog in october, so feeling like the new girl at school but I'm absolutely loving it

And yes I'm a journalist who writes and talks for a living! So free writing ,shameless plugging?

I blog for me , always include a music video, and others seem to like it.It's already put me in touch with lots of lively,like minded people.

And if something else comes along because of it, well that would be simply lovely.

Blogging for me is a bloody big adventure.From the comfort of my own home too....

Kathryn Lang said...

I think you covered it in the beginning. Blog if you want to blog.

I would add that if you DO blog then know why you are blogging before you start. Are you ranting? Are you informing? Are you entertaining? The foundation of your blog can help drive you to what you write and keep you going down a "somewhat" focused path.

Side note: ANYTHING that is viewed as work will become work!

Emma Lee-Potter said...

A really good blog, Jane. As a journalist I blog because I love writing and because it's great to be my own editor, commissioning editor and sub. I can choose the subjects that interest me and ignore those that don't. Perfect. You make a really good point about not taking too long over it. I don't spend more than 30 mins a day blogging - the short time frame keeps the mind focused!

Tee said...

Awww, thanks Jane! I like interacting with people, just not in person as they exhaust me. Curse of an introvert. The intersnacks allows me to converse with people without having to put too much effort or energy in. :) Also, I have so many imoportant things to do.

I love taking photos. I am saving up for a nicer camera! :)

Gillie1 said...

For me blogging is almost a secret addiction, a habit I've tried to chuck but can't. I've given up several times. I tell myself I have a job to do (duh it's supposed to be writing) I don't have time to blog. I tell myself I don't want myself all over the net. Aagh how thick can I be? Reasons to blog:
I enjoy writing
I want to earn a living by writing so I darn well need the practice.
I want people to see what I write and they sure as heck aren't going to huddle around my laptop to read my work.
I write alone at home during the day, it's rather nice to "talk" to other people!
So after giving up in September, I'm back again. I can't stay away!

Exmoorjane said...

@Sally - well, I met you through blogging - nuff said! And one day I WILL come to stay... :)

@Kelly - watch it, you're catching something off of Tyson. :)

@Janet - oh the discipline! I'm impressed. There are some blogs I just treats.

@Victoria -that's great news. Good luck with the book. :)

@Thinking - yup, as I said in an earlier comment, I missed out the people bit...important.

@Kathryn - oh dear...not always entirely sure why I blog at all. I'll try to think about it. :)

@Emma - yes! Not to have an editor breathing down one's neck. Actually, the more I look at these comments I wonder if it's the journos who enjoy blogging the most...maybe it's not such a good thing for the natural novelists and poets?

@Tee - Yes, EXACTLY! I find people exhausting in the flesh, so to speak...though I'd make a few honourable exceptions. :) I had a nice camera once - it got purloined. :(

Exmoorjane said...

@Gillie - you snuck in while I was typing... :) Blogging used to be a secret vice of mine too.. my husband used to roll his eyes and go 'Oh, right, blogging AGAIN...' So I got him to start his own and now he's the one who's addicted. :)

Adventures of a Middle-aged Matron said...

Interesting issue. I began blogging because a careers advisor I was interviewing for a newspaper article said I needed a website to market myself for the imminent day when newsprint is extinct. And I wondered what on earth I should put on such a website since I have no expertise in a subject that isn't already blogged about far more proficiently than I could manage. So I decided on a personal blog and soon found it addictive because, as you say, writing without a commission or a word count or an editor or a deadline, is liberating. And 10 comments on this personal effort from bloggers is somehow far more thrilling than 40 comments from online Guardian readers. I've long since abandoned the idea of a professional motivation and now blog almost as a form of non-professional self-validation.

Anonymous said...

I get what you're saying and agree with everything, but I can also see the point of view that it's consuming. Sometimes I sit in front of the screen, taking way longer than 30 minutes to compose less than 500 words. It's insane. But that's a personal issue. Seasoned writers would probably have no problems dashing off words in a flurry. Otherwise, I think you offer great advice about writing what moves you. Getting stuck in a rut and blogging should not be synonymous.

Michele Brenton aka banana_the_poet said...

No. There is no should about it. As you say - do it if it floats your boat and stay well away from it if it doesn't.

I have LOADSA Blogs. I started with a personal blog and then left it in limbo to start my funny poetry blog, serious poetry blog, photo journal blog, recipe blog etc etc

I now keep all my plates spinning at once - some more successfully than others.

My funny poetry blog has been shortlisted for The Funniest Blog in the UK competition - which is a nice little ego boost.

But I don't understand why anyone would commit to a blog if they don't actively feel the urge and delight associated with blogging. It will simply go the same way as an adolescent diary otherwise.

We all remember starting diaries and filling them in for say three days or so and then losing them down the back of the sofa or bed or somewhere and forgetting all about them while they go off to have adventures with the dust bunnies in Lost Land...

Anonymous said...

Why did people draw pictures on cave walls?

Why do people graffiti?

Why are there carved initials on the old school desk?

Why did Jimmy Boyle paint the walls of his cell with his own shit?

maddie said...

As a journalist, I've been writing all my life. Blogging, for me at least, is very different. It's incredibly liberating. I've found my voice at last and I love it. And it's very gratifying when other people you have never met, on the other side of the world, like it too.
There is so much to write about. I live in a small village and there is always some funny story or something wonderful out there to describe. It's my love letter to my local community, if that doesn't sound too pretentious. I poke fun every now and then, but mostly at myself and those who are happy for me to do so.
My advice would be blog if you want to but don't bother if you don't. As Eddie and the Hot Rods said: Do anything you wanna do. As long as you're not hurting anyone else, why does it matter?

Anonymous said...

The thing is; there will always be someone who objects to

Perhaps soon, we will all be only able to say exactly what the law dictates we can say and this will have be born of those who bring lawsuits to others who are simply exercising their right to freedom of speech and opinion instead of developing a little self-worth themselves.

Could it be that here in UK we are on the brink of either totally anarchy or a dictatorship with Nazi SS style policing?

Dump Him Love said...

Another great post Jane. I hate the word 'should' I prefer to think I 'could' - it opens things up for me. I am not a writer but I do enjoy blogging. It may be self indulgent but hey what wrong with that? The thing that mitigates against it for me is that I can easily succumb to the idea that my posts aren't good enough a start to feel insecure. I am, however, determined to resist that. ;)

Jane Lovering said...

Well I blog because it's the one place I can be in control. In my novels my characters carry the story, in my blogs I do. Plus, it's my way of venting all the insane ideas, so they don't creep into my actual books. Today I blogged about picking bits of Flake out of one's gusset - my editor would cut that faster than light from an actually book...

Sally Shalam said...

What I love about blogging is that I don't have to run a blogpost by an editor. I can write it, choose a picture and get it up online immediately (well not quite, re-sizing pictures is not my forte). It is also a place for all the bits and pieces which populate my notebooks that won't warrant an entire newspaper article but which I want to share nonetheless.

Yes it is a bit of a time bandit - but as you rightly point out - we are writers professionally by no accident.

Anonymous said...

"Today I blogged about picking bits of Flake out of one's gusset"

I'm sure he or she would be even more horrified if they knew you fed the flakes to your pet

vegemitevix said...

From a personal perspective and let's face it that's the only perspective that really does matter when it comes to writing, I think blogging is an excellent way of keeping it real. Like you Jane, I write about pretty much anything on the blog and love the freedom of it. Also like you I could spend all day, every day blogging and if I was paid to do so, you know I think I would do that. For professional writers blogging can help flex your writing muscles, it can help you stick to deadlines, and help you to be more observant - all good when it comes to writing books. But I think the best thing about blogging is a)I can start any sentence I like with a conjunction, b)I can write about anything even unpopular things that won't sell my books, c)I get to chat with real people and d)It keeps me real.

nappy valley girl said...

Interesting topic! I feel similar to you. I have a 'day job' as a journalist, and blog as well. Guess which one I enjoy more (and for all the reasons you mention)? But I have other friends who are journalists who say to me "I can't believe you would write for free - how do you have time?". The answer is you make time. If it's fun, it's as much fun as sitting down to watch TV or taking a hot bath in the evening.

The bike shed said...

There are lots of reasons to write blogs though many supposed 'proper writers'are too snooty to see them.

I have just spent the wekend at the national writing centre Wales - with poets mostly; unpublished poets to be precise. They couldn't possibly start a blog because that would compromise the 50 copies they might sell if they ever got someone to publish their work! Meanwhile my blog had nearly 50,000 hits last year and I suspect yours had many more.

Of all the technologies that have got people writing I doubt there is any that can beat blogs for sheer numbers of people giving it a go. Meanwhile the arts council spends hundreds of thousands on courses to encourage a few creative writing types.

I want to see more creative and quality writing - it's what I do - but I don't see why blogs can't be just as good and crafted as other more 'serious' media - yours is; mine is too if I'm not falsely modest - so is, for example, Her On The Hill and many others I could mention.

And finally my blog led (in part) to 'proper' book too - comes out in October and I'll be looking for promoters!

Bluestocking Mum said...

So true, Jane, especially the bit about how blogging is a way of giving a bit of yourself. From my own experience, I agree and believe that people like that. They genuinely love people when they speak from the heart and are able to relate to them or when the blogger shows emotional vulnerability.

I've always got your blogs, and your writing.

I love blogging myself and WHEN I'm on form I blog about anything and everything - from the stuff I'm up to, to topical news and contentious issues etc etc ...

For me it's never been a self-promotion activity, although since I started taking writing more seriously and have grasped better the world of the writer in today's climate with today's issues, I appreciate the need to keep up an on-line profile whether that's through writing a regular blog, Twitter or whatever...

Hmm. That reminds me. Must blog, must blog, must blog soon... lol


Norma Murray said...

Hi Jane, I'm with you all the way. It was blogging that changed me from a wannabe to to writer.Hooray!

Jake Barton said...

These days I read more blogs than books - and I read a humungous number of books! There are blogs I look for every time I'm online, eagerly anticipating a new post. This is one of those blogs.
I've had a ludicrous amount of success as a writer in the past year; sold thousands of books a month, and yet I still have four book projects laying fallow on my computer. Having achieved far more than I ever expected, I'm reluctant to push myself to get another book out; seize the moment. So many other things I want to do.
So, not a 'proper' writer, then? Evidently not. Yet, here's the strange thing: I still write for my blog. A random blizzard of output without form or structure and it may be it's because so few people read it I still keep it going. It's a means of expressing myself without undue expectation, perhaps.
Write a blog, if you want to. Why not? As a means of expression it takes some beating.

JO said...

I blog because I love it - and yes, because I love the comments. Playing with words just because I can is even more fun when it includes connecting with other people.