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Aug
19
2015

Blogging That Isn't Blah. -- by Jon Goff

Is it a blog you have, or is it just blah?  What you blog about as a writer matters, yet many new writers blog about things the average reader doesn't care about. 
 
We're writers, so it seems only natural that if we have a blog that we should blog about writing. Right? 
 
Absolutely not.  Think about it, unless you're a well known, bestselling author, people aren't going to be interested in what you have to say about a field you have yet to establish yourself in.  Even if you are, the majority of the people who visit your blog aren't interested in the process. They're  interested in you, your world(s), and your characters. 
 
They really don't care about how you develop characters or pacing, or where you get your ideas. Writers do, and you'll have some come to your site who are interested in those things, but most people aren't.  They came for you, so treat them like the welcome guests they are.  No one visits a friend to talk about work and how they do their job. They visit to spend time with someone they care about, and with whom they feel some sort of connection. If all you do is talk about your job, they'll stop coming.  
 
Look around, read the blogs of successful authors like Brandon Sanderson, Stephen King, James Patterson, George R. R. Martin.  Their blogs aren't about the writing process. They're about the author and the worlds and characters they create.  
So, why are you writing about writing? 
 
Well then, if we're not going to write about writing, what should we write about?  
 
The answer is simple.  They've come to learn about you and the worlds you've created, so write about everything that isn't about writing. Write about your characters. Talk about your book your stories, your world. Many of us spend a lot of time creating back story that never makes it into the book (which is as it should be), so introduce it in your blog.  Write a short story about a minor character and post it. 
 
Write about your favorite books, movies, music. Write about what's happening in your life.  Readers like to feel connected to the people who entertain them.  You don't have to open up your personal life and wear it on your sleeve. In fact, don't.  You don't want to write about deeply personal things like marital problems or drug abuse, not unless they're in your past.  But you do want to write about your experiences.  Write about a movie or book you just saw or read, not as an author, but as a reader. 
 
Share recipes. Share humorous anecdotes. Share awesome, inspirational posts from Facebook or another blog, but for the love of heaven, do not talk about writing!
 
Make a list of things that interest you, then write about them. They're coming to your site to get to know you, not learn about writing.  And if you really want to, go ahead and put a link on your page for your ruminations on the writing life. There will always be someone who might be interested, so tuck it away in a corner, easy to find, but not out where everyone who doesn't care has to step around it to get to you.  Believe it or not, you're the reason they came.  It's you they want to spend time getting to know, so talk about yourself. Most of us were raised to believe it's bad manners, but it's what your visitors want, so open up. Be warm, be generous, and be kind.  They'll love you more for it, and visit often. 
Posted by Jon Goff 19 Aug 2015 at 01:50
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Responses to this blog

Rhodes 19 Aug 2015 at 09:03  
This is good advice. For a while I kept separate blogs about writing and food, and merged them in part for this reason. But I've been neglecting to post about food. I should get back on this.

I'd ultimately like to make my blog more like my Twitter feed. It's got writing, food, beer, science, and heavy metal - all sorts of things that make me happy.
Bean60 20 Aug 2015 at 01:59  
I've known this for a long time, thanks for reiterating as I begin to set up my blog. I read writers' blogs daily who mostly talk about writing, throwing in very little about themselves. I don't feel qualified to discuss, or teach, writing. But I do think I can connect with readers, and that's what I planned to do. Thanks for the encouragement. I also planned to add more info about my characters, as you suggested. Makes me feel better to know I'm on the right track.
Bethywoo 20 Aug 2015 at 18:10  
Thanks for this good reminder, Jon
Rellrod 20 Aug 2015 at 19:22  
I like this thought, Jon.

One question: Does it make sense to talk about 'your characters, your stories, your world' if you haven't published anything yet? Does one start throwing out tantalizing details beforehand as a kind of teaser, or wait until you've got something out there that readers want to know more about?

(One can always pursue the books, movies, music, food, and whatnot in the meantime. )

Rick
Fields 24 Aug 2015 at 01:56  
Top notch advice, Jon.

Wish me luck making use of it, and thanks.
Blandcorp 25 Aug 2015 at 02:41  
May I propose this advice has limited domain of application (ie., writers' blogs)?

Let us consider Shtetl Optimized, Resonaances, Not Even Wrong, the IMMENSELY popular Overcoming Bias and sibling Less Wrong ("community blogs" now, but AFAIK started as a blog from Eliezer Yudkowski), the various Pharyngula blogs ...

If unfamiliar with those blogs, just pick 5 or so posts at random and just skim through them until you can decide if it's a "technical"/"about the job" or "personal" post. My guess is you'll quickly find most of those posts to be HIGHLY technical. There are "personal" posts on Shtetl Optimized or Less Wrong or whatever, sure, but then I can also argue those are not what the community formed around. Those are not why they came, and aren't the chief reason why they stay.

"You" are not special. "You" are uninteresting. I have enough interests, toils and troubles of my own to care about "you" ...

... unless there's something about your voice that meshes with my interests and troubles. Unless there's something about the way you articulate an issue that makes me see it anew. IF you can consistently do that then maybe I'll care about "you".

People gathered to Less Wrong/Overcoming Bias because it articulated a particular brand of worldview (Bayesian rationalism) that resonated strongly with several elements of geek (proper geek) culture. They go to Pharyngula for accessible and correct popular science. They go to Not Even Wrong because they have a layman's interest in physics and skepticism of most physics pop sci these days. They go to Resonaances because they're professional physicists. And so on.

Cheers.

Jongoff 25 Aug 2015 at 19:15  
Blandcorp, that's implied in the content, which deals specifically with writer's blogs.
Nico 25 Aug 2015 at 20:15  
To be honest, I found the post confusing.

It says not to blog about writing and that blog readers are (sic) "interested in you, your world(s), and your characters." Then in the next sentence it says they "don't care about how you develop characters or pacing, or where you get your ideas." I suppose that the word "how" alters the meaning of the sentence in some way, but not enough to make the two ideas effectively contradict each other.

If I'm gonna write about my world and characters, but not "how" I develop them or how I built and told the story around them (how I "develop characters or pacing" or where I get my ideas), then what else is left? Recipes? Humorous anecdotes? Inspirational posts from Facebook? At the site of a non-established writer?

I dunno. It just didn't add up for me.
Jongoff 25 Aug 2015 at 20:31  
Most readers aren't interested in character development. They want to know more about the world. No one really cares about how George Lucas came up with Star Wars, they want to know about the Force, the Sith, the Jedi, etc. They'll devour any detail about the world, but their eyes will glaze over when you explain that the Force is a metaphor for self empowerment and your character represents the angst of a neo Jungian gestalt in society's subconscious collective. Granted, there are a few who will be interested in the creative process, but most aren't. I promise you, if you want to attract readers (not writers) to your site, talk about the characters, not how you developed them. Tell your audience what the characters are like, give their backstory, maybe even write a short story about the characters. Talk about the world, not how you researched it for hours on Wikipedia to create an authentic medieval society. Tell them about the cultures and the people you invented, their rituals and beliefs, and their history, not how you came up with it. If you're not interesting to them as a non established writer, why do you think they'd be interested in your creative process as a non established writer?
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Nico 25 Aug 2015 at 20:46  
Quote by: Jongoff
Most readers aren't interested in character development. They want to know more about the world. No one really cares about how George Lucas came up with Star Wars, they want to know about the Force, the Sith, the Jedi, etc. They'll devour any detail about the world, but their eyes will glaze over when you explain that the Force is a metaphor for self empowerment and your character represents the angst of a neo Jungian gestalt in society's subconscious collective. Granted, there are a few who will be interested in the creative process, but most aren't. I promise you, if you want to attract readers (not writers) to your site, talk about the characters, not how you developed them. Tell your audience what the characters are like, give their backstory, maybe even write a short story about the characters. Talk about the world, not how you researched it for hours on Wikipedia to create an authentic medieval society. Tell them about the cultures and the people you invented, their rituals and beliefs, and their history, not how you came up with it. If you're not interesting to them as a non established writer, why do you think they'd be interested in your creative process as a non established writer?<br>


I think what you've said here makes more sense, more clearly, than the takeaway from the post itself. Still....


Tell them about the cultures and the people you invented, their rituals and beliefs, and their history, not how you came up with it.


That still sounds like a distinction whose subtly vanishes beyond the most superficial level. But I suppose it depends on genre and characters, themes and meanings, and the assumptions you make about why your readers are interested in the the work and in engaging with you over it — and on what is meant by "how you came up with it."

Seems to me that if the thing "you came up with it" has any (if I may) deeper meaning or substance, then the how, and the why, of your coming up with it, the inspiration, its essential contrast to the "reality" of the non-fiction world, and the rest of the fiction world, is in the DNA of the creation.
Blandcorp 26 Aug 2015 at 00:51  
Quote by: Jongoff
Blandcorp, that's implied in the content, which deals specifically with writer's blogs.


Don't mistake charity for omission. I suspect the advice in this blog post is misguided regardless of the blog topic, but I don't follow writers' blogs enough (yet) to study the social dynamics of how they get and keep their audience. From the blogs I do read, this


[People] came for you, so treat them like the welcome guests they are. No one visits a friend to talk about work and how they do their job. They visit to spend time with someone they care about, and with whom they feel some sort of connection. If all you do is talk about your job, they'll stop coming.


doesn't seem right as a general principle (and you do use it here as a general principle; in general people don't like listening to strangers talk about their job, so in particular you shouldn't do it in a writer's blog, your reasoning goes). It turns out, enough people DO care about other people's craft to give all sorts of blogs out there an audience.


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Blandcorp 26 Aug 2015 at 00:59  
Quote by: Nico
Seems to me that if the thing "you came up with it" has any (if I may) deeper meaning or substance, then the how, and the why, of your coming up with it, the inspiration, its essential contrast to the "reality" of the non-fiction world, and the rest of the fiction world, is in the DNA of the creation.


Indeed, "how you came up with it" can be a weird process with several aspects. Maybe I saw a music video and the imagery randomly clicked in certain ways, then when I thought some more about it I noticed underlying themes, then I rewrote to reinforce the themes— this kind of stuff tends to happen.

This process, usually, isn't very interesting unless its end product is interesting, I agree with Jongoff here. I think though that the good ol' argument that it's tacky for a writer to do critical essays on their own work is better here than an appeal to the culture of You. (It's tacky to self-analyse because Word of God denies freedom of interpretation and engagement of people on their own terms; and it makes the fictional veils over the themes redundant— if you wanted to write a lecture on a topic, just write that )


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Magicwandu 8 Sep 2015 at 16:50  
If you write it clearly, in an engaging voice, with a sense of humor, I think you are probably fine writing about your own writing process. Don't cleave to absolute rules when thinking about content.
Dystopianp 12 Sep 2015 at 13:10  
Yes. TY
Patrickms 20 Sep 2015 at 04:06  
I have a writer friend and she blogs about travel. Her readers started following her before her book was published because they wanted to read about her travel adventures. And they continued to follow her.
Lnewton 15 Oct 2015 at 06:57  
This post is just a confirmation of what I've been thinking and seeing over time. You're right. Readers don't care about the process, they aren't writing the process, but they do want to know about the writers and the world we are in. I've decided I will be changing my blog up a bit to not have so much posting about books and the like all the time. I want to definitely begin filtering in more about me, with posts on my reviews and the like. Thank you again for sharing!

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