The blog on blogging

On September 3, 2012, Leslie Marie wrote, …how about a post about WRITING blogs? Just a thought. I’d like to start one but have absolutely no idea what to write. I think my biggest block is just fear of some sort holding me back!

I follow only one blog, written by a former student about her unfolding experience in the Peace Corps in Moldova. Before, I’m not sure I’d ever heard of Moldova, which used to be part of the Soviet Union and  is the poorest country in Europe. Now, I know how warm and friendly people are, how education doesn’t seem to be as highly valued as it might be, how people are forced by poverty to work in other countries, leaving their children behind with other relatives, and on and on. Kerry posts irregularly but frequently, not at all some weeks, several times others. She includes photos and videos and links to articles, but mostly it’s her own fascinating (and well-written!) commentary on her experience. Interestingly, I almost never see any comments. I assume the blog is mostly read by family and friends, and they’re in touch with her in other ways.

Leslie Marie, I’m not sure if one of your fears is about finding blog readers. The way I started to build an audience was entirely accidental. I was invited to write a message for NaNoWriMo-ers and included the URL for this blog, which was pretty new. My message went live, and – boom! – I had followers. Whenever I speak at a school or a conference I give out information on my blog and website. The numbers continue to build, but slowly. In getting ready to write this post I googled “how to bring traffic to a blog” and found an interesting site. If you hope to attract a big audience, you can google, too. To start, however, you can tell everyone you know about your blog and ask them to spread the word if they like it.

I also googled “blogs about writing,” and found lists of the most popular sites, whose subscribers number in the thousands. At this moment I have 434 followers, plus, I’m sure, people who check out the site without ever signing up. The other blogs must have such visitors too. From what I read the most popular bloggers guest post on other blogs and include guest posts on theirs. They also have book giveaways. It seems that people can earn money by blogging, which I do not do – except when reading my blog causes you to buy one of my books. Some sites advertise books about writing written by other authors. If a reader clicks or buys, I’m not sure which or possibly both, the blogger gets paid (very little). I didn’t see general advertising on any of the sites I checked out, but some may carry ads and get paid for clicks that result. One of the blogs had a tab through which a visitor could hire him as a freelance blogger or writer, so that may be another source of income. The writing advice seemed useful. None of it – but I didn’t search extensively – made me sputter in outrage.

For any of you who are thinking about ways to be a writer and still eat while you establish your place in literature, blogging may be part of the picture, but you’ll have to do more research. Social media keep changing. We need to stay up to date.

I’m proud that many readers of this blog are teenagers and  that some are even younger and that some of you post comments and questions. And I’m over the moon that you’re wild about writing.

I also clicked on some of your blogs. Agnes, you haven’t kept it up, but I think your idea of a blog as a resource for homeschoolers is great. If you continue with it, please let me know and I’ll post the URL, because, as you probably know, a lot of homeschooled kids read this blog. I suspect there would also be interest from other people (such as me) in what it’s like to be homeschooled – homeschooling is entirely different from my school days.

Agnes, you have a few blogs going, each with a different purpose. That’s terrific, too. You can fool around, try one thing, then another, and another.

One kind of blog can be about yourself and your life. I checked out the blogs of some fellow kids’ book writers, too, and many of them are chronicles of their days along with insights into the sorts of people they are. A friend suggested that I do that, which in a way is making myself – and yourself – a character, because we can never present our whole selves in all our complexity. We have to decide what aspects of us we want to share. I imagine this kind of blog is similar to writing a memoir. The memoirist becomes a character, someone whose company the reader enjoys.

And this sort of a blog would be somewhat like journaling if you were writing for more than yourself. Suppose you visit your Aunt Susan and you blog about the day. Well, you want to give your reader an image of your aunt, so you write that you adore or despise her or love her for the first hour until she starts driving you crazy. You say that she wears her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and her lipstick is always fading. Is there a brand that sells faint lipstick? you wonder. (You can post photos of her, too.) When you hug her tight you’re surprised again at how thin she is under her big wool sweater. Then she starts questioning you about everything and you’re grateful for her interest until she asks about Nora, your best friend until the two of you fought last week and you really don’t want to talk about that, and you say you don’t want to discuss it and she says, “All the more reason to get it off your chest,” and you’re wishing she had lost her voice.

The point is, we want to include as much detail in our blog as we put in our fiction. Blogging is writing, after all.

This is all amusing and interesting with Aunt Susan, but suppose your thoughts are more hostile than wishing that she’d lost her voice. In your journal, to be read only by you, you might write those angry thoughts. You might let yourself be whiny and resentful. You might wonder why you’re cursed with such a nosy aunt and why she has to heat her house to ninety degrees, and why she can’t cook anything but meatloaf that tastes like shredded cardboard. That’s fine in a private journal. Ranting is one of the joys of journaling. But not in a blog. These things follow us for decades!

(One of the joys of writing fiction is that we can make a character whiny, and no one will connect the character with us.)

And remember that when you post, you are publishing. A blog is a form of e-publishing.

Now that I’ve scared you silly, I think blogging is very worth doing if you’re careful.

In addition to writing about your life in general, you can:

∙ pick a single aspect of your life to blog about, like public or private or home school or babysitting or your writing;

∙ take a journalistic approach and report on doings that interest you;

∙ blog about the news and present your own take on events;

∙ have friends write guest posts;

∙ present interviews of interesting people in your life;

∙ write a how-to, how to make pie crust from scratch, how to paint with watercolors, whatever;

∙ combine all the above.

Like Agnes, I chose to blog about a subject I know well, and my blog is a kind of how-to about writing. I’m very aware of you blog readers out there in cyberspace, so I set a tone, which I hope is friendly, encouraging, down to earth, funny. The blog does create a version of me as a character. I’m friendly, etc., in real life, too – but not always.

I aim for clarity and usefulness. I want you to be able to put my thoughts to work in your stories. If I’m ever less than clear I would welcome being told.

I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t started asking questions. I could have written about what I was grappling with week-to-week in my writing, but I wouldn’t have thought of all the topics you’ve raised. So I’m grateful. If you comment a few times I start to feel that I know you a little. E. S. Ivy, to single you out, I think of you as supremely helpful and supportive. You’re not the only one who helps, though. One of the things I love about the blog is the aid many of you give other writers against the confusion that sometimes afflicts us all.

Then there’s the frequency of your blog. If you’re collecting an audience you don’t want to disappoint them by dropping out of sight for six weeks. Some people post daily, some weekly, and some when the fancy strikes – but I don’t think bloggers in the last group are concentrating on readers. As you all know, I post weekly. If I have to skip a week I give you advance warning.

And there’s length. Some who post every day deliver short bursts. Others write lengthy daily posts; I don’t know how they find the time. I feel I want to give you your money’s worth (hah!), so my posts are substantial and I’m not satisfied until I fill two single-spaced pages and start a third (this post is exceedingly long).

Last: prompts. Naturally not every blog offers prompts, but I do, because what’s a writing blog without exercises? And I love writing them. How do I do it? Well, I consider the problem of the blog, in this case blogging itself. I’ll do it now, to demonstrate. First, what’s inside this post that I can use? Hmm… Aunt Susan! Maybe Nora, too. Where can I find conflict?

And I think about the blog topic itself, in this case blogs. What can I do with that directly? And with the possibility of trouble from exposing oneself unguardedly online?

Here goes. These are the prompts I came up with:

∙ Whether or not you actually set up an online blog, write a post for three different kinds of blogs.

∙ Write a story about your main character Madison and her Aunt Susan. Create an argument. Resolve it happily or not. Have best friend Nora come up.

∙ Madison blogs about the confrontation with Aunt Susan. She’s careful not to write anything that will hurt anyone, or so she thinks, but Nora reads the post and reads between the lines, too. Write Madison’s post and what follows from Nora. Again, resolve it happily, or not.

∙ Madison applies to a music school (or starship school or unicorn training school) she desperately wants to get into. Her audition goes brilliantly well, or so she thinks until the school rejects her. She’s furious and posts her rage on the blog, suggesting that the school’s admission policies are rigged. Write how this post changes her life.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Wow!
    Thank you SO much for mentioning me!
    I had considered stopping the homeschool blog, and in fact I did at one point. But now I am motivated again. I will start the blog again, and post it regularly this time!
    I will post the link when I get started.
    Thank you again!

  2. Just throwing this out there because I don't think it was mentioned – you can also write a blog with just random article-type things about issues or topics that interest you – not like a news blog, but just whatever you happen to be interested in at the moment, whether it be the meaning of life, the definition of love, the feasibility of time travel, or whatever. That's sort of what I try to do with my blog, though I throw lots of other things in as well. I guess you could call it an "opinion" blog.

    Also, speaking of opinions, I personally enjoy reviewer's blogs. I love reading people's opinions of books and movies, especially if they're offering an unusual take on the subject.

  3. I actually just recently started blogging myself, reading and reviewing YA books. I think the way I found my footing was by choosing a category- in my case books- and becoming part of the online community. I followed other blogs similar to mine, both on twitter and through blogger, I commented, I made friends with other bloggers. Interesting, unique posts and utilizing social media (I tweet authors when I post about their books, for example) is the best way to generate traffic, I think. Also blogging fairly regularly.

    I would love to read a blog about homeschooling! I love finding people who know a lot about something I don't. Everyone's got a unique perspective. I'm glad more people are becoming bloggers nowadays!

    Note to Gail: I mentioned Ella in my post about books and authors I'm most thankful for. I picked it because it made me love fairy tales as a kid, and taught me that children's books didn't need to be dumbed down. I remember learning the word "chicanery" because of Ella, and I read that book at least twelve years ago. So I just wanted to tell you thanks, and have a great Thanksgiving!

    I hope you keep the blog up, Agnes!

  4. One of the things I admire most about this blog is that Ms. Levine focuses on craft and teaching story. I always point it out to anyone looking for writing advice.

    I hope it's ok if I add: Be very careful & deliberate about your online presence. If you're a writer, post stories, and avoid opinions & rants.

    I'm lucky to be working for Disney right now because they saw the artwork & boards on my blog and wanted to hire me based on that. Too, right now I'm also in the unique position of recommending other artists & writers for work–and the first thing we do is look them up to see their online portfolio, which is often connected to their blog. If an artist or writer posts reviews or opinions instead of artwork or stories, that's a red flag.

    Anyways, having said that, I think of all the social medias blogs are the best b/c they focus more on creation & content.

    (thanks for letting me drop my 2¢ in the piggy 🙂

  5. This is an unrelated question, but how do you choose which character's POV to use in a scene when more than one choice could work? I know that a good way to choose the POV is by evaluating which character's experience in the scene would be the most crucial or interesting, but what if two character's POVs are that way? In the scene I'm working on right now, my two MC's are faced with the same big decision, and although their thought patterns and emotions vary, both of their experiences are quite similar. I'm not sure which to choose.
    Anyone's input is welcome.

  6. Michelle-I find that sometimes it's easier to read a book where the POV stays with just one character, so maybe you could pick whoever has the most important experiences overall, and just stick with them.

    In relation to the post, Blogger has a tool where you can see different stats on your blog, which can help with seeing numbers. Interestingly, they also show which countries your readers are from, some of which can be very surprising!

    • Thank you for the advice. I know what you mean when you say it's easier to read a single-POV book. I've read a few books where the author intentionally 'headhops' numerous times and somehow gets away with it. I don't think I'd ever write like that and I'm not sure it's the best way to go either.
      But I've also read many books where the POV changes between several characters and it ends up enriching the story.
      In my case, having more than one POV is necessary. And for the most part, I stick to only two POV's. I never change it within a scene, and when I switch scenes/POVs, it is cleary marked so as not to cause confusion.
      But thank you again for the advice. It's good to find out what other people's opinions are on things like this.

  7. Gail: could you please do a post on literary agents? I have been submitting queries, but I'm not sure how to find an agent with enough influence to submit my book to the publishers that I'd like, such as Harper Collins or Aladdin Book Publishers. Agents are skipped over and kind of sketchy in all descriptions of them and I'd like to learn just how I can find an agent who can help me get the best out of my book.

  8. Hi! This also doesn't really relate to the post, but other people were talking about POV, and I had a question somewhat related to it… kind of…
    I'm writing a novel with a goal to get it published. It's set in a fantasy land, and its in third person. However, each chapter (or half chapter or something–I don't like writing in chapters until the end of the book)the POV switches. One chapter it will be told in one person's point of view, the next minute another, while still in third person.
    How can I make each narration stand out? Both characters have very unique personalities. (okay, okay, they're not that unique, but they're different from eachother.) However, when ever I switched POVs, it seems like it could be narrated by the other.
    Does anyone have an advice?

    • Unsocialized Homeschooler, that was a problem for me too. You're looking alongside the reader into one person's head, but it's hard to switch from POV to POV.

      I find that the best way to do it is to do it casually. For instance, say you've got two main characters, both of them good, but one of them is being hunted and thinks that the person looking for her is bad. She's hiding and it switches from one person who's looking to the person who's hiding.

      The transition has to go smoothly. The searcher, James, let's say, starts out like this.

      James smashed through the bushes. "Kelsey, get out here!" He cursed and whipped around as twigs snapped and leaves crackled. There was no way he, of all people, would be able to tell if he was making the noises or if the ones he heard were Kelsey or not. "Jeez, Kelsey! Come on!"

      ((Now, the transition moves directly to Kelsey. You need to do it casually.))

      Kelsey slipped under a low branch, sweating and breathing hard. She heard his shouts muffled beneath the heavy bracken and finally found some use for all the times she'd wandered out in the woods. 'Think,' she told herself. 'Go back to the camp; find Richard and get out of her!'

      I used to have trouble, but the more I write, the easier it comes and turns out way better than I thought. Good luck!

  9. Hi Mrs. Levine, its me again.
    I loved your idea for the disney fairies, and I want to write something like it, but I am having trouble finding old (fantasy) classics that I want to explore. Any help?

  10. I don't know how much fantasy there is in the public domain (that you can base a story on without getting into trouble), but you can introduce a fantasy element into a classic, as was done with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. The most important thing, I think, is for it to be a book you know well and love. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

  11. Mrs. Levine,
    I love writing, but now I have absolutely no idea where to go, after I got my idea. None of my stories have ever gone over ten pages, and my story for Nanowrimo was thirty-three(I know this sound ridiculous) because I hate to plan. It bores the story for me. When I do 'notes' like you, my story changes completely, and I have no idea where I am, and abandon. I guess I am a but cowardly, but I get a little scared. I have tried quite a lot of methods, but I can't stick with anything, and my writing always becomes boring and emotionless and I end up hating it and getting even more frustrated.
    Do you have any way I could stop this?
    Also, I see you have no posts about what you actually do when you get an idea, or when you completely finish a book, or, in other words, 'starting'. What I mean is, what do you do, before you even have an idea? This is a different type of writers block. It is more writers wall. One that is very high with no rope. Sometimes you have no idea what direction I am supposed to being going in. (little before is not my problem right now, but was for two weeks) I have a rough idea, as I want it to be a mystery on a fairy tale (I don't want to mention which one here. Thanks for suggesting the website, it really helped, as this is sort of a mystery from a minor characters point of view.)But I am switching between two girls, who are both trying to work out different mysteries, but are actually linked to the main one of the kingdom.
    What do you do when you get scared by the overwhelming prospect of giant non existent worlds around you?

    • Oy! The book that helps me most with this kind of thing is WRITING ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BRAIN by Henriette Anne Klauser, which, I think, would be good for high school level and above, but middle school may be good too. Check with a librarian if you're not in high school yet.

      Anybody else have help to offer?

    • Hi everyone, I'm back! I haven't been on my computer since last Tuesday, and it seems like it's been forever! Goodness – I am addicted to this site! Dear me.

      Katherin Briggs – Maybe you're putting too much pressure on yourself. This is a long shot, but maybe you should sit down to write something, not your story (at least, not yet), and set out to make it ridiculous, but fun. Really fun. Like, “who cares what anyone else thinks” fun. Write something that is SUPPOSED to be bad, and have a great time doing it. Remember that this story isn’t going anywhere. You don’t have to stress. Just have fun. And if you can do that, then do it again, with a different topic. That’s how I used to write, before I finally wrote my first story. I don’t even know how many little exercises I wrote (all from prompts in Writing Magic – thanks Gail!) but after a while, I was able to write a longer story, telling myself, the whole time, “This will be terrible, but no one else will read it anyway. I’m just practicing.” Six months later, I wrote “the end.” It might be worth a try.

  12. Hello! I just wanted to pop in and tell you how much I enjoy reading your weekly posts! (I am not sure if I am subscribed through blogspot, but I read your posts on Google Reader every week.) I am currently in school full-time (student teaching!) and don't have much time to write, but I write to unwind whenever I can. It's so helpful to have a post about writing to read and chew on once a week so my writing brain doesn't get lazy from lack of use. You have been one of my favorite authors since I read Ella Enchanted 10 years ago, and I love hearing the voice behind one of my most beloved novels. Thank you for sharing!

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