I’m sure you’re no stranger to the idea that blogging is essential for writers in the early stages of their careers. Agents, editors, and other writers are often adamant that any writer worth his or her salt will have some kind of online presence.
I don’t disagree that blogging can be an excellent way to grow an audience, find a community, and get your work out there. I do think, though, that it’s important to recognize what blogging won’t do. For most of us, blogging will never be a surefire path to lasting fame and fortune. Though agents may say that they think writers should blog, few would actually sign a writer based solely on his or her website. But if blogging isn’t the golden ticket, why do it?
Building a Brand
Branding is a concept that gets tossed around a lot on the web, and for writers, it can feel a little odious. You don’t have to think of your work as a product, or force yourself into a role that doesn’t fit, but creating an identifiable presence and aesthetic for yourself can help promote your work and increase your audience. If you’re a freelance writer, for example, blogging is obviously a great way to show your skills for prospective clients. Dana Prince is a great example of a freelancer who’s turned a blog into a forum for offering advice to other writers and demonstrating her copywriting skills. Fiction writer and freelancer John Scalzi combines personal blogging with political critiques and has created a thriving online community that also allows him to promote his professional writing.
If you’re interested in blogging but unsure of what to write about or where to start, remember that your subject doesn’t matter; your enthusiasm does. Readers respond to passion, confidence, and skill—it’s up to you to find the right channel for your words.
Building an Audience
Building an audience is the most obvious—and most heavily touted—benefit of blogging regularly. Blogging allows you to reach out to other writers, promote your own work, and create or participate in a community of people who share your goals and passions. Some people are able to build careers out of blogging alone. Ally Brosh turned her hilarious personal blog, Hyperbole and a Half, into a full-time job. Seth Godin created a platform as an innovative marketer, and developed so much Web traffic that he’s now able to self-publish all of his books. Those are exceptional examples, and you may not reach a similar level of success with your own blogging. But the more you’re out there, the more you create possibilities for serendipity. You never know who might stumble across something you’ve written and want to reach out to you. And of course, your online readers are a ready-made audience for the books you’ll eventually publish.
Even writers who are quite successful use blogging as a way to reach out to their readers—Neil Gaiman offers fans witty anecdotes about his daily life, and YA writer Maureen Johnson combines funny stories and more thoughtful commentary about larger issues. Other writers create communities—for example, Writer Unboxed, a collaborative blog that combines author interviews and posts about the business and practice of fiction writing, or Forever YA, an irreverent and funny group blog focused on young adult fiction. There are as many ways to build and keep an audience as there are writers.
Building a Practice
For me, one of the most profound—and unexpected—effects of blogging has been the discipline it’s imposed on my writing practice. Like a lot of writers, I’m a terrible procrastinator, and I’m always finding excuses to keep myself from my computer. Developing an audience for my personal blog forced me to be accountable to my work. I knew people would stop reading if I stopped writing, and that proved to be the motivating force that got my butt in the chair. Blogging allowed me to have fun with my writing, without the intense pressure I often feel when I’m trying to write fiction; as importantly, blogging got me to establish an invaluable habit of writing every day.