Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Should I Start a Blog Before Writing My Novel?

Have you found yourself wondering whether you should start writing a blog before becoming an author?

If you have, you're not alone. This is a question that comes up frequently in several online circles I'm a part of these days. And, in truth, it's not a stupid question. Far from it.

There are so many sources and so much conflict out there when it comes to this question. So many writers and would-be writers have an opinion. Unfortunately, that can leave many aspiring authors confused as to which option is best for them. While some would have us believe that blogs are a relic of the not-so-distant past, others still view blogging as the quintessential holy grail of platform building and preach that writing without blogging is doomed to failure.

It's no small wonder so many people are confused and don't know which way to turn. This, in and of itself, can spark a bout of paralysis by analysis. We all know where that leads. That's right! Zero Writing.

So, what's the answer?

If I were to lend my voice to the throng, I would argue that blogging only makes sense if it isn't distracting you from your true passion: writing. Blogging isn't just blogging, you see. There are the social aspects, growing your following, and expanding your platform. There's also design elements to take into consideration. If you really get into the weeds, you might spend your time combing through SEO keywords and arranging guest posts. There will be research to do, graphics to create, and content creation to plan.

If your passion is becoming an author and writing great fiction, perhaps focusing a lot of effort into a blog isn't the right thing to be in the top priority slot of your time table. This doesn't mean you should give up on it entirely, though. If you have the time and capacity to work on a blog after you finish your word count goals, then maybe it's worth a little extra effort.

If, however, you are planning on focusing on non-fiction books, a blog can (and probably should) be a vital part of your author toolkit and writing arsenal. Non-fiction books can contain some of your best blog posts as chapters. You can beta test your content with your regular audience and gauge how well it attracts outside traffic to give you an idea of how well it translates to a wider audience. This can help you fine-tune what you're writing and can drastically help shape your business.

Writing blogs to include in your non-fiction work can also help break the content up into bite-size pieces. This has benefits on both sides of the equation. A reader who is passionate about your subject might not have 45 minutes to pour over a thesis, but a blog post might just be the perfect length. Analyzing your web traffic statistics should help you identify the optimum post-length over time. This might vary, depending on the topic, so there are a lot of factors to consider. Either way, you have access to the web traffic data and can use it to inform your writing and make adjustments over time.

Are there exceptions?

Of course, there are always cases that defy the rule. There are fiction writers who have found blogging to be an essential part of their process and their success. These people seem to have no problem with social networking and forming lasting relationships with strangers. Or perhaps they have a terrible time interfacing with other people but have somehow made it work. Either way, these authors have juggled writing their novels and running a successful blog.

Likewise, there are countless non-fiction writers in the world who have never blogged and are unlikely to ever do so.

Blogging does not dictate success or lack thereof. It is merely a tool, an avenue of displaying your writing, your expertise, and your ability to relate to other people in this very specialized form.

My experience:

I started writing blog posts for HuntingTheMuse.com back in 2008. At first, I thought it would be a great way to reach out to other writers and pursue my dreams of becoming a successful author. It wasn't long, however, before I was consumed with all the minutia that comes along with blogging. For me, blogging wasn't a method to increase my word count. I spent so much time trying to foster relationships with other bloggers and writers and did a lot less writing. I struggled with figuring out what kind of content I should be putting out.

I had it all wrong; instead of pouring so much time into trying to build a social network, I should have been building a back-list. You may have heard this referred to as 'stocking the shelf' and it touches on something very important. Many new writers, myself included, rush into promoting their writing. Some spend loads of their capital and mental resources on self-promotion, but find themselves in what I like to call the promotion paradox. The less you have for a potential reader to sink their teeth into, the less effective your promotion efforts will be, and you stand the chance of losing those hard-earned nibbles.

Blogging isn't for everyone. Or, hey, maybe you were born to blog, but the timing isn't right. The important thing here is to avoid making the mistakes I made. Don't let your quest for blogging overshadow your real goals. If you're blogging because that's your passion, well, that's one thing. It's something entirely different if it's keeping you from doing what you're passionate about. One way of avoiding the promotion paradox is to keep writing the products your readers will enjoy. It's often been said by better writers than I that the most effective promotion you can invest in once you've finished a book is to start on the next one. If you can blog on top of that, great! But you may want to hold off on your promotional efforts until you have a sizable inventory of books or stories or what-have-you. In the meantime, you'll likely gain a slow, but steady, stream of followers who find their own way to your content. These folks will likely be your natural audience, so there's a huge bonus there.

As with all things, a level head, moderation, and steadfast goals will help illuminate the right path for you. No matter what anyone else says, the most important road to travel is your own. 

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