Did you ever see the movie Educating Rita? If so, maybe you’ll remember the part where Rita, played by Julie Walters, asks Dr. Bryant what assonance means. After he defines it for her and asks if she understands, she says, “Yeah, it means getting the rhyme wrong.” It’s a funny line, but it also comes early in the movie, when Rita is just starting her journey. She’ll come to understand and appreciate it later, but perhaps also at the risk of losing something essential about herself.
If you haven’t read Livia Blackburne’s blog, it’s fascinating—at least, it is to me. She’s a neuroscientist grad student who’s also a fantasy writer. I’m not a regular reader, but I probably should be, because she often has fascinating insights.
Recently, she wrote an entry on blogging as an “author platform” and started off with the line, “I think blogging is a waste of time.” A provocative opener, to be sure, and from there she talks about writers who blog and the tendency to forget who your target audience is online. While she makes some good points, I don’t think she successfully backs up her initial premise, but still it’s good reading, and it’s always good to be reminded to ask the question, who’s your audience?
Meanwhile, over at Nathan Bransford’s blog, he points out how impossible it is for a traditionally published author to know for certain whether what she’s doing in the way of promotion is successful or not, mainly because she doesn’t have access to all of the relevant performance metrics to make that determination.
So, on the one hand, remember your audience. On the other hand, you’ll never really know for certain whether what you’re doing is working.
I started blogging before I really got serious about my writing. It was 2000, and I was teaching myself HTML, and I created a website on Geocities (ugh, yes—you can stop laughing now) and coded everything by hand. Later, I found out that there was a virtual universe of other people writing about everything quotidian in their worlds, but it was all new to me. Some of them were even professional writers. I also found that it was easy to set up a domain, taught myself CSS, cobbled together some plug-ins and created my own website. By then, I had met people all around the country, some in person. The ones who were writers were an encouraging bunch, and some of them were editors as well, or knew editors, and began recommending places I should submit my work.
There’s no wrong reason to blog. If you’re doing it strictly as a promotional activity, I’ve found it gets boring after a while, and it would probably end up being the same for your readers. I’ve blogged for HTML practice, as a writing exercise, for the sense of community it fostered, and occasionally to let people know what’s happening with my writing.
And also to post adorable pictures of my pets and my boyfriend.
The social media landscape has changed considerably since then, but I find that I enjoy Alex Chee‘s tweets about politics as much as the ones about writing; likewise when Susan Orlean posts updates about her hens or sleeping out in her new treehouse. They’re writers, sure, but their interests don’t begin and end at the keyboard or the notepad, and some of it is bound to be interesting to someone, like me.
There are so many good reasons to blog, tweet, or post a Facebook update. The only reason that’s wrong is if it’s a chore, as Livia rightly points out. Don’t do it to tick off a checkbox on a list. The best reason, though, is just to share.
So, why do you blog/tweet/send smoke signals?