Blogging is Such Sweet Sorrow

Tomorrow night I’m having dinner with a local author to provide her a little insight on the world of blogging and social media. Her latest memoir is coming out this summer and her publisher wants her to have a “social media platform.” She’s never blogged, never made a friend on Facebook, never read a tweet. What is she to do?

navigating the waters of social media can be rough (all photos taken yesterday with my Evo at Great Falls National Park in Virginia)

I thought of calling this post “To Blog or Not to Blog” but that Bard quote has been remixed so many times, and frankly, I thought the one above was pretty apropos. Because blogging — and all social media outreach — is sweet sorrow. It can be invigorating and it can be stultifying. It can help a writer — or a musician, or a painter, or an actor — develop her skills and grow an audience, and it can consume her time and creative energy.

I also know this is a topic of some interest to my readers. Last week I tweeted, and then included in my Creativity Tweets of the Week, a post by author Justine Musk on whether blogging for writers is a waste of time, and that prompted a lot of conversation with some of my fellow tweeps and bloggers. I plan to provide my friend that nugget of wisdom, and others (like this one and this one) to my friend, with my own observations in addition.

Let me note that while I only launched this blog in October of last year, I have been blogging regularly on various blogs since 2004, and as a former editor reminded me the other day, from 1994 to 1996 I posted short humor pieces weekly to a web site I had launched, long before the term “blog” entered the lexicon. (Now I feel tired.)

blogging is easier than what this guy's doing, however (and far less dangerous)

When I dine with my writer friend tomorrow night, I’m going to focus on blogging. She’s a writer, does daily pages, has written books and essays; I think it’s a bit easier for her to imagine writing for a blog than engaging in Facebook or Twitter. But I agree with Justine Musk’s description of these services as “microblogging,” and the lessons below apply across all social media use. So here’s my dinner presentation:

  1. Don’t blog if your heart isn’t into it. If you find after a few months of work that you’d rather carry Andy Dick’s love child than write another post, follow your heart (and stop blogging, but don’t hook up with Andy Dick). Last fall I spoke at the Future of Music Conference, and a musician panelist there said she was on Facebook because her record label made her. She had a few thousand “friends,” but she hated it. Hated having to post updates. Hated having to respond to fans’ comments. Hated spending time on the site instead of writing music. The audience was made up mostly of musicians who live and breathe social media, and they began beating the stuffing out of her in real time via Twitter on the conference’s hashtag. But I thought “No, she needs to get off Facebook now. Her fans will recognize if she isn’t willing to be ‘friends’ with them. She should focus on her music and l eave social media to those who can produce value from it.”
  2. Provide value to your readers. This point was articulated clearly by savvy bloggers at the recent AWP Conference. If you keep blogging about you, your book, your cat, your book, your husband, and oh yeah, your book, people aren’t going to come back. My friend Colleen Doran — who I met on my road trip across the U.S. interviewing creatives — gets huge traffic to her blog, so much it’s actually created an ancillary revenue stream for her through ads and donations. Colleen, a comic book illustrator and author, offers a lot of value. Every day she posts a new story-and-illustration page from her past work. She also writes short, humorous posts. Some offer advice, others links to interesting resources or odd stories, still others a contest. Now Colleen puts a lot of time into this blog, but she lives alone on a farm and works twenty hours a day. We can’t all be Colleen.
  3. Engage in conversation with your readers. Our 2.0 world is about conversation. When I blogged on public policy issues, many commenters who disagreed with my posts would ruthlessly attack me, generally preferring name-calling to substantive debate. It helped lead me to start an online campaign, iCivility, to promote civil discourse, and made me not want to engage in 2.0 conversation. But the people who visit creatives’ blogs are fantastic. They are smart, engaging, friendly, supportive. So engage with them, but in an egalitarian way. You’ll find enjoyment, learn things, and build a network of support.
  4. Avoid the hard sell. A blog is a great way to let folks know of new developments in your writing — a contract, a publication date, a reading, a book-signing. But if you keep pounding your book over visitors’ heads with post after post of excerpts or promotional quotes, they won’t come back. It’s only the SuperBowl where some watch just for the commercials. But an engaging blog with a responsive author — #2 and #3 above — can lead to book reviews, guest blog invites, speaking engagements, professional opportunities, and, yes, new readers. I discovered a great blog via Twitter — Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters — and I now retweet many of Rebecca’s tweets and blog posts. Why? Because she has insightful posts on issues I’m interested in — writing and art — and they are of interest to my Twitter followers as well. I’m now enthralled enough with Rebecca’s writing that I plan to read her first novel, The Bird Sisters, when it comes out April 12th, even though it’s not the genre I usually read.
  5. Manage your time. Oh my, do I need to remind myself of this. A lot. If I’ve learned anything after nearly eight years of blogging, it’s that it’s easy to fall down the blog rabbit hole and lose sight of your other work. After all, blogging is like an illicit drug in that you get an immediate high when you hit “publish” and then a follow-up rush every time you get a new comment. There are very few parts of a creative’s professional life that offer that kind of instant response. But a creative needs time to create, and do the other things necessary to propel his career. One example I could cite is author Erin Ergenbright, who when I visited her on my road trip was going through a creative awakening, which she linked to a brief hiatus from the online world. She had decided to foster her creativity by consciously limiting her time on her web site, on Facebook and in her email inbox.

once you learn how to navigate social media, the waters become far calmer (and metaphors cheesier)

Again, everything I’ve written here about blogging applies equally to microblogging social-media tools. I hope my thoughts are of value to my friend, but I know they will be very familiar to many of you.

So I’d love to hear your wisdom. Will blogging lead to a “winter of her discontent,” or is it “such stuff as dreams are made on”? Is there “method in the madness” of social media, or just a bunch of “pomp and circumstance”? Please share, and feel free to avoid the rather shopworn approach of appropriating Shakespeare to make your point.

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

42 Responses to “Blogging is Such Sweet Sorrow”

  1. Thanks, Patrick for this review of what creative writers face when they add blogging and social media to their daily word count.

    After seven drafts on my first novel & drafting my second, I have started a blog, Dog Leader Mysteries, to build a platform. Yes, blogging can be an instant rush. It also has taken time & thought from polishing my final draft.

    • Hi Deborah, thanks for visiting! I just checked out your blog. It’s adorable but also builds your Dog Leader Mysteries platform, and I see you are posting consistently, all good things. Best of luck with it!

      • Wow. Thanks for looking at my blog. Glad u liked it. I’ve a guest post coming up & plans to invite more writers to join me.

        Know any authors who write dog stories or books about dogs?

        I plan to post once or twice a week. Is there a best day to post to get more traffic?

        • Let me reflect on the author/dog theme and see what I come up with.

          As far as the best way to get more traffic, oy vey, that would be a series of blog posts!

          Short answer: I’d concentrate first on producing high-quality, compelling posts, so a visitor would want to return. Then tap any network you have — Twitter, Facebook, the folks at your local dog run — and have them help spread the word.

  2. I started blogging just over a year ago, thinking I would change the world.🙂
    I worked hard, posting, reading blogs and leaving comments. It went very well and it became a prison for me. These days I only post when inspired to do so. I have a few faithful readers and it’s fine.
    The key here, like with everything in life, is to follow your inner wisdom towards pleasure and creativity.🙂

    • “The key here, like with everything in life, is to follow your inner wisdom towards pleasure and creativity.”

      That’s a beautiful message, and one I’ve heard in different forms from the creatives I’ve interviewed. Thanks for sharing, and congrats on listening to yourself and finding the blogging path that’s right for you.

      • Not always easy, Patrick. The slave driver is a powerful figure. But with practice and patience, the shift from ‘work/success’ to ‘inner glow/success’ can and does happen.

  3. Great Post, Patrick. I loved your title. You couldn’t have captured the emotion more perfectly.

    I don’t consider myself a blogger deep down in the soul—I’ve got friends who were born to blog so I know what that looks like—therefore I’m not the main attraction on my blog (which takes a lot of the pressure out of it). I have a blog partner to share the work with and we host 3-4 guest bloggers each month. We hold a monthly event—the 10K Day for Writers—so that takes up another two slots on the calendar. All this means I can relax and truly enjoy myself whenever it’s my turn to post.

    I think it’s marvelous that your friend got what sounds like several books published without having to create a platform until now. (And that provides more evidence for the Promotional Cargo Cults article you linked to, which was also great reading.) Another place you could send your friend after dinner is to IBC, where Judy Clement Wall is doing a series called Asking The Expert. She’s been interviewing editors and agents to pick their brains about this very issue, so there’s some wisdom straight from the horse’s mouth.

    (See? I didn’t use Shakespeare. But I did comply with the requirement for cheesy language. ;))

    Here’s a link to one of Judy’s interviews. This one’s with literary agent Laura Strachan.

    Shy Explorer Series: Asking the Experts

    ~ Milli

    • Thanks for the comment, Milli, and for the link to Judy’s series. Just looked at the post you included. I like this from the agent, after talking about how a good platform will help you get a contract: “In the end, though, for me, it’s about the writing, not the platform. I’m looking for a compelling story that is well told, whether fiction or nonfiction.”

  4. I enjoy the part about communicating with people, and it can be a huge time suck if I’m not careful. I’m also not 100% sure I will have something to say every week. I am now in communication with other artists to arrange guest bloggers. I was originally thinking they would be in addition to my own posts, but I now think I will let them take the floor for that week, and allow myself to use that time to either develop next week’s blog, and/or do some art! 😉

  5. This is a great post. I’ve been having a lot of versions of this particular conversation with my writer friends. I totally agree about the black hole of blogging and the time it takes from other creative pursuits – but having been blogging, tweeting etc for just over a year now, the thrill of the new is wearing off and I’m finding it more manageable. Thanks for your insights.

  6. I am a freelance writer who is working on a book and started her blog for creative expression. I never once thought of it as a “platform,” but I understand how it can come to be that (if I ever finish my book).

    I do think it is important for creatives to have a social media presence IF they are trying to sell what they’ve created. Social media is the way so many communicate and network these days and if you want to build an audience, it’s necessary.

    That said, I for one have come to find how time consuming blogging, Twittering and Facebooking can be, so it’s definitely a sticky wicket that can suck your time from other creative endeavors.

    What am I saying?

    Basically — you make excellent points.

    • Welcome to the Artist’s Road, San Diego Momma. It is a “sticky wicket,” that’s a great way of putting it. It sounds like you’re finding a balance, which is great.

  7. Great post, Patrick. You illuminate the blogging question so well. I love blogging because to me it provides an immediate outlet for my natural voice. For whatever reason, blogging comes very naturally to me (maybe because I’ve been a journal writer all my life). And sometimes, when faced with a variety of things to write, it is the easiest option. I also see it as my platform, and I know from contacts with agents that they consider it vital to have a social media presence. So something that’s vital for my career + writing I love to do = no-brainer. And yet, I do have to remind myself not to always put it first! One more thing, the contact with other writers and creatives is so incredibly valuable to me, I wouldn’t give that up for the world.

  8. I can SO relate to this. I’ve contemplated starting a blog for literally a year, worried about balancing my time in creative pursuits. But, with trepidation & a slight thrill, I launched it TODAY. So, thanks for the encouragement. I love what you’re doing on your blog, too, which I’ve recently discovered.

    • That is so exciting, Michelle! From what I can see in your first post, you’re off to a strong start, and have already seen how many, many web posts there are on the subject!🙂 I’ve subscribed and look forward to reading more on The Creative Spark.

  9. Thanks, very timely for me anyway. I have been having this debate or conversation with myself. The reason I want to write is to think about big ideas and yet I struggle to find a “niche” of things I care to write about and a voice where I can talk about what I care about. We aren’t supposed to write diary entries but say something useful given our readers interests but I struggle to know what that is.

    • Hi Suzanne,

      I think you laid out the big challenges: 1) What do I want to write about? 2) What is the “take” I bring to that topic? 3) How will it be of value to my readers?

      I guess I’d just channel writing instructors who say you need to write — with quality — what you are passionate about. Others will value your writing for its passion, even if they’re not immediately drawn to your topic.

      I see on your site that you are developing a tango musical. If I came across a well-written post providing insight on that process, I’d be hooked, because I’d be learning about something of which I know nothing!

  10. These are good tips and thoughts. I think your friend will benefit from this knowledge, but really it’s up to whether she likes social media or not–well, more like whether she can tolerate social media, really.

    Honestly, sometimes I get caught up in the blogging high, wanting to leave comment after comment and see if it leads to traffic or maybe even a sale or two (which hasn’t happened yet, but I’m stubbornly optimistic).

    • Our dinner went well. She’s pretty excited, has already started playing around with some potential posts.

      They say it’s all about being out there and open to possibility. You and I are open to it!🙂

      • See, the excitement part is the best. It’s like Christmas but every day, so long as you’re motivated, haha. That’s the tough one.

        I’m very open to possibility. I think all writers should be because how we’re going to make a living off of books is going to change. Possibilities are now much more varied and, well, creative. Can you say hell yes?

        I think so.

  11. Thank you for this. I’m gearing up to launch a blog, and indeed, it is consuming all of my creative energy & it’s not even out there yet! I need to find a way to compartmentalize & manage my time. I would appreciate any tips in that regard. Thank you.

    • One thing I advise would-be bloggers is to not necessarily view it as an entirely new enterprise. If you build it as a component of what you’re already doing in your life — professionally, creatively — the blog becomes a value-add, with the work put into it serving multiple ends. The same goes with writing posts. Many bloggers repurpose and update old insights/pieces they’ve written and place them anew on a blog, reaching a new audience without having to be written from scratch.

  12. I started out as a reluctant blogger. My writing friends encouraged me to do it and my first few attempts weren’t so interesting. I think I’ve finally realized I need to be myself, offer something to my readers, and improve my writing in the process.
    This was a great post. Gotta share with some friends.🙂 Thanks.

    • Thank you, Diana, for visiting and for sharing the word on this post! I think blogging is like writing — they always say if you don’t enjoy your own writing you can’t expect anyone else to, so yes, be yourself, and yes, offer that value!

  13. You make great points for her to consider; I think she’ll only know if she tries it though. She obviously has the talent so content won’t be the issue, writing in “public” will be the decisive factor I think> Is writing a solitary quest for her or does she like to be part of a group effort, that will probably be the deciding factor.

    The draw for me is layered and complex: it’s one part narcissistic, one part voyeuristic and one part analyst’ couch. I tend to see twitter and facebook as support tools for blogs, websites or businesses rather than medium to themselves. There’s so much noise in the Twitter space (Charlie Sheen et al.) that it almost seems wrong to expose your serious intentions on there.

    Anyways, that’s my two cents worth of opinion using up a dollar of comment space.

    • I met with her yesterday and she’s started to write some “sample” posts. She’s going to share them with me this week for me to critique. I think this is a good start for her, but I want her to soon view the Internet as her writer’s workshop, and get feedback there. I’ve also told her not to focus too much on blog promotion at first, just take time to find her rhythm and voice in this new (for her) publishing format.

      That’s a good insight on Twitter and Facebook. They are valuable promotional tools, when used correctly (they often aren’t). I’ve been surprised to find, however, after a few months on Twitter, that it’s a great way to build a network of encouragement and support, with that support channeled through both Twitter and our respective blogs.

      Ultimately, too much focus is placed on the medium — Twitter, Facebook — and not enough on the message. Before Twitter there was email, before email phones, before phones telegraphs, before telegraphs letters, but they all did the same thing — convey communications.

  14. What a wonderful post from a wonderfully supportive man🙂

  15. Patrick, thanks so much for keeping this conversation going. You and the writers who commented here are providing encouragement and insight to this “new to me” world of blogging.

    I liked you comment on making blogging an extension of what a writer is already doing, and also to revisit and purpose older posts.

    I have found a wealth of support in you and in other writers on the web. Sounds like an old TV show or a song “WRITERS ON THE WEB”doesn’t it?

  16. Great post. Found you via SU. I have been blogging about 15 months now and have only just got to the point where I’ve realised that I need to pull back from it a bit – it’s not my job. It is huge fun and invigorating and such an amazing way to ‘meet’ people, but it’s not my job – and it’s taking away from the time I have to write. I won’t stop, but I’ll definitely be changing my schedule.

    • Hi there! By wonderful social-media coincidence, I discovered your blog fairly recently and subscribed. I love its humor.

      I also understand how demanding blogging can be. I was talking about that recently with a communications consultant I met, and he suggested I might want to shift from 3 posts a week to 2. If I’m not mistaken, you post with even greater frequency, so I can understand wanting to scale back.

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