5 Questions to Ask Before You Blog

Today I’m giving you a sneak peek at some of the curriculum of “Writing Compelling Blog Posts,” a six-week workshop I’m leading at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, starting next Tuesday, April 17th. Unlike most classes on blogging, we won’t be discussing SEO optimization or social-media promotion. The course is, instead, a true writing workshop, in which we read and critique–all in real time–potential blog posts authored by each other.

The class is intended for experienced bloggers as well as those who have never authored a single post. Regardless of your comfort level with blogging, however, I maintain there are five questions you should always keep in mind when you blog. They are essential to ask before you begin a blog:

  1. Why am I blogging? It’s important to be honest with yourself here. Is it because you’ve been told you need a “platform” as a creative? Then that’s your answer. You won’t be able to maintain the pace if you don’t know why you’re doing it.
  2. Lots of things inspire me. Bacon, of course. But also monkeys and antique maps. Be glad monkeys make lousy cartographers, or I’d abandon The Artist’s Road and blog about nothing but mapmaking simians.

    What inspires me? Whatever it is that interests you, that is what you should blog about. You can tie your subject matter to universal themes that any reader can relate to, but trust that you’ll draw me in with the power of your passion for the subject. Conversely, if you don’t care about your topic, I won’t.

  3. How will my blog be different? You know that “elevator pitch” you’ve been told you need when you pitch your novel to an agent? If you have one for your blog–one that goes beyond “It’s by a writer and is about writing”–you’ll find it much easier to stay on course and harvest return readers.
  4. What value do I bring to my readers? It could be formal instruction. It could be shared moments of your personal life. It could be anything in between. Just remember that readers are giving you a precious gift; their time. Be sure to give back.
  5. What commitment can I truly make? I maintain that the strength of any blog is in the writing; thus, we workshop the writing in my Writer’s Center class, not SEO optimization. It takes time to write well, and you need to be honest with yourself about how much time you have to spare, and if you can maintain that pace long-term. On the plus side, you’re writing, and that counts as practicing your craft, even if you’re a fiction writer or poet.

What questions have I left out? Are some of the above more critical than others? Let’s discuss that below. I’ll be back on Friday with a follow-up post, “5 Things to Remember While You Blog.”

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About Patrick Ross

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

33 Responses to “5 Questions to Ask Before You Blog”

  1. Kate Arms-Roberts Reply April 10, 2012 at 6:33 am

    Great set of questions.

    I love the monkey and the maps.🙂

    • Thanks, Kate! That’s the latest addition to my monkey collection. My daughter received it as a birthday gift, thought it was creepy, and so it became mine.

      • Kate Arms-Roberts Reply April 10, 2012 at 2:14 pm

        I make stuffed animals from socks for all the kids in my extended family. It was monkey’s like that which inspired me initially, but what I actually make look nothing like monkeys.

  2. Mapmaking Simians needs to be copyrighted asap. What a great band name/book title! Best of luck with your workshop.

  3. Patrick, I have been looking forward to the course starting, but these questions are a great prelim! I’m printing them out now and will do some brainstorming this afternoon. Thanks!

    • How fun! You get part two of the first session of material in Friday’s post. Parts two through six are for students only. Looking forward to having you as a workshop participant!

  4. I like this. So refreshing to see you focusing on the writing – and on important *creative* questions about what it takes to hang in there with a blog long-term – rather than the usual sales yak about optimization.

    Your questions #1 and 2 gave me the warm and fuzzies. I came here thinking I might hear all the usual things I should be doing to get more traffic – SEO and social media – which I know I don’t do enough of because I’m too busy living the creative reasons that my blogs came into being in the first place. Whew. So nice to read an advice post on this topic that actually makes me feel good about myself as a blogger, and for all the right reasons. Thanks, Patrick! I bet your workshop will be pretty special. Looking forward to more pearls from it.

    • Hi, Milli! Here’s the opening of my course pitch: “What brings you back to your favorite authors? Is it the cover art, font selection, or marketing campaigns? Or is it the writing?” Use all the SEO you want to attract a visitor. If the blog doesn’t burn with your passion, why would that person return!

      Glad I gave you the “warm and fuzzies”!

  5. No SEO talk? Bravo! I think the questions you’ve posed here are critical to blog success. Sounds like your workshop is going to be awesome. I envy the attendees.

    • Thanks, Jessica! Yup, I leave the SEO talk to the incredibly many self-appointed SEO experts out there (who often don’t seem to have a lot of Twitter followers or blog readers, hmmm…).🙂

  6. Nice post, Patrick. Blogging is a commitment, not to be taken on before consideration. You offer some helpful guidelines to think about before the plunge.

    • Thank you, Sara! I know you took your time figuring out what you wanted to do with your blog before you began, and you’ve stuck with it. If only all bloggers took that approach.

  7. Great post! I wish I lived in the Bethesda area, because I would definitely join your class. The only thing I would add is that sometimes the process of blogging can help a writer figure out his or her particular niche. Blogging definitely helped me to clarify what it is I have to say to (and offer to) the world.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts Reply April 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Blogging helped me find my voice, too. Sometimes we have to dive in and see what we discover without planning everything in advance.
      A blogger I read semi-regularly is in the midst of a rather public redesign process, and I keep coming back because I like her words and she is very open about her challenges with the redesign.
      I don’t often give myself permission to put things out before they are perfect, and models like that make it easier to figure things out publicly.

  8. Good one, Patrick… we can’t be reminded of this too many times. My blog posts seem to go through a 3-part process. First draft throws down the data, then i ask myself, “Is this of value to anyone?” (your #4 and arguably the most important), After rewriting for applicability, I rewrite it again for READABILITY. I’m talking about my VOICE. Does it sound like me? If I have any readers, it might be because they like to hear my attitude, which, if it’s a bit contrary, then good…I hit “publish”. Am I wrong to think that in some small way, blogging is show business!

    • I like your approach, PJ. Inspiration, then relevance, then readability, then YOU. That is, of course, what a good essayist would do, and that’s why I’m focusing on writing. I suspect the comments here, with thoughtful writers and bloggers like you and Kate and the others above, would differ a bit from a post like this on a non-writing blog. A lot of bloggers believe in the first-draft school, where the important thing is to post immediately with raw honesty, and let it sort out from there. So if blogging is show business, we’re trying to produce a theatrical movie, and they’re trying to produce a reality TV show without the editing. I think I know which I prefer!

      • Kate Arms-Roberts Reply April 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm

        I love the movie v. reality tv show analogy. I think there’s a lot of truth in there.
        I would much rather find my small tribe and write what I care about than have a huge following of people I don’t really connect to.

  9. WOW, Patrick! No SEO chatter? And you’ve given me the joy I’ve been seeking in committing time to blogging — I am practicing my craft, writing! Also, I love the sock monkeys and yours seems to be highly intrigued by the maps. Perhaps he/she is a cartographer and you’ve just not scratched the surface of said monkey’s character yet.

    Good luck with the workshop and thanks for the great tips. Looking forward to the next installment.

  10. This post really does boil it all down in order to find your blogging purpose. Great job!

  11. Hi Patrick! This is a great post. Refreshing angle, too, coming at it from the writing side instead of the SEO side. I think a lot of writers forget that blogging is writing, too, and needs to be built as a craft just like fiction and poetry. I particularly like question 2. It’s the bloggers with vivid passions (like cartographer monkeys) that I remember most and am repeatedly drawn to. Well done! If I lived in Maryland, I would definitely check out your workshop!

    • Hi Annie! I absolutely love this: “I think a lot of writers forget that blogging is writing, too, and needs to be built as a craft just like fiction and poetry.” Well said.

      As for Q2, in my MFA I was assigned an essay by Albert Goldbarth titled Delft, that among other things detailed the life, mating and death of fleas. Wow, I wouldn’t have chosen to read that on my own, but the writing was so gripping and the author’s passion so sincere that I just went along for the ride.

  12. I think the key is utilizing what a person is passionate about in a blog and then understanding who the ideal reader would be for that passion. Then it’s a matter of providing something that audience needs, but isn’t currently getting from other sources.🙂

    Great post!

    Angela Ackerman

    • I like that analysis, Angela. It ties together a lot of the questions above. Passion and giving back.

      I’d add that, at least for me, I’ve learned not to be too prescriptive in defining who I think my audience is. I certainly have an audience in mind, but I’ve learned that other readers may find their way to me that I never would have anticipated.

  13. What fun it would be to participate in your workshop, Patrick. I especially liked your comment that “readers are giving you a precious gift; their time. Be sure to give back.” So it’s only fitting that your workshop focus on the most important part of a blog: the writing. (I’m always amazed, when it comes to websites, how easily the writing component is overlooked. My mantra: content, content, content)!

    • Thanks, Melissa! I think your blog is a good example on giving back and on Point # 2, inspiration. You have a passion for the Arizona desert and photography, and you share that passion with us, braiding it with thoughts on writing. It’s well done.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 5 Things to Remember While You Blog « The Artist's Road - April 13, 2012

    […] you’ve answered the “5 Questions to Ask Before You Blog” that I posed to you in the last post, and your blog is underway. Congratulations! Remember […]

  2. Visit These Six Blogs. Now. « The Artist's Road - May 24, 2012

    […] posted the curriculum for the first night of the six-week class here on this blog. They are “5 Questions to Ask Before You Blog,” and “5 Things to Remember While You Blog.” If you want the materials for the […]

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