03 Dec

To Blog or Not To Blog?

Posted in Blog, Tips, Web

Here’s the big question: Do writers need to have a blog?  Given how publishing is going more and more digital by the minute, is it an absolute must in today’s tech-driven world?  Some experts say yes.  I say… it depends.

The way I see it, it all comes down to two questions each blogger should ask him or herself:

     • What are my goals?
     • Will blogging help me achieve those goals?

I know it sounds sort of cold and calculating to see blogging as a means to an end, but hear me out.  See, I think writers should have an idea what they want to get out of the blogging process before they jump into it.  Not only will this help them figure out if the blog is helping them meet their goals, but it will also help them shape the direction of the blog itself.  Here are a few classic blogging goals and how they affect the tone and style of a blog.

Blogging for Fun
Most people who have blogs do it because it’s fun.  After all, if you don’t love it, the project can quickly become a chore.  If you’re doing it for your own enjoyment, things like number of followers or posting schedules don’t matter too much.  The visual design of the blog is also not a big deal because you’re doing it for you, so if you like how it looks then that’s what counts.  This is a perfectly valid and noble blogging goal, and many bloggers out there do it for this reason alone.  In the end, even if your blog goals develop beyond just having fun, remember to take time to enjoy the process.

Blogging for Community
If your goal is to build a community and connect with other people through your blog, things start to shift a little.  For starters, you need to make sure your site is user-friendly.  A few months ago, I asked my sister (an e-marketing guru) to analyze my blog and suggest some changes to the interface.  I never realized it before, but little stupid things–like making sure your font is readable, or making it easy for people to click and follow your blog–can make a huge difference in terms of helping your visitors navigate their way around your site.

In addition to the look of the site, it also becomes important to engage in dialogue with your readers and other bloggers.  Blogging for community is kind of like when you find yourself in a serious relationship and suddenly you’re thinking in terms of “we” instead of “me.”  All of a sudden you go from wondering “what do I want to write” to asking “what does my audience want to read?”

Blogging for Promotion
I think when people say “writers should have a blog” this category is what they mean.  After all, writers will need to promote their books when they get published, so what better way to do that than with a blog, right?  The irony, of course, is that of all the writer blogs I read, very few of them (if any) go over the top to promote the blogger’s published work.  More often than not, the promotional stuff gets tucked in discreetly–in the sidebar or as the subject of the occasional post–but rarely does it make up more than a fraction of the blog’s overall content.

In the end, each writer will probably take an approach that combines all three to varying degrees.  It becomes something of a balancing act and depending on what you want to accomplish as a writer, you can give each of these categories more or less weight.  Also, remember that it’s perfectly OK for your goals to change over time, so don’t be afraid to allow yourself the freedom to shift gears with the blog as well.


01 Dec

Boost Your Blog: The Journey Begins

Posted in Blog, Tips, Web

As I was writing yesterday’s post on Myths about Blogging, I realized had a lot more to share on the topic than I could ever fit into one post.  I do not pretend to be a master blogger, after all, this blog has only recently come into it’s own and I’m still learning new things every day.  I have, however, picked up a couple of tips and techniques (often learning them the hard way… through trial and error).

Enter my new project: Boost Your Blog.  Over the next few days (or maybe weeks) I’ll be doing a series of posts on all things blog-related.  I might throw some twitter in there for good measure too.  My goal is to share with you some tips that have served me well with iggi&gabi.  I figure, if I can help just one person avoid the pitfalls I ran into, then this project will have been worth it.

The journey begins with a little history about how iggi&gabi came to be.
I was really late on the blogging scene.  Like, years and years late.  I remember when blogging first started, my friends would say “hey, check out my blog” and I’d say “your what?”  The idea of keeping an online journal that the whole world could see just didn’t do it for me.  (I mean, you’re talking to a girl who still keeps a pen-and-paper journal to this day, and whose hubby is under strict instructions to burn all her notebooks in the event of her death.)
It was only when I discovered the wonderful world of knitting blogs that it all started making sense to me.  At first, I read blogs to learn about knitting techniques.  (How do you block a lace shawl?  How do you knit cables without the cable needle?  Etc.)  Eventually, I grew to like certain blogs because of each blogger’s voice, and I started reading for entertainment as well as information.
At one point, I even tried my hand at a knitting blog but I quickly realized that I couldn’t knit fast enough to keep up with a daily (or even weekly) posting schedule.  My posts began humming to the tune of: “still workin’ on that sweater…” ad infinitum. Thankfully, that blog died a quick, merciful death.
Around that same time, I decided to start a blog on writing (because one blog just wasn’t enough).  I had no idea what to write about so I just did writing exercises.  Online.  For everyone to see.  I later discovered that there’s a reason writers don’t publish their exercises: because they’re usually awful.  The whole thing was an embarrassment.  Thankfully no one read it.
After two failed blog attempts, I swore off blogging altogether.  Then the MFA came along and tons of my classmates had blogs and I really, really, really wanted to be one of the cool kids, so I caved and started yet another one.  This time, things worked out better.  I even got a few comments too!  For a while I was flying high, but two problems lurked in the shadows:

  1. My blogging schedule was very erratic (“feast or famine” as my hubby calls it).
  2. The blog itself lacked focus.  I didn’t have a thread or concept to hang my hat on and I just picked topics willy-nilly.

One morning in April, I woke up early with an itch in my fingers.  I grabbed a pen and started doodling and this little guy is what came out on the page:

iggi inspired me to reboot the blog as iggi&gabi and that’s when everything started taking shape.  Suddenly, I knew what the blog was about and, more importantly, what I was about as a blogger.  Through the iggi persona I could try out ideas and take risks that I would never have attempted on my own.  I’m like the kid who blames her imaginary friend for breaking the cookie jar.  Having a partner in crime (even though he’s just lines on a page) gave me the confidence I was missing in order to navigate the blogsphere.  iggi is the heart and soul of this blog.

What about you?  How did you find yourself on this blogging journey?


30 Nov

Myths About Blogging

Posted in Blog, Tips, Web

Today my writer’s group had a discussion about online presence (in particular blogs and twitter).  Not that I’m any expert on either subject, but since I’m the only one in the group who blogs and tweets regularly, it ended up being more of a How-To session.  Even though I haven’t had this blog for more than a few months, it’s been easy to forget what it was like not to know how to navigate this world.

This morning, all the memories came roaring back and I remembered what it was like to be a newbie in the blogsphere.  I remembered all the things I used to believe about blogging and have since discovered are not necessarily the case.

Here are some blogging myths that have proved false in my own blogging experience.

• You have to be known in the blogsphere for people to read/follow your blog.  If you’re a newbie, you might as well give up because you’re just writing to the ether.  For the longest time, I thought the only person reading my blog was my mother.  No, seriously.  And the worst of it was, for about the first month or so of this blog, that was actually the case.  Even bloggers who now have thousands of followers didn’t have any when they started.  The key is to remember that we all have to start somewhere.

• You need to blog every day, even if you don’t have anything useful to say.  OK, on one hand, there is some truth to this myth because posting regularly does drive traffic to the blog.  However, from the beginning, I decided that quality of posts for my blog would always trump quantity.  I made the conscious choice that I’d rather post fewer times per week but make sure each post was up to snuff.  I figured, you all (my awesome readers) would be more likely to forgive occasional gaps in my posting than a series of lame articles.  🙂

• Bloggers are narcissists who only talk about themselves (or their kids/cats/hobbies/etc).  Good blogs are not about the blogger at all, they’re about the audience.  The key is determining the audience and then staying consistent.  iggi&gabi is about writing and creativity, so unless something relates to one or both of those topics somehow, I don’t post it.  Sure, I have snuck in some pictures of my cats now and then.  I may have even made some Brazil references or used knitting lingo from time to time.  But this blog is not about my cats, or my Brazilian family, or my obsession with knitting.  It’s about writing so unless these other topics relate to that, they’re left out.

• Blogging takes hours a day and if you start a blog, you will have no time left for writing/living.  Again, this is all about finding balance.  At first, I spent WAY too much time writing posts, reading blogs, commenting on blogs and responding to comments (OMG when I got my first comment ever I almost died!).  Bit by bit, I figured out ways to do things more efficiently.  Now, I try to write my posts during the weekend prior and schedule them to post automatically.  I’ve set up Google Reader so I can scan through and choose which blogs I want to read each day.  A lot of it has been trial and error, but slowly I am figuring out which short cuts work best for me.

• If you don’t have earth-shattering things to say, you shouldn’t have a blog.  When I first started blogging, I felt very isolated.  I felt like I was all alone at my computer, writing words and sending them out into the void.  Sure, I followed a few blogs, but was too shy to comment because I kept thinking: “Who would anyone want to hear what I have to say?”  When I finally got up the nerve to comment (and started getting lovely comments back!) I realized that the blogsphere wasn’t some big scary place as I imagined.  It was a community.  Blog posts were no longer something I had to “produce” out of nothing; they became a way for me to respond to what was happening in the world of writing.  When I started thinking of blogging as being part of a dialogue, it took the pressure off me as a writer.  After all, it’s a lot easier to join in a conversation that’s already going on, than it is to fill the void with a monologue.

What blogging myths have you discovered were not true?


24 Nov

You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

Posted in Process, Tips

Today, in honor of the worst travel day of the year, I thought I’d talk about airport security. 

In the past years, security issues have made flying home for the holidays more and more of a hassle.  Crazy X-ray machines that leave nothing to the imagination.  Pat-downs that make you wonder if you should call them in the morning.  And who knows what lies in the future of air travel.  This Thanksgiving is supposed to be the worst travel season to date and of course, the more intense the security requirements, the more travelers like to complain about it.

In light of all this insanity, I’ve come up with a method to help keep me just a little more… sane.  I’ve decided to make an art form out of getting through airport security as efficiently as I can.  As soon as I show my ID at the front of the line, I concentrate on getting all my stuff through the scanner and walking through to the other side as fast as possible.  No sense holding up the line, after all.

While waiting in line, I survey my carry-on situation so I know exactly how many plastic bins I need to grab.  Of course, before I leave home I always make sure to wear shoes that slip on and off easily.  I put my photo ID in my pocket for quick access and always hold onto my boarding pass because they might need to see it more than once.  Oh, and I make sure my quart-size plastic baggie of liquid stuff is out and ready to go so I’m not digging through my carry-on once the race starts.

While other travelers moan and groan about the long lines, I’m glad that I have that extra time to get ready.  By the time it’s my turn, I zip right through.  This past flight I made my best time, under 17 seconds from ID check to all-done on the other side.  Some people might say I’m making light of a serious situation by turning security check into a race for my personal best time, but in the end, it keeps me distracted and prevents me from getting cranky.  And no one can complain that I’m the person holding up the line at security check.

“But what does this have to do with writing?” you might be wondering.

To me, the publishing process is a lot like airport security.  Before you can soar up high, you have to jump through a lot of hoops, most of which are completely out of your control.

A lot of writers end up griping about the process because it seems to be so gosh-darn unfair, but what we really should do is make it into a game.  Have a little fun.  Make a joke or two.  After all, that’s what many very successful authors did when they were getting started and it sure seemed to work for them.  Take Stephen King, for instance: he stabbed his rejection letters through a peg on his wall until the stack got so heavy the peg broke.

We need to recognize which aspects of the process we can control and which ones we cannot.  When I travel, I try to maximize how efficiently I perform all the steps that I can control, and I’ve found that the same can be true with my writing.  I can’t control if an agent likes my work, but I can make my query and submission as strong as possible.  I can’t make a literary magazine accept my short story but I can edit the piece until it’s as good as I can make it.  I can’t guarantee that I’ll get published but I can write every day, and that’s half the battle right there.

So whether you’re waiting in line or jumping through hoops, try to remember to take things a little less seriously and have some fun.  And it never hurts to smile because sometimes those security folks will even smile back.


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