Blogging: What’s the Point?

I’ve been blogging for about 3 1/2 years. In that time, my site has experienced quite a bit of evolution. But for a few months now, I’ve been posting once a week on whatever comes to mind, plus a regular update for A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80).

Lately, I’ve been asking myself: What’s the point? Why am I blogging? What’s the purpose, the goal, the focus of my blog?

Some answers are fairly clear, and others more elusive.

Blogging Word Cloud
Blogging: What’s the point?

Better writing. I strongly believe that regularly writing blog posts hones your writing skills. All these blog posts have tightened my writing and helped me develop consistent output. The more I’ve written here, the better my writing overall has become.

Building community. Through blogging and commenting on others’ blogs, I have increased my involvement with the writer community. Many of those who read my blog are also writers, and I read their posts as well. (Although one frustration is not having enough time to read all the blogs I’d like.) Not surprisingly, online communication builds online interaction.

Accountability. Maybe this one is less clear, but it’s been a good one for me. There’s something about having a blog, and posting updates for ROW80, that has kept me on track. Preparing for blog posts has increased my desire to learn new things, share what I know, report progress, and publish my stories. If I zone out here, it could reflect me zoning out with my writing in general.

Outreach. This is the main goal most authors have with websites — ultimately, we’re trying to reach potential readers. And this is where I think I’ve struggled. I currently write for teens. But how many teens are reading blogs? The teens I know are on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc. They aren’t usually combing the web for 800-word posts on this, that, or the other. So how much outreach is happening on my blog? It’s a question I’ve been asking lately.

Fun. I don’t want to discount the enjoyment I get from writing blog posts, reading others’ posts, and the interaction we have. I love to write, love to laugh, love to engage. So yeah, this whole blogging thing is truly fun at times — most times. If I had no other reason, I might blog simply for the fun of it.

I’m still ruminating about the focus of my blog, the brand I want to convey, and the methods I can use to engage with others. But I don’t have hard-and-fast answers just yet. I hope you’ll share with me below why you do or don’t blog.

In the meantime, it’s time for that accountability thing — with my weekly report for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

ROW80 Update

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. My novel has sat for a full week so that I can have fresh eyes for the next edit — which begins tomorrow. Anyone want to join me beach side, where I hope to go through my novel in one sitting with the viewpoint of Jane Reader?

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I worked on one short story this past week, with good progress.

3. Read 12 books. Finished Promise of Magic by Melinda VanLone and started Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler. I’m at 11 books for the round.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Finalizing my query, polishing the novel, then following through with those who requested the manuscript. I think I’ll make it before the end of the round.

Now, why do you blog or not blog? What are the benefits to you of blogging or reading blogs? How do you engage with your community and potential audience?

I Know I Should Follow Your Blog But…

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday, where my taste tends toward juicy and crispy thoughts. You’ll have to tell me whether today’s is more juicy or crispy to you.

Last week, I wrote two days on my young adult novel. There are three reasons why my work-in-progress got so little attention:

  1. I felt much better this week (after having mono for four weeks), so I was frantically trying to catch up with household to-do’s that had fallen so deep in the cracks I needed a headlamp and a crowbar to find and pull them out.
  2. One scene started to drag. I spent some time figuring out how to ditch that rabbit trail and get on the right path.
  3. I spent hours and hours catching up with blog reading and commenting!

When I wrote my first novel, I sat alone in my house writing for 1-5 hours a day. I didn’t know what I was doing, other than I had an overall plot and had read enough books to have some idea of what worked and what didn’t. Within a few months, I had a completed first draft. Very few people had any idea that I was writing a book.

Fast forward two years plus, and I am now writing my third novel, and everybody and their cocker spaniel knows it. I have a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, two Triberr tribes, a Goodreads account, and more — with all of the fabulous friends that come with that.

I have learned so much in the past year from writer groups, conferences, craft books, and blogs. I’ve discovered excellent tools and software for plotting and writing. Thankfully, this book won’t have 23 drafts to get it right. I know something about an author’s platform. I have researched publishing options and agents. My knowledge base is better now.

All good stuff.

But I am writing far fewer hours than when it was lonely me and my laptop.

I continue to meet wonderful writers through various channels, and I think to myself so often, “Maybe I should follow their blog.” This occurs to me also because of something romance author Roni Loren covered in a fabulous post titled Enough with the Quid Pro Quo Blogging Etiquette. We often feel a sense of tit-for-tat. There are some who follow my blog whom I have not followed back (thanks, sorry, love ya). I know I’m missing some wonderful content, and I could learn even more from many authors out there.

But did I mention that I wrote on my young adult novel approximately two hours last week? That’s pitiful.

Stephen Covey’s wonderful book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has made me reconsider through the years how I am using my time. Am I setting my priorities well? In the book, he talked about how we spend our hours engaged in one of four quadrants based on whether an activity is important and urgent.

I’ve been contemplating where each of my time’s activities fit. In particular, where does blog reading fit? How important is it? How urgent is it?

Covey explains that we tend to spend little time with those things that are Important but not Urgent — for instance, going out on a date with our spouse, keeping up with discoveries in our field, visiting someone in the hospital, reading great literature, taking a class that stretches us.

When writing without a book contract or a self-publishing deadline, working on your novel is Important but not Urgent — Quadrant II. But I want to be a writer. I know the way to do that is — hello, how many times have I heard it! — to write consistently.

As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t follow everyone’s blog. I can’t even follow all of the “You MUST follow this fabulous author!” blogs. There are too many quality writers out there with something to offer, from whom I could learn, and whom I’d love to get to know.

There is one of me. Twenty-four hours in a day. One book to pitch, one book to edit, one book to finish, and about four other projects I’ve started which beg for my attention too. Not to mention family, spouse, house, etc.

I’ll keep reading blogs. I’ll click on titles that interest me when I see links flash up on my Twitter feed. I will visit the blogs of people I see on my site. I will follow interesting links in blog mashups. But I can’t read blogs all day because I am a writer. I must write.

How do you balance your desire to read interesting, entertaining, or informative blog posts and your need to accomplish other tasks? Have you found a formula that works? Do you wish you could follow more blogs, but simply can’t find the time?

Deep-Fried Friday Blog Awards & Tips

Way back on October 6, Jennette Marie Powell passed along the Versatile Blogger Award to me. I have not forgotten the kindness of her tipping her hat my way! If you have not checked out Jennette’s blog, she writes great posts on My Town Monday and has fabulous time-management tips.

This award requires sharing seven things about myself. Rather than adding more random facts about me to this blog, I have decided to share seven tips for blogging.

I‘m not a blogging or author platform expert, but a Virginia Slims advertisement from my childhood says it best:

I’ve come a long way, baby!

I’m learning as I write more and more and read others’ blogs. Here are some tips which I don’t see covered much, probably because they are minor. Sometimes, though, the small things add up.

1. Tell and show who you are. Include a bio somewhere on your blog. Many blogs have an About Me tab or box so that readers can learn a little about your background and what moves you to blog and write. Also having a photo helps readers to connect your words with an actual person.

2. Run a spell check. I have seen several misspellings on fabulous blogs. Now if you confuse “their”and “there” or leave out a word, stuff like that happens. Your blog posts need not be perfect. However, I am talking about a word like “writr” or “wrietr” where the blogger omitted a letter or inverted letters. Spell check will catch those, and it’s just one click and one minute to remedy it.

3. Cite sources. My own rule is that if the information is all over the web like silly string at a birthday party, it is general knowledge and not worth pointing to any one source. But oftentimes, bloggers research topics online and need to credit an idea, information, quotation, or picture to another source. I would be happy for someone to use information found on my blog and cite it; that might direct more traffic my way.

4. Check your links. After posting, it’s worth taking a minute or two to click through your links and make sure they work. I recently uploaded a music video that looked fine in my blog’s preview window, but when the post went live, the audio had disappeared. I’m glad I checked the broken link, or I would not have known to go back and replace it.

5. Have your links open in a new window. There are differing opinions on this one. However, I think it frustrates most readers to have to click back and forth if they want to check out a link and return to your blog. I don’t know how this is done with WordPress or Networked Blogs, but for Blogger I found an answer here.

6. Have easy-to-find buttons for RSS Feed and other social media connections. If you want readers to stalk you, make it easy for them. Don’t be shy: Wave to the paparazzi and shout, “Here I am!” If you want fun buttons, I recently found some cool ones from marketing and social media consultant Justin Parks.

7. Pay attention to legibility. Your blog should be readable. There is an author who writes quite well, and I would love to read this author’s blog. But my middle-aged eyes struggle with the busy background and bright text on top, so I rarely finish any of the posts. Perhaps it’s boring, but basic is better where text is concerned – black or gray on white or cream, like a résumé. The rest of the site can be a veritable feast of psychedelic colors and images, but legibility of text matters if your point is for people to read what you write.

Thanks again to Jennette Powell for the fabulous award!

What tips do you have for blogging? What have you learned along the way?What do you as a reader want to see in a blog? (Did I misspell anything?)

Revamping My Blog

Friday is the day I’ve been posting on the topic of fiction – talking about vampire books, classic books, celebrity writers, author franchises, and more. Not today. I have an announcement: I’m revamping my blog!

One fabulous feature of a blog is flexibility. Unlike a book, where your plot better stay on track from the prologue to page 343, you can meander a bit. It’s like taking a nature hike and seeing a trail off to the side. Are you the kind of person who thinks, “I wonder where that leads to”? Well, I am. I wondered about doing something different and decided to give it a try.

Next week, there will be a new background, a tag line, and a change to my posting schedule. I’ll be blogging twice a week – on Wednesdays and Fridays.

First, however, why do I blog at all? For me, blogging has a few purposes:

Flexes the writing muscles. I write novels. That’s my job. If the novel is a marathon, blogging is a refreshing jog around the block. Like crafting a book, blog posts require an idea, research, organization, and delivery of words on a page (okay, screen). It’s a shorter run, but it keeps me on top of writing. After all, runners run and writers write. It’s what we like to do.

A conduit for information.Through others’ blogs, I’ve discovered what’s worth a watch on TV (Tiffany A.White), fascinating true crime and paranormal stories (Catie Rhodes), social media tips (Kristen Lamb), and much, much more! When you visit my blog, I hope you learn something, get a different perspective, or refresh a memory. I like sharing information.

Helps you get to know me. I’m not that interesting of a person, and since I spend a lot of my time slamming keys on a laptop, perhaps you’d do better to hang out with Lady Gaga or Tiger Woods for a good time. However, like most readers I enjoy getting to know authors and friends better, and reading their blogs helps me to do that. So here I am, hoping that I can say something worth reading a couple of times a week.

Helps me get to know you. By tracking which posts get a lot of hits and perusing comments left on the blog, I get to know y’all. In fact, one of the best things about blogging is that it opens up an avenue for conversation. I like reading through blog comments and finding a chat between readers. It feels like a virtual coffee shop where I brought up a topic and friends weighed in one at a time. I’ll have virtual mocha latte now (I hate real coffee).

Allows me to sound off. Let’s face it: We like to say what we think. Through blogging, I can highlight topics I find interesting or lessons I’ve learned or books I’ve read. People are interesting, and what they think can be interesting. I’m talking people in general here, so maybe I’m not as entertaining as Glee or your cousin’s Cheetos-up-the-nose trick. Yet trading ideas can be a stimulating experience.

So what do I find interesting? What makes me interesting? I’ll be blogging twice a week with these themes:

Amazing Words Wednesday – Same as my usual Wednesday Words with a new title. All about words, grammar, and the fun of language! These are not posts from a cranky red-pen-gripping grammar purist (although I do enjoy proofreading). Instead, my posts have covered word wonders like Tom Swifties, The Perfect Comeback, and Tongue Twisters! A couple of weeks ago, I traced the origins of Rock Band Names. Language is cool, huh?

Deep-Fried Friday – On Fridays, I’ll be writing about whatever strikes my fancy. And by “fancy,” I mean fiction, movies, television, flashbacks to the past (like my 1980’s Quiz and my 1990’s Quiz), and other culture and people-watching topics. Why call it “Deep-Fried Friday”? Growing up in Texas, I recognize that everything is better deep-fried. Chicken fried steak, fried okra, hush puppies, fried shrimp, French fries, fried turkey for Thanksgiving, and so on. Hopefully, these Friday posts will be deep-fried thoughts – my juicy ideas with a crunchy exterior you can sink your teeth into!

Threadgills, Austin, Texas - World Famous Chicken-Fried Sirloin

What do you think? Have you chosen themes for your blog? What topics do you cover and why? What inspires you to blog?

Monday Musings: The Versatile Blogger Award

My sincerest thanks to the talented Tracey Hansen who nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award. I strongly encourage you to visit her at her blog, Tracey Hansen Will Write for Food. Tracy’s razor-sharp wit is either the stuff of brilliance or a masked cry for help. I totally vote the former! Check her out.

The rules for this award are as follows:

1.       Thank and link to the person who nominated you. 
2.       Share seven random facts about yourself.
3.       Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4.       Contact the winners to congratulate them.

Seven random facts about me:

1.   My eclectic music taste means that I have songs from Dean Martin, Nirvana, TobyMac, Martina McBride, ABBA, Olivia Newton-John, John Mellencamp, Christina Aguilera, Van Halen, and Doris Day on my MP3 player. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

2.   I have narrow feet, making it particularly hard to buy trendy shoes.

3.   The only bone I’ve ever broken is my pinkie toe.  I did have some trendy flip-flops after that incident.

4.   I’m a preacher’s daughter – along with Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Pearl S. Buck, Aretha Franklin, Jessica Simpson, Condoleezza Rice, Tori Amos, and Katy Perry.

5.   I have started a young adult novel about vampires . . . as if the world needs my offering to this genre.

6.   My children have designated me “Grammar Freak.”  I think that’s hyperbole.

7.   I have two, three, okay, four cats.  We selected two cats and brought them home, and apparently if you feed them, name them, and groom them, the two strays become yours.

Here are my 5 nominations for The Versatile Blogger Award:

Amanda Bozeman

Erin Brambilla

Keli Gwyn

Melanie Bacom

Xandra James

The Write Challenge

Tooling around on Twitter, I linked over to the Round of Words in 80 Days challenge through another writer. Aha! I thought. This is just what I need. After spending the last few weeks toting my car from one shop to another for repairs that made me wonder if a car payment wouldn’t be preferable, learning that the pipes under my house were clogged with debris and required replacement, and checking off about a billion family-related errands that needed doing but did nothing to further my writing goals, I wondered if I should be shooting for the moon with this author thing anyway.

By SMU Central University Libraries (A True Girl of the West. Uploaded by PDTillman) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But I’m a Texan. We like shooting down here. So after a minor (10 minutes maybe, an hour, no more than a half-day) pity party, I decided I needed some goals and direction so I could get busy, catch up, and see some progress. I wrote a few goals for the month of April.

But I’m the only one who would know if I met these goals.  All too often, the cluttered kitchen table clamors for attention, a girlfriend calls to chat about nothing in particular, or the thought of a pedicure sounds much more relaxing than staring down a blank page with that “it’s you or me” confrontation. And that doesn’t count the sometimes constant interruptions of family members. It’s easy to get distracted, discouraged, or downright deranged in this writing process.

A little encouragement and accountability, though, goes a long way. Ask the dieter who has an exercise buddy, the football player who has his cheering fans, the employee who has a complimentary boss. I immediately loved the idea of setting an 80-day goal and knowing that I was in a group challenge where we would be secretly and publicly giving attagirls and attaboys to the participants.

So here are my Round of Words in 80 Days goals:

1.  5,000 words per week on middle grade novel (working title: The First Time).  I thought this seemed ambitious until I counted the words I banged out in 70 minutes time, and it was 1515.  Hopefully, this is a realistic goal for me. If I keep this pace, I will finish this WIP long before the 80 days are up.

2.  If first draft finished, edit through once.  If I do indeed finish my draft, I want to go through the novel and revise it once. I typically edit several times over, but the first few trudge-throughs are the hardest. It’s particularly difficult to yank out whole passages that you like but don’t add to the story. Still, it’s necessary.

3.  Two blog entries per week. Having started this new blog, it is my intention to post on Tuesdays and Fridays . . . faithfully.

That’s it.  I have plenty of other personal goals, like keeping my toenails painted, starting to work on a tan, and seeing if my old swimsuits fit. (It’s almost 90 degrees here, and I’m itching for the beach.) But I need to keep my writing goals in mind! I’m looking forward to the 80 Days Challenge.