By Amy Lane
Quick! Think of something scintillating, interesting, hooky, and brilliant!
Give it the right words, the right inspiration, the right timing, the right zeitgeist, the right mood, the right flavor, the right shade. Make it something not too controversial or exactly controversial enough or so controversial it sets the skies ablaze with the backlash. It should be a dash of humor, a think-piece, a passionate defense, a violent attack, an informal instruction, a reasoned plea.
It needs to be 500 words, at least 750, less than a thousand, only 300, “as long as you want.” It can be about your bird, your dog, your cat, your fleas, your kids, anything but your bird/dog/cat/fleas/kids and it needs to appeal to male, female, transgender, all orientations, writers only, readers only, industry insiders, newbies with hope, seasoned professionals, those in your genre, those in other genres, those in all genre and above all, it must be able to break through to the whole rest of the world.
And you need to finish in an hour, because you’re ass-deep in writing fiction and that is, after all, what you get paid for.
Everybody reading this knows what I’m talking about--
I’m talking about blogging.
I recently did a panel at the Dreamspinner Press conference, and I felt pretty confident with almost every question—except this one.
“How do you know what to blog about? How do you think of blogging topics every day, or three days a week, or five days a week, or whenever you’re asked to blog?”
In a way, it was hilarious, because I literally can’t shut up in the blogosphere. When I was told I needed to write short blogs daily instead of long blogs three times a week, it was the easiest transition in the world. Blog tours? Guest blogging? Writing articles for RRW? Yeah—I do that all the time. (Okay, not always on time, and my deadlines for the RRW are becoming more of a guideline than a rule, really, but I do actually write something once a month.) But deadlines or not, the fact is, I can usually pull something out of my, erm, ear when asked to perform on cue.
I just never really thought about how I did that before.
And I’ll be honest: once I was asked that, I was rather afraid I’d be like Garfield the cat in the comic. I was afraid I’d never blog again.
But now that I’m not on a panel (and hello, paneling is a whole other skill set that I need to talk about soon) I’ve been making note of a few things that I actually do in order to be online to blog.
A. I know how to write an essay. I know most of us know how to write an essay, but I taught essay writing to freshmen who could barely write a sentence. I had to break it down to its most basic components, including a thesis statement, concrete detail, commentary, and conclusion. Knowing the bare bolts of an essay makes it possible to write a coherent blog post on any topic, and this is especially important when guest blogging. When you’re blogging for yourself, you’re allowed to natter ad infinitum, but when you blog for someone else, what you’re really doing is writing an essay. Which leads me to…
B. I know who my audience is. (Usually.) If I’m writing Amy’s Lane, I’m usually writing for someone who’s interested in craft. If I’m doing a guest blog post, it’s usually for someone who wants a connection to my latest book. If I’m writing a personal blog, it’s for someone who wants to be entertained. Now, my personal blog is sometimes potpourri—but I find I have the best results if I keep my craft essays in one place and my fiction explanations in another. Knowing your audience is knowing what to talk about—and that helps as well. (As proof? I sat down to write an guest blog essay, and this article popped out—so I wrote another topic for the guest blog and kept this one for Amy’s Lane.)
C. I have more than one interest. Yes, writing, craft, industry, other books—all of this is fascinating to me. But I also pay attention to everything from movies to knitting to child-raising to science shows (because I’m captive) to politics (which I keep to a minimum.) I get memes on everything from turtle sex to two-headed frogs to squirrels falling off clotheslines, and I enjoy it all. Having all of those things running through my brain gives me some great stuff to blog about, and it attracts me to other things that give me great topics to blog about, and so on and so on. The train of inspiration never stops if you allow yourself to be inspired by everything.
D. I bring my A-game to my blogging. Literary devices? Appropriate word choice? Dancing delicately around sensitive moments? I bring this to my blogging as well. My proofreading skills aren’t fabulous—I try to compensate by making the content meaningful, relevant, and well-crafted. Also, those carefully woven word tapestries give you content where you never expected content could be found.
E. I recruit proofreaders when I can. Obviously not always, but yes—I do beg, borrow, and cajole fellow writers to tell me when I’ve showcased a massive boner for the readers’ viewing pleasure. Very often those proofreaders say, “Hey, why don’t you talk about this!” And voila! Not only do I have cleaner copy, I have another blog idea!
F. I listen to music. Music, poetry, art, literature—all of it inspires us. It goes along with having more than one interest, but music is the thing that can thread through our consciousness and give us that niggling thought which will turn into the most brilliant blog topic of all time. Or, you know, it will just be waiting in your, erm, ear, when you go to pull something out of it.
Okay—so, as usually happens, as soon as I close this essay out, I’m going to remember a thousand and one other points—but that’s not the point!
The point is, blogging and writing articles is part of our jobs as fiction writers—and very often it’s pro bono work, something we do as part of our publicity package, or part of our involvement in our writing community. The most important part of coming up with a blog topic is to make it something that interests you. If you are interested, you can engage your reader and reward your host (because host generosity is important to acknowledge.) Interested people are interesting—it’s that simple.
When I was teaching, we often joked about how you could write an essay about anything—we could write an essay about spit. All we needed was a thesis, concrete details, and commentary. So:
Thesis: Spit is gross
Concrete Detail 1: Spit is slimy and unappealing
Concrete Detail 2:Spit of bacteria and digestive enzymes decomposing what you just ate.
Concrete Detail 3: Spit comes from your mouth so it was inside of you.
Concrete Detail 4: Sometimes spit mixes with phlegm, which is essentially sinus pus, which is doubly disgusting.
Conclusion: Spit is not only gross, it should remain firmly entrenched in the human mouth.
There you go—an add some commentary and you have an essay or blog post on spit, all ready to go. Do adults necessarily want to read it? Well, that’s why you need to assess your audience right there—but it does prove my point. Essay topics are out there in the aether for the taking. Be aware of your environment, your audience, your interests, and something will present itself to be pulled from your “ear” at the asking.