Walking the Line

How do I choose what to blog about? How do you choose?

I read a great post that got me thinking about this (again). Sharon Bially, who blogs at Veronica’s Nap—with a newly-published paperback novel of the same title, has a great series of posts, Promo Tips for Authors. The latest tip: Blog About Something Other Than Writing.

Sharon wrote that as writers, “the broader writing population is not necessarily your book’s target audience,” and more importantly the “…‘writing’ space in the blogosphere is saturated.” She suggests that if you blog about other things (than writing) you’re interested in, specifically promo-friendly topics in your book, you’re “far more likely to draw an audience of potential readers.”

Although I don’t yet have a book to promote, I hope to one day. And I agree with Sharon. When I started my blog, I was focused on “my platform” and getting my name out there. I thought I’d be writing primarily about words (hence the name wordsxo: love of words) and writing. But a funny thing happened as I started to blog: I wrote about everything all over the map—mostly about things important to me, but always with an eye on my audience.

Because as a writer, a journalist to be specific, that’s how I’ve been trained: to be keyed into the audience. To write with my audience in mind. For a magazine or other focused medium, this can be pretty straight forward: a hard news story about world events; a feature story on what to expect when you’re heading to a job interview or taking your child to the first day of school; a “color” story about the wonderful woman around the corner that no one ever realized accumulated millions by being frugal her whole life. For a technical manual: how to use the machine.

But for blogging? The world is our oyster. The sky’s the limit. In its original form a blog or weblog originated as an online diary. We can blog about anything and everything we might imagine.

Or so it would seem. But really? Do we really ever feel free to write what we want? Do you? I don’t. I’m still concerned.

I try not to write about controversial subjects. But is there any way to know for sure that something won’t be controversial to someone?

More, will my readers like what I write? Am I serious enough? Too funny? Or not funny enough? If I post fiction will they like it? Or not? Will I offend someone? Will I get an offensive or hurtful comment? How much is too much to share about me? About my life? My family? Will I be safe? Will I be popular? How many followers will I get?

In the end, will it sell me? My book?

The truth is there is no easy answer, and it’s a personal choice each of us makes each time we post. And me?

I walk the line every day between what I want to write and what I think others want to read.

What about you? Do you think about your audience when you write your posts? Are you concerned about offending readers? Have you ever reconsidered posting something based on how you think it might be perceived?

Cheers,

Julia


Comments

  1. Barb Riley says:

    All great questions you’ve been asking yourself (and are now asking your readers). You’re right, in that there *is* no easy answer to any of them, but one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, is that I have veered away from the original reason I decided to blog. Currently, I’m working on restructuring my blog to have certain days where I write about certain topics. That’s more for me to “get with the program” so to speak—to discipline myself to blog more regularly (which you obviously don’t have a problem with) and to blog with more focus.

    Your post is timely, though . . . I just got done reading two very helpful & informative books by Kristen Lamb: “Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer” and “We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media,” and I recommend both if you want help getting focused as an author-waiting-to-be-published. As you’ve pointed out, she discourages blogging about writing to be your sole purpose for blogging.

    I’ll be staying tuned here to see how others weigh in on this. 🙂

  2. The answer is yes and no. When I think too much about audience, I find myself struggling for things to write about, and writing to please rather than writing from my heart. At the same time, on those occasions when I write something controversial or intimately personal, I wonder who I am writing for. Who is my audience? Will I offend? If I offend, do I care? But, I don’t let these concerns censor me, although I may add a tag or a comment acknowledging that the issue is possibly controversial. Here’s the truth, if someone is going to stop reading my work because of something I said, then they aren’t going to buy my book anyway. So now I am trying to write for the audience I know I have, and not worry about a future audience. At the same time, as I tried to make the move into more commercial writing through HubPages, I am struggling because I feel I should have a specific audience in mind, and yet I don’t know who or what that is. I am more blocked then ever in some ways, but I know that all I can do is keep writing.

  3. I’ve got three blogs with three different purposes, so this is definitely an issue.

    The travel blog is pretty easy: I know a good travel story when I see one. The only time it gets a bit hazy is when I see a story I want to do that may not be “travel-oriented” enough to fit the theme. Such as a story I want to do about a soy candle company. I would only have to travel to Cortland, Ohio (30 mins away) and Cortland is not a tourist destination by any stretch.

    My screenwriting blog is fairly easy too. I decided that “Screenwriting in the Boonies” would be my place to just chart my journey as a screenwriter – and if anybody else wants to read it, that will be the icing on the cake. I currently have one loyal reader, and my blog is helping inspire her for her own screenplay, so I’m happy.

    It’s with the Fear of Writing blog that I have the big issues. As you quoted – the world of writing blogs is saturated. Plus, I have the issue of sticking to the theme of “fear of writing.” Sometimes I feel painted into a corner of my own making with that blog. And that’s when I find it hard to “think up” blog post ideas. I love it when the ideas come to me spontaneously and I can write from the passion of the moment.

    I really enjoy how your blog covers life as well as writing. Despite all your worries about what impact you’ll have on your audience, I feel I’m being fed the right mix. And I love the feeling that I never know what you’ll come up with next! :~)

    ~ Milli

  4. Pet says:

    Well, since you make questions in red, I’ll try to answer to them straight. I do not think about any audience when I write my little Posts, only about the thing I’ve decided to write about. And yes I try to avoid anything really controversial, even if what I would really like to do, I think, would be to really be controversial. So this is my sort of compromise. I write quite freely, but I avoid to go into anything too political or so.
    But you made me think, probably I shouldn’t be that careful. But art is always a compromise of sorts 🙂

  5. Nancy Kelley says:

    There is little I can say about writing that hasn’t been better said by others. I can share my personal experiences as I write my books, because no one else has those. Also, since they are about my book in particular, they’re more likely to interest my potential readers as they whet the appetite for the story I’m writing.

    This is also why I try to balance my writing posts with Jane Austen posts. I want my readers to think of me as an Austen blogger, more than a writer who blogs. Then, when my book pops up on Amazon searches, they’ll see my name and remember reading my Austen related blog posts. “Hey, I remember her… she wrote about visiting Chawton–that was a great post. Her book might be interesting.” And in the shopping cart it goes.

    Well, that’s the idea anyway. Only time will tell if it works!

  6. Such a great topic and nice to hear your thoughts on it. Blogging is strange in that its so open but we do have agendas and goals to consider. I suppose it depends on what we want our platform/brand to be and how much we want to alter it from our un-censored-selves. Sometimes I wonder what people might think about stuff I write but I don’t worry about offending them. That’s not why I write and I don’t go through life expecting people to shield me from offense. A strong reaction, even a negative one (though that’s certainly not preferred) is making people think and talk. To me, that’s why I write and read at all. It’s a completely subjective issue, maybe something we can’t definitively answer, but those are some of my thoughts.

    PS- It was SUPER foggy here yesterday and I thought of you 🙂

  7. Barb, I’m glad you can relate and understand! I’ll be looking forward to seeing how you do things on your blog — as I continue the process of thinking about my own. I appreciate the pointers to Kristen Lamb’s books (which I haven’t read); I’ll be curious to have a look at them! I’ll be interested to see what others say as well about this big question!

    Lisa, I feel the same way exactly about struggling with what to come up with when I think too much about audience, so I know what you mean. Blogging is such an interesting and different writing form and medium — so it doesn’t surprise me that as you move to HubPages you’d struggle a little; I’m sure I would too! As you say, all we can do is keep writing! (p.s. Nice to see you, and so glad you have your home Internet again!! YAY!!)

    Milli, I don’t know how you keep it all straight, Milli! Honestly, I can barely manage this one blog! I see what you mean about Fear of Writing being the big issue since it has a specific purpose. I can well imagine — there are times I paint myself into a corner by having a two-part post. The second day I feel a little panicky! Apparently I like to be free-wheeling! I so appreciate your kind and complimentary words about my blog! I’m happy that I can surprise you — I love surprises myself so it makes me happy to supply them!

  8. Pet, That’s so interesting — I hadn’t thought about the fact that art really is always a bit of a compromise…. I suppose to be purely creative is fine as long as you are willing to open yourself up and not be concerned if others accept or reject your expression. You make me think I should be MORE careful, so I think it’s funny that I make you think you should be less! 🙂

    Nancy, I suppose when you have a more specific goal or more focused purpose like you do — then it’s a different set of issues. Interesting that you think of yourself more as an Austen blogger than a writer who blogs! You are challenged by things that other bloggers might not be challenged by and vice versa. Fascinating!

    Sara, I’m so glad you weighed in! I really respect you as a blogger because you are so willing to talk about and address things that I probably wouldn’t — and as you say bloggin IS strange precisely because even if we don’t come out and say it, we all have agendas and goals (whatever they may be). I’m so happy to read YOUR blog — so refreshing for you to feel that you want people to have a reaction even if it’s a negative one so you can get people thinking. I admire you for that quality. I love the fact that in comments we can all talk to each other about these things, even if we can’t get a definitive answer! (p.s. It’s so great that you thought of me when it was foggy there!! 🙂

  9. Galit Breen says:

    I love this well rounded thinking! Our platform should lead us to an engaged audience- one that knows and likes us and feels connected to us.

    yes, some writing information is good. But mostly? People want to know *you.*

  10. It’s so difficult when we are just starting out, isn’t it? But I think your blog is taking a nice shape, Julia.
    I don’t think of myself as a ‘blogger’ per se. More of an essayist. I have no desire to ‘be on a schedule’ or blog about only one topic. I like to write about writing because the process interests me. And I lead a workshop for writers, so things that happen there inspire me to a topic occasionally. But I feel my blog, and indeed most folks blogs, are really just about the writer. I sometimes have some concern about being too personal. It is the internet, and we need to remember that…as you have reminded me on occasion. But people seem to respond to my most personal posts. So, I will continue to write them. The most important consideration for me is that I enjoy what I do. It’s not a job, so no money is involved. So I have to get some pleasure out of it, our of connecting with readers who enjoy my posts, or what’s the point?

  11. Just thought of something I wanted to add.

    Though I first found your blog because I’m a fellow writer, being a reader here at wordsxo has made me want to read the manuscripts you’re writing. This desire has arisen due to everything from Maggie’s sleuthing adventures to you writing about the weather, your childhood, messages in a bottle and more.

    I don’t know how much I count as an example of the kinds of readers you hope to attract with your platform (because of being a writer myself, so I’m interested in your blog from a writer’s perspective, which the average fiction reader may not be). All I know is that your blog has made me into a book customer who is waiting to read your books whenever they get published. :~)

  12. Galit, I think you’re so right — people really do want to know the writer behind the blog, behind the book. It’s so true that it all boils down to wanting to be liked and connected, finding a place to fit and belong. I think that perhaps the real secret is to be my authentic me. Great comment! Thank you!

    Cynthia, I know what you mean about being a blogger vs. an essayist — I think I sometimes want to walk that line as well. I know what you mean about people responding to personal posts, absolutely true. I suppose you’re right that if we don’t connect with readers there’s no point — which is about 180 degrees from where I started this thing — so thank you for your nice compliment that my blog is taking nice shape! xo Julia

    Milli, That comment certainly made my day! To think that there’s at least one reader out there waiting makes me want to redouble my efforts!! Thank you so very much for returning to leave such a lovely comment. I hope I can meet your expectations! xo Julia

  13. CMSmith says:

    Good points and questions, Julia. I do try to stay away from the really hot controversial issues. (Although I did take a big chance today and say I liked Barry Manilow. I probably lost 10 readers over that. . 🙂

    I’m not going to talk about politics if I can help it. But on the other hand, if I feel really strongly about something and am not willing to stand up for it, then I feel like a coward.

    So I may at some point write about my opposition to the death penalty, for example, with the knowledge that some of my few readers may not return.

    Also, from what I’ve read, your blog doesn’t really sell your books. It takes a lot more than that.

    I think I am just feeling my way for now. Instead of shoving my scribblings in a drawer, I now have people who read them. I like that.

  14. Lisa Ahn says:

    My “blog life” is a bit strange. I write whatever ideas come to me, but I try to tie them back to my overall focus on the “messiness” of parenting and writing. I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing — which is probably pretty clear! But I love having that space to write, and making connections with fabulous fellow writers (like you).

    As far as second thoughts go, I debated a lot about the Let it Be piece. It is a lot more serious than what I usually put out there, and I wasn’t sure how well it would go. In the end, I decided it was important to me and something I wanted to say and so I went with it.

    I guess I look at the whole blog as a learning/growing process. I’m not sure I’ll ever “get there”, whatever that means.

  15. Ann says:

    Hi Julia! As a new blogger/food “writer” I have a very specific platform! I find that my subjects are pretty easy – it’s dinner. I like trying new things and for the most part, it’s not a controversial subject.

    The biggest problem I run into is my honey bunny wants me to repeat a dish I’ve already made and I have something else planned! Blogging 5 days a week rather than 7 works well for that!

    I have to say – your blog really has a great mix of posts between talking about your writing and what I call “slice of life” posts. I subscribe via email and am literally glued to your writing….

    I think one is always concerned about offending your audience, but I suspect if you focus on that or what your audience WANTS – your writing is less true. ….make sense?

    As for Milli with three blogs – she’s a super hero! I don’t know how she does it! Keeping up with my blog is about all I can handle! How cool is she?

    You ROCK, girlfriend!

  16. CMSmith…Barry Manilow is great! 🙂

    I am so glad I stumbled on this blog. I’ve been struggling for months trying to figure out what my blogging platform should be. About writing? Another subject altogether, or what?

    During that time I’ve continued to write about whatever strikes my fancy, usually something going on in my life. Once in awhile I write about something related to writing, but mostly not.

    And so anyone reading my blog has learned about things like my jinxed septic tank, the fact that any mosquito in a ten mile radius will make a beeline for me the second I step outside, and the ‘olive’ lady at the grocery store.

    So because of you (and everyone who commented on your blog), I’m just going to keep doing what I do…and not sweat it anymore. Thanks! Kristy 🙂

  17. These are great questions and I enjoyed reading all the comments. I go back and fourth on this issue. I feel like I started my blog for me and I enjoy writing about the subjects and issues important to me. But there are times when I’m writing a post and think, “Are my readers going to like this?” I’ve come to really love all my readers and I don’t want to disappoint them either. I guess the best thing to do is be true to yourself.

  18. My own blog, I made specifically with the thought in mind that I would talk about everything. The name I chose really is a great fit for me; I always have “something to say”. Of course, since I do spend a whooooole lot of time and mental dedication on writing, that’s often what I end up blogging about. I just ramble my thoughts on something or other and at the end of the day, I am treating it exactly as an online diary. I love that people comment and want to interact with me, and I certainly claim it as my official author website (after all, nothing’s more official than straight from me). At the same time, I most often worry that I’ll just be boring to people. I seem to write fairly short blog posts, but I like that. I haven’t written about too many non-writerly subjects, but I really do love books and reading and being an author. I’ve got a small collection of finished, or half-completed blog posts saved on my computer (particularly to cover me in the next two weeks when I’m having my own writing marathon 😉 ), and several of them aren’t about writing, so maybe I won’t stay so preoccupied by the subject. Who knows!

    But rest assured, Julia, I love reading your blog and I’m happy with everything you want to talk about. You’re funny enough and serious enough and open and private enough. It’s awesome. You’re awesome. 😀

    ~Ashlee
    http://ashleesch.com
    http://theDragonsHoard.bigcartel.com

  19. Christine, Although I’m not a Barry Manilow fan, I do enjoy some of his songs….so you didn’t lose THIS reader 🙂 I also won’t talk about politics, but mostly because I avoid most potentially controversial conversations in real life, too — that said, I will stand up and disagree IRL if I feel strongly about something (the curse of the INFJ). Which may be the real issue here: I’m feeling like I’m not being true to myself… your comment made me realize that, so thank you! And why does it matter? Because like you, instead of “shoving my scribblings in a drawer,” I have someone to show them to. I like that too! xo Julia

    Lisa, I agree: the making connections with other writers is the best part (which is why I’m concerned about this…I don’t want to endanger that!) I wondered when I read Let It Be; it was clear that you felt it was important — which I loved. What’s so interesting is that I admire people who express (potentially) controversial feelings on their blogs — I’m just not able to do it myself! It definitely is a learning process!

  20. Ann, I actually thought about you when I was writing this post — thinking, “boy, that Ann….SHE has it easy, only having to write about food!!” Of course that’s not really true because I assume even food COULD be controversial, for instance I remember when you wrote about cookies, you added a caveat that you only make them once a month (and I assume you said that because your blog’s focus is cooking healthy) — if you suddenly became only fried food oriented, YOU could become controversial too! Thank you for the huge compliments, Ann, you are such a sweet & loyal reader! As for the true to myself vs. audience, I’m still figuring that out! (p.s. I LOVE the nickname Honey Bunny 😉

    Kristy, I’m so glad you stumbled on this blog, too. It’s interesting that it’s generated a lot of comments — we all must deal with this at some time or another! I am so happy that this post made you feel more comfortable with the blogging choices you’ve made. It’s so nice to meet a new blogger, and I very much appreciate your comment and hope to see you again soon! (p.s. I may need to seek out those jinxed septic tank and mosquito posts of yours — reminds me of when I wrote about someone stealing branches from my apple tree, LOL!)

  21. Leah, It’s so interesting that you started your blog for yourself and I started mine to build a platform — even though we came at this from different directions we’ve still ended up asking the same question at times! That makes me think that it’s the nature of the beast to some extent — as we sit here solitarily pounding out blog pieces for readers! As you say, I’ve also come to love my readers, and I don’t want to disappoint them — YOU — which is why I give this so much thought! Like you, I will do my best to be true to myself (while still being true to you all….)

    Ashlee, So interesting, as with Leah — you came at this from a different direction than I did, and yet you still think about whether you’re writing what will be interesting to readers. Like you, I have a collection of finished and partially finished posts — some that i decided would not be “quite right” for my blog. Thank you for the compliments on the blog, much appreciated, glad you think it’s awesome! (p.s. rest assured, your blog is never boring! and I look forward to reading your future posts, even the non-writerly subjects 😉 AND I am especially happy to hear you’re having a writing marathon! That’s awesome!!)

  22. Erika Marks says:

    Julia, I admire you and Melissa specifically because I feel as if your blogs have a true identity. In other words, they always provide a consistent and strong presence of YOU (or at least the YOU we’ve all come to know via the internet, if that makes sense? :)) I think one of the hardest things about blogging is staying true to the themes you care about. For me, I think my blog is still searching for that and maybe that’s because it’s still transitional-feeling in my mind. Whereas you and Melissa (if you can use you both as an example again!) seem so established in your subjects and your voice. It’s not easy to do, so you should be most proud of that! It makes visiting your blog that much more enjoyable because the reader always knows they will find a consistent voice, and thereby feel they “know” your blog. All great things!

  23. Erika, THANK YOU — and wait a minute while I regain my footing. I’m pretty stunned because (a) I feel like I admire your blog for the exact same reason!! It’s awesome and I definitely hear YOUR voice loud and clear! (b) to be named with Melissa (one of the bloggers I hold in the highest regard) really makes my day, thank you so much for that and (c) saying you admire me. Again, really, you absolutely made my day…. and I am very very appreciative of that, thank you! (p.s. seriously, I can’t believe you think your blog is “transitional-feeling,” I love it & it’s one of my favorites!)

  24. Hmmm, something to think about, indeed. I usually just blog about what I’m thinking about or working on…but have worried about the ‘writer’ saturation of the blogosphere, myself.

  25. I actually came from the other end of the spectrum, a place where I started a blog strictly because I loved writing, with zero knowledge about ‘blogging.’

    I have never been good at expressing myself verbally, and being an extreme introvert, I really rarely talk (no kidding). What people don’t realize though, is that quiet people doesn’t necessarily have quiet minds. In fact, at any given moment, there are so many endless streams of thoughts going through my head.

    So far, I pretty much just wrote whatever came to mind. I’m naturally a non-confrontational person, so maybe that’s why I generally don’t write about controversial topics.

    As I learn more about blogging, that’s when I start taking the ‘audience’ into consideration. But even that, more often that not, I just write whatever I feel. Hmm… now that I think about it, it could also be because I never expect others to be interested in what I wrote about. That makes it easier for me to be honest and stay true to who I am.

  26. Texas Playwright Chick! Nice to see you again! It is worrisome, isn’t it, the blogosphere saturation question…. especially when one hears that “blogging is dead.” So I think you’re on the right track, to blog about what you want to blog about — your thinking or your writing! Thanks for your comment!

    Dosweatthesmallstuff, Interesting how we all come at this from slightly different angles — it’s one of the things I love most about connecting with other bloggers! I join you in that extreme introversion category, me too. I’m ok at expressing myself one on one, but terrible in a group, so I know what you mean, and especially with the different thought streams! I know you have a wonderful following on your blog, so your honest true self is someone that others definitely connect with! Thank you so much for your comment & your visit to my blog!

  27. Julia, great topic! I do get concerned about offending readers, and I’ve deleted sentences before posting that I thought might do so. But this is actually something I’m trying to get past. While I don’t want to be antagonistic, I don’t want to worry about every little thing I write either. I’m a people pleaser though, so this is a challenge for me. 🙂

  28. Susan says:

    Yes, I do consider how I’m coming across when I write something because I don’t want to be misunderstood, but I also am brave enough to put something out there I truly believe in because, if you can’t write about what’s important to you, why write? I still struggle with coming up with topics, though.

  29. Jen, I so agree with you — I don’t want to be antagonistic but I don’t want to worry about every little thing either… it’s so hard when we really have no idea who might be reading it, isn’t it? I don’t generally consider myself a people pleaser, more of a wimp I’m afraid! 🙂

    Susan, I know what you mean about wanting to be able to write about things that are important to you–I’m the same way. I never struggle with things to write about but sometimes, once in a while, I worry I’ll offend someone (and usually with the most innocuous things!).

  30. Deb Hanrahan says:

    I try not to blog about anything controversial as well. Back in June I wrote a silly piece about our collective obsession with vampires. Well, this post turned out to be quite controversail in Russia! I found it translated and reposted on several differnt blogs followed by lively debates. I was speechless.

  31. Deb, What an amazing story about your post — that’s a prety powerful reminder to me that something I may not even view as controversial could well be to someone else. Not to mention that once we put something out there…. it’s out there and we lose all control over it! Thanks for the great comment! And especially thank you for the visit to my blog; very nice to meet you!