Friday Five-0: Blogging, WTF already?

Dear Friday Five-0:

Given that they want writers to have platforms (but there is only so much time in a day) does your group of experts suggest writing a blog or working on a second book? Or is one expected to give up everything and try and do both? I just spent a year starting and maintaining a blog. With the time I put in, I could have had a second book.

Also, as far as blog subject matter…is it strongly suggested you blog about what your book is? I write humorous memoir and fall into a unique bind. I don’t want to give my book away on a blog, yet it’s hard to get a so-called “platform” for humorous memoir, is it not? My books are about my wacky adventures and chutzpah, but I don’t want to put all that on the blog. So my blog is separate.

And, to complicate things… I am not famous yet! I just carry on as if I am.

Last, but not least…as far as the amount of followers you have on a blog, should the amount be shown if it’s not a big number? I am told people who do read my blog really love it. But, it’s so hard to get people to actually hit “follow.” So, if you are on my blog, it says I have 80 followers. Of course, I have more than that actually reading it. So, do I take that widget which says how many followers I have, out, or keep it there?


* * *

Dear Renee,

Greetings, and congratulations on both your humorous memoir and your blog!  I'm probably the worst member of the Friday Five-0 to answer your question because I am something of a Reluctant Blogger.  Which is why I immediately pounced on it--because I've been wrestling with the same sorts of questions you asked, and confusion likes company.

what the F with all this blogging already.

Here's the story I'm sticking to:

Last summer I was on tour for my second novel, The Stormchasers, in Tornado Alley.  I had written The Stormchasers during a fever-dream two-month stint during which I lived in a motel with my characters and my black Lab, Woodrow.  I did not write a blog during that time (though I was on Facebook constantly, and in the time I spent on Facebook, I probably could have written a daily blog in addition to my second novel).  While I was on tour with The Stormchasers, which entailed getting up extra-early to email, Facebook, and Tweet, then drive 500+ miles to a new Tornado Alley location, then reading, then going to bed to do it all the next day....during this whirlwind, my agent called.

I pulled off the road where I was, which was a tiny, dusty, sunstruck town called Wheeler, TX, and parked under the one tree, near the gas station.

"Zhenna," my agent said--she is French and has a luscious James-Bond-villainess accent--"Zhenna, I am calling to tell you everyone loves, loves, loves you being out there shaking your tuchus for your book.  That is why we all love you so much. And it is so good you are on The Facebook and so forth. BUT--" and here she paused meaningfully--"you must, must, MUST blog more."

I burst into tears.

Literally, I did.  My agent, who is French but not heartless, sounded distressed and said she wished she could give me a big hug, but ALSO, blogging was the way of the future as far as promoting novels, and did I not read others' blogs? and could I not comment on them as well, and could I not cross-blog?  And could I not take some time, like maybe an hour, ONE HOUR, out of my day, and figure out what my platform was, then blog about it?

I could not, I assured her. I didn't have time to read other people's blogs. I didn't have time to read the fire safety instruction card on the back of a hotel room door.  Where was I supposed to find time to read all these blogs, of which there were millions, let alone create my own platform?  FURTHER, I wept, FURTHERMORE, I did not want to write about my personal life. As I've become a more public writer, as our lives become more permeable and accessible thanks to social media, which mostly is a wonderful thing, I have nonetheless more fiercely guarded what happens to me behind the scenes. As fascinating as I find my private dramas, I don't want to share them with the world in blog form. I did not want to write the kind of blog that was a public journal, I argued, because to me that was an oxymoron--and  besides, what material would I then have to write about?  I use my emotional experiences, once processed and refracted through the make-believe lens, for fiction!

PLUS, I wailed, if I went the other direction and wrote about the process of writing books, I'd reveal what I think of as the writer's bag of magic tricks.  When I read a book, I want to enter a world so real and complete I walk out of it with memories of that world. I don't want to be reminded there's a puppeteer behind it, somebody writing it, for goodness' sake!  Blogging about writing, while one obvious choice, was to me pulling back the curtain to reveal that Oz is really a gentle humbug from Kansas. No way.

AND, I sobbed, blogging and writing would run off the same battery, therefore depleting it.  "I can either write a blog," I threatened my agent, snuffling, "or I can write another book someday. YOU CHOOSE."

My agent listened patiently to this meltdown (maybe she put the phone down and went outside for a smoke), and finally she said, "I think you need an assistant."

I did get a part-time assistant  who was so awesome within a few months somebody lured her away to full-time work, but that's not the point. The point is:

I still haven't figured out quite what my platform as a blogger is. And I still don't blog as much as I now want to. I blog about once a week instead of daily.

And in the amount of time it took for me to write this blog post reply, I could have started my third novel.


I am no longer the Reluctant Blogger.  I am something of a Coming-To-Jesus Blogger despite--and maybe because of--the fact that I haven't crystalized the One Thing I want to write about. And maybe this is because I am interested in more than one thing? Writers tend to be passionate people whose curiosity is kaleidoscopic.  We are passionate about writing, our families, our friends, our loves, our fears, our dogs, food, social injustice, lilacs, storms, penguins, beer, humorous expression.  What I'm starting to think is--and I gladly invite media gurus to help me if I'm wrong--your readers may tune in because it's YOU writing, your voice, about your myriad interests.

This means, Renee, you're not restricted to writing about humor per se, though your readers will probably expect whatever you write to be funny (but no pressure!). Nor would you be expected, in my theory, to restrict yourself to the material in your memoir.

You must just be YOU.  If your readers come to you because of you, because they love the you in your memoir, why would they not want your perspective on what you're passionate about next? As long as you are recognizably you, and recognizably funny (because that is your fingerprint, your brand, on your writing that shows up in your memoir), you should keep your readers and entice new ones.

so there!

So much for platform.  As for the TIME this all takes, goodness.  I don't know what you've got going on in your life, but I have only this second novel to promote and a black Lab to minister to and I still, somehow, am writing this response at 10 on a Saturday night, after writing another guest blog post first and penning two blurbs.  Writers get to make their own hours, but we don't really get weekends & holidays. As of this writing, I dedicate about 3-4 hours a day to social media--it's part of my job as a professional writer, this email/ Facebook/Twitter thing, and luckily for me, I enjoy it.

The good news there is, although a writer's job is constant, it's also flexible. It bends to demand. When I start writing another book instead of bouncing on the diving board, for instance, I'll cut down on my social media time.

And this summer, when I clear my schedule and live for a while in the small Minnesota town my novels are set in, I'm going to be blogging about what it's like to be an urban girl who in Boston orders in Indian at least once a week, now living in a farm town  where there's one restaurant, and where the game we play at the restaurant is called "What Color Is The Broccoli At The Salad Bar?"

Yeah, there are Cheez-Its on the salad bar, too.

The point being, because as a writer my schedule is fluid, I can take from one area and give to another. I will be starting to write another novel (and is there anything scarier than that?). I will also be blogging on a daily basis. I'll be doing that because I'm cutting something else out.

I think the salient concept here is flexibility. As writers struggle to maintain their footing with one foot in the traditional writing/ publishing world and the other in the virtual realm, we all want a game plan that will make us feel safe and effective. How much time *should* I dedicate to writing a book? How much time *should* I give to blogging? What *should* my blog be about to attract readers?  Yet in writing, as in life, the *shoulds* so often get us into trouble. We can't always attain what we think the shoulds should be, and that makes us feel bad.

Instead of aiming for a concrete ideal, why not look at what you've got going on in the next couple of months--looking as far ahead as you can see in your headlights, as Anne LaMott would say. Do you want to start your second book? Wonderful! Go for it! Maybe you can give it x amount of time a day. also want to maintain your blog?  Terrific!  Maybe you can give it y amount of time a day. don't want to poach from your books' material for your blog...but what *are* you passionate about? What makes you you? What is it that drew your readers to your book--and your blog--and that keeps you interested enough to ponder on and write about?

Write it.

I am wishing you the best of luck with your writerly barrel-rolling as I struggle for balance on my own.  I'm waving to you from my own barrels.  And I'll check out your blog if you check out mine., meet ...

Happy blogging!



PS, does any media guru know the answer to the widget question? Methinks, if the folks reading your blog love it, that's the most important thing. But if you find the number of folks uncomfortably low, two options: 1. Hide it 'til you get more people. 2. ASK for more followers on Twitter and Facebook.  Ask nicely and honestly, and ye shall receive...but that's blog post of a different color.




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