if you’re a fiction writer just starting to blog

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“I hope to look through my life at life.” – Maya Angelou

If you’re a fiction writer just starting to blog, you face an interesting challenge: how to pull in your right readers who have never heard of you?

The standard blogging advice is to claim your niche.

Choose a particular topic and become the expert on that topic, the go-to girl or boy for whatever it is that you’re passionate about.

It’s good advice, but authority blogging seems better suited to bloggers who actually have a service or product to sell within that particular niche. They don’t attract ideal readers so much as customers.

Which is kind of the thing about most blogging advice: it’s not really directed at you, oh Fiction Writer. Your interests and passions range across a whole inner landscape. Your area of expertise is your worldview; your service or product (I know, I feel you wincing, but for lack of a better word) is your voice.

But unless you’re already a published writer with a following, no one is going to seek you out for either of those things unless they already know you.

What you have to do as a blogger is to create value for your readers, value that’s immediately obvious – say, in a headline that gets retweeted – to reel them in. This is the point where standard blogging advice is to get inside your reader’s head and think about the problems they have and how you can help solve them: 5 ways to do this and 16 ways to do that.

Which is why some writers will blog about the craft of writing – Sean Platt and Jeff Goins being prominent examples (who do it very well). It’s their area of expertise. It offers up problems of plot, structure and platform that go well with authority blogging: witness the catchy headlines on the cover of any issue of Writer’s Digest.

The problem here is that a) people who are interested in writing are not necessarily interested in reading your kind of fiction

and b) there are sooooooooooo many writing blogs that it might be best to focus on something else in order to differentiate yourself.

Besides, as fiction writers we do wrestle with problems. They just happen to be the kind of abstract, theoretical questions (“Can love conquer all?”) that we ground in the specifics of plot and character and work out through narrative.

And as fiction writers, we have our obsessions: those questions that we’re compelled to ask again and again, entering the same theme through different doorways, like Monet and his water lilies or Degas and his dancers.

How could you take one of those questions and put it at the center of your blog?

Instead of using it as a catchall drawer for random musings, why not turn your blog into a personal quest through asking, researching and answering or exploring different aspects of that central question?

It could be spiritual, emotional, or social.

You can do what great writers, philosophers, and even social scientists have done: used themselves as their best and most original case study, a jumping off point into the universal.

Not only does that relate to your fiction, it can feed your fiction and help to inspire it.

You would have to expand your own experience and insight. You would have to take your thoughts seriously (if yourself, not so seriously). You would have to be bold enough to speak the truth as you see and feel and know it (but boldness can develop over time, with practice and experience, one baby blog post in front of another).

Lauren Cerand once made the awesome observation that social media is something you make. (“We get so hung up on the ‘social’ part, we forget about the ‘media’ part.”) If you don’t like the kind of social media that other people are making, you can make something different. You can experiment and stretch the form, stretch yourself, in ways that serve you (and your readers).

Commit to the learning curve, the process of trial and error, and who knows: as you reach out with your voice — post after post after post — you might find your real voice. As you find your readers, you might find yourself.

Aug 9, 2012
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16 comments · Add Yours

Wow! I just finished answering interview questions and one of them was “what do you want your readers to know about you.” My answer was: Even in my cozy mysteries, I can’t help but use the story to work out thoughts on things like the power of love and the human mind; the connection all living things have to each other; the fact that everything is made of energy; the possibility of parallel universes and alien life.

This post has given me an “aha!” moment! Thank you so much!

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yet another great post! you’ve helped me understand my own process better, and put words into hunches i’ve had about my own writing!

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Thank-you! Thank-you! Your post is the first I’ve seen about writers who might not want to blog about writing something I’ve been struggling with on my own blog/platform building endeavors. I’m looking forward to your posts.

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Thank you Justine, I need this post!
After thinking I wanted to be one of those ‘arty bloggers’ for sooo many years, I am now reclaiming what I really love (and myself in the process) with writing what I guess is poetry – but struggle to call it that, due to a lack of any form of training or eduction or knowledge in the field.
I am toying with the idea of recording my voice reading them as well, and creating photo art prints based on them. Trying not to think too much or too far ahead. One step at a time. But yes, I have no idea where the readers will come from! We shall see :)
mj.x

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I’ve just come back from a long walk where I considering this very thing Justine. I have an established blog on writing/publishing/book marketing that I began years ago when I was learning about that process. But now I want to focus on my fiction site which is just a a baby blog. I was wondering about what to write about there, and this central question idea is an excellent one.
For me, it is about the line between faith and science, between supernatural and rational, the edge of what we can’t quite explain yet. I’m not a Christian though which means I will walk a fine line … I shall ponder this more, but thank you. This really helped!

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Thanks for this post, it was really helpful. I am in the process of starting a blog about my fiction writing and finding out how to be read is of course an important question. I have decided to start off by writing about my process towards my draft, how I chose topics, what questions arose, and how it related to my own background. Thanks also to Joanna Penn who directed me here via Twitter.

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LOVE your take on this Justine. Too often, I hear people generalize that either EVERY writer should blog, or that ONLY nonfiction writers should blog. But there are nuances here, which you outline so well – that this is a craft unto itself; that fiction writers need to think critically about the audience they are reaching (readers, not just other writers); and how a blog can relate to one’s fiction without gutting it.

This also encourages people to find that core thread in their work – the questions you mention. The things that keep the writer up at night, but also relates to why readers get obsessed with books and authors.

Thanks so much Justine!
-Dan

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Hi Justine:

A thoughtful and well-crafted post. I struggled with this myself, as I started blogging about this time, last year. In the end, I’m not sure the blogging journey itself is not the means by which we discover the thematic elements that really matter to us. Eclectic is now so over-worked as a description of what a fiction writer is, but…it’s perhaps the best path to being worthy of reading @ all. Which is why I think so many like your blog. It is a variegated tapestry of many themes and thoughts, all worthy, all relevant.

Thanks for sharing!
Dirk

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Great thoughts, Justine! I’ve been struggling with this for some time. That’s the sort of bloggin I want to do, I just have to figure out how to get out of my own way.

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Lovely.

And about this part: “How could you take one of those questions and put it at the center of your blog?
Instead of using it as a catchall drawer for random musings, why not turn your blog into a personal quest through asking, researching and answering or exploring different aspects of that central question? ”

Your answer could apply to any specialty. To my particular science field, for example. That’s especially sweet.

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Encouraging post — thanks. I’m an (as yet) unpublished novelist and I started to blog earlier this year, largely due to your posts about blogging :-) I don’t write about writing but I do sneak my fiction in when I highlight something personal or theoretical. I wrote about having to remember the trickster in my WIP while telling great stories about my grandfather as a child. I included some old diary excerpts when writing about a character the same age as I was at the time. I write about fear and failure and faith — all things that are personal to me as well as big themes in my novel.

My future readers are unlikely to ever read my blog, since they’re middle school kids (mostly boys), but their parents might, so I’m making sure, even now, that my blog is potentially appealing. I’m writing imaginative retellings of biblical stories in a more current style (i.e. making David and Saul seem exciting for kids who are familiar with Harry Potter), so my blogging is often of a spiritual nature.

Thanks for everything you’ve said over the years about creatives and blogging: you’ve been the fire under my feet just when I need it most.

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Out of the park, Justine. Definitive and original answer to a question I’ve often seen blogged about, but never so well or in this depth.

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I do feel that I’ve had a considerably difficult time finding a target audience, since so many stumble upon me hoping for something other than nihilistic poetry (maybe shake their heads, thinking “what the fuck was that,”) and bouncing after giving every page a good combing to confirm their suspicions that focus is lacking. Since, as you said, the “focus” is kinda “human experience.” Yet in the end, if I’m only writing for stat trends, I’m probably not writing what really needs to be said.

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Hi Justine, I really appreciated your post. Using ourselves as the central jumping off point is what I’m trying to do. I’ve only been at it a few weeks.

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Very interesting article Justine. I wonder if you have any examples of the kind of blog you’re talking about?

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Great post Justine..think your unto something valuable here…

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