Writing vs blogging – where should we spend our words?

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This is an interesting question that Michaela asked me recently and one I know many grapple with:

Writer or blogger – can you be both?

What Michaela was saying was: everyone has limited hours in their day and a limited number of words they can write. So where should those words go?

For me, I love writing here on my blog because it is the one place I can write purely for myself. I also consider a blog to be a very useful platform and home base for all the writing I do. And it also allows me to connect with like-minded people. That said – when it comes to choosing between writing my book, paid writing and writing here on the blog … writing on the blog does take lowest ‘priority’. But should it?

I don’t feel qualified to write a whole blog post in answer to that so I threw it out there to the experts – three published authors who all have slightly different approaches to blogging:

  1. Kerri Sackville whose writing career really took off once she started blogging and who actually landed her first book deal off the back of her blog.
  2. Allison Tait who used to blog daily but cut back last year in favour of doing more writing for her books.
  3. Kylie Ladd who doesn’t have a blog at all.

These lovely ladies took the time to provide answers to my questions on whether writers should be blogging and the concept of a blog as a platform.

1. Should all writers have a blog? If yes, why. If no, why not?

Kerri: No, not all writers need a blog. Established authors with a strong following don’t need a blog, as long as they have Twitter or a website as a way of communicating with their fans. And not all writers feel capable of writing a blog. Some writers feel that it drains the creative energy they wish to channel into their other projects. But in general, for aspiring or developing writers, blogs can be invaluable.

Allison: A few years ago, my answer on this would have been a resounding ‘yes’. But in the three years I’ve been blogging, I’ve come to realise that there are many different approaches to building a platform. For me, my blog has been the cornerstone of building an online profile, which has then brought speaking gigs and other opportunities my way. Other writers already have a healthy speaking profile, and use Twitter or Facebook to talk to their readers online. I think much depends on where you are in your career. If you’re starting out as a new writer, a blog can be a great place to build a community and thus ‘word of mouth’ about you. It is also, however, a hungry beast and finding that delicate line between blogging for blogging’s sake and blogging as part of a larger strategy can be difficult.

Kylie: Ideally, I do believe that all writers should have a blog, but only if they can keep it (a) regular and (b) interesting. I would rather just have a website and no blog rather than a blog that is only updated once every six months, which is what seems to happen to a lot of writers.

I personally don’t blog for two reasons:

  1. Time: I work 2-3 days/week as a neuropsychologist, plus have two kids who do lots of activities. I find that when I do have time for writing I am desperate to spend it on my fiction. I blogged for a year for the Child group of magazines (Sydney’s Child etc.) and am glad I did. I enjoyed the reader feedback and am still proud of some of the pieces I produced. But it wore me down, and I always felt the relentless pressure of thinking up ideas for the next blog.  Some people find that easy and can produce marvellous blogs out of teensy things, but I couldn’t.
  2. Staying fresh: I find writing fiction exhausting, I truly do. My days at home writing are much harder than my days away from home being Dr Ladd. Maybe I’m getting old, but personally I find I need to reserve my writing mojo for my books. At the end of the day, what I want to be is a novelist, and I’ve been getting more and more ruthless about that as the demands on my time in other areas have grown. I used to do quite a lot of freelance journalism, but that’s largely fallen by the wayside too… it pays far better per word than writing a novel, but after my children my novels are the things I’m proudest of in my whole life. To me, they have to come first.

2. ‘Platform’ building is all the rage these days – which should come first, book or platform?

Kerri: Ideally, platform should come first. Building a strong platform gives you a ready-made readership for your book. It is incredibly hard for unknown authors to break into the market. We all need an edge, we all need every advantage we can muster to help us stand out amongst the hundreds of new releases. And blogging can do that.

Allison: Publishers will tell you that platform needs to come before book, particularly in non-fiction. But a great book can be a platform unto itself. For fiction writers, it really all starts with the book. If the book isn’t the best it can be, all the platform in the world won’t get people talking about it.

Kylie: Probably platform these days, but to me it’s always book. No point building a huge platform if you have nothing of enduring worth to say. I would also say this differs significantly according to the type of book  – Kerri’s books are a clear example of the worth of building a platform first. I’m not sure that approach would work so well for a debut novelist though.

3. For Kerri and Al: Do you find blogging helps your writing at all? Or are your blogs simply platforms for you as writers? Or outlets?

Kerri: Initially, blogging helped my writing enormously. It taught me to write quickly, edit myself as I was going, generate ideas and so on. Now, with more paid writing gigs, and writing books, I find that I need blogging less. These days, I do it more to keep my profile up. Having said that, it’s still the only place where I can express myself without any constraints or editing, and that is a precious commodity indeed.

Allison: Blogging helped me to really hone in on my own voice, which has been great. It’s also been a great place to record different experiences and feelings, which do find their way into different parts of my writing later on. And if you’re looking to develop a writing ‘habit’, blogging can be great. It has also been detrimental in some ways though – when you’re keeping up with a blog, this sometimes means you’re putting the only 500 words you have in you that day onto the blog, not into a manuscript or some other type of writing.

4. For Kylie: Do you feel you are missing out a bit not having the connection to readers that a blog gives? Is there any pressure on you from your publisher to have a blog?

Kylie: I think they get that I can’t do everything, and they appreciate that I have a website and a presence on twitter. To them, those are just as important. I don’t feel I’m missing out at all- but then you don’t miss what you don’t have. I do feel that twitter is a great place to connect with readers and for them to share thoughts and feedback. In fact it might even be an easier place for readers to connect and say hi than a blog. Guest blogs are also a great medium for when I do have something to say, or a new book out- and again, these expose me to far more readers (I suspect) that just banging on about my book on my own blog would.

5. You are all published authors. What advice would you give to emerging writers who don’t yet have a blog or any kind of social media platform? Is having some kind of ‘fanbase’ crucial these days when an unpublished writer is trying to get a book deal?

Kerri: No, it’s not crucial. A truly sensational book will still find a publisher. However, publishing stables are limited, and, all things being equal, a publisher will choose an author with a fanbase over a complete unknown every time.

Allison: I was part of a panel at the Emerging Writers Festival last year with Alice Grundy of Giramondo Publishing. Someone in the audience asked her this question. Her answer was that it basically always comes back to a great book. BUT if a publisher is faced with two great books and has to decide which to publish, he or she will choose the author who has put some work into building a platform. The main reason is that it’s so incredibly difficult to get publicity around new writers, so if that writer has a community of people who will ‘care’ when the book comes out, then the publisher can see a chance of some sales. Publishing is a business, let’s not forget. And anything you can do to help your book stand out in the very crowded publishing marketplace can only be a good thing.

Kylie: I’m sure it probably is, but I’m from the old fashioned school that still naively hopes that if you write it (a good book), they will come. Clearly I’m a dinosaur!

A huge big thanks to Kerri, Allison and Kylie for sharing their wisdom today. Kerri is the author of When my husband does the dishes and The Little Book of Anxiety. She is currently working on her third book. Kylie is the author of Naked, After the Fall and Last Summer. Her next book, Into My Arms will be out in the middle of this year. Allison has had two non-fiction books published: Credit Card Stressbusters and Career Mums. Her first novel is due for release by Pan Macmillan this year.

Comments

  1. says

    Wow, great timing for this post! I blogged just yesterday about my book vs blog content. Great to hear from these three ladies in the know about the industry side of things.

  2. says

    My long-term goal is to become a fiction writer, and I have two projects in the works at the moment – so, having a “platform” isn’t as important as it may be for other bloggers. If I’m going to be published, it will be because my fiction is worth publishing, not because of how many followers I have, or how many people read KK&T.

    I write articles for kikiandtea.com because it helps me develop as a writer – as they say, practice makes perfect, and writing two or three articles a week for KK&T has certainly improved the craft of writing – I write quicker, have more discipline, and I think my writing has improved. Also, because we encourage our writers to write both first-person opinion and short-fiction, it has allowed me to self-publish my own short-fiction, including a couple of web-serials.

    Again, writing short-fiction on a regular basis is helping improve my writing, and I know it has already made a big difference to the novels I’m working on.

    I’m not sure if I’d keep blogging if I ever get published. I’d like to think I would, but maybe not as often…I’d like to think that KK&T would still be a good vehicle for some experimentation and trial runs for larger book projects…and for the occasional rant… :)

    • says

      I am so fascinated by your short fiction … and the way you write a blog post to express an opinion but you write it as fiction. I keep meaning to try to technique myself and see what it does for my writing – I reckon it would free it up a bit!

      And also interesting that you’re not sure you’d keep blogging if you get published. I guess that with guest blogging it means that the outlet is always there if you need it, without the pressure of a dedicated blog.

      • says

        Thanks Kelly – I have a new “fiction as opinion” post coming up in the next week or so – the interesting thing is, when I first wrote it, it was an angry ranty first-person opinion piece, full of outrage and bile and spittle…but it was unpublishable…so, I took the basic theme, and wrote an imaginary interview on an imaginary TV show – it still makes the same points as the original rant, but is less aggressive…it’s less “the world sucks” and more “wouldn’t the world suck if it was like this”…I’m “showing” not “telling” ;)

        Oh, and re blogging – I don’t think I could ever give up KK&T – it’s too important to me – but I’m just being realistic…once I’m published, there will be a whole bunch of other responsibilities I’ll have to worry about, and I just won’t have the time to blog as much as I do now I suspect.

  3. says

    I am writing my first novel and have a blog at http://www.mummylovestowrite.com. As a writer just starting out, I think having a blog is fantastic for both feedback and practice. I also hope it will have a good level of readership by the time I finish my book later this year.

    I definitely prioritize my book first, but also really love blogging. I am happiest when I am writing, whatever the medium. Great article, thank you.

    • says

      YES – the feedback! I have basically written the first draft of my book now and my blog has given me access to over 400 ‘beta readers’. Their feedback has been absolutely invaluable and has provided a huge amount of direction as I head into the ‘re-write’ stage.

      And I also agree that as long as I am writing somewhere, I am happy. My blog means I will always have somewhere to write :)

  4. says

    From the point of view of a fan/reader an author having a blog is great thing because otherwise we have to wait aaages in between books/novels to read some words from our favourite authors. I want the instant gratification of the blog lol

    • says

      I found when writing my book that it required a completely different energy system and level of discipline that my blog did. I will be interested to see if you find the same Mrs W :)

      • says

        I’m feeling the same – although writing for KK&T has helped my writing, it’s still different from the writing process for my books (works in progress)

  5. says

    This is a topic close to my heart Kel. As you know I’ve basically ‘switched off’ blog, Facebook, Twitter and internet this month (except a couple of my fav blogs), in order to concentrate on writing my fiction.

    It is such a hard thing and even the comments from Al, Kerrie and Kylie prove that it really is a what works for you kind of scenario.

    I do miss my blog. Terribly. More than I thought. Yet I find when I blog it does suck my creativity and takes away from my fiction or other writing. Such a hard call. I’m still trying to find the ‘what works’ scenario for myself!

    Great piece Kel, as always. x

    • says

      That whole missing your blog thing, I think I have found a nice sweet spot with it. I do de-prioritise it when I am trying to do book writing or paid writing … and I don’t pressure myself to do x posts a week. But when I have something to say or share AND I have the time I know it is there. Because I too would dreadfully miss the interaction with readers if I gave it up!

  6. says

    Thank you Kelly, Allison, Kerri and Kylie!
    This was a fascinating post and I am so grateful to Kelly for writing it and getting input from a trio of such talented writers. I have so little time to dedicate to writing and I am trying to maintain a blog (which is much more work than I ever imagined), submit pitches, write feature articles, research content, study (I am doing a short course with the Australian Writers’ Centre), follow other bloggers & writers, and READ READ READ! All this whilst looking after 3 preschoolers!! I love my blog and I am enjoying the discipline it takes to maintain it. The feedback from readers is immediate and intimate and I like the personal interactions. But I want to reach a wider audience and I want to get paid for it. Maybe a nanny is the answer?? :-). Informative article. Thanks to everyone involved.

    • says

      Hey Michaela – I know it was just a throwaway line … but honestly, maybe you DO need a nanny?!! I seriously have no idea how you do ANY writing with 3 kids under 4!!

  7. says

    There’s a lot of discussion about whether unpublished writers ‘should’ blog, but I like to ask the question, do you want to? I started blogging years ago as a uni assignment. I blogged about education. I enjoyed the process, but not so much the topic. I’d sneak in mind-boggling snippets of advice I’d come across about writing fiction (such as the need to actually finish a manuscript – who knew?). The more I pursued the craft of writing fiction, the less I blogged about teaching high school. Eventually my blog was renamed and now I only blog writing craft advice, links and discoveries. It’s not the greatest platform. My readers are not authors, they’re teen kids. But I LOVE my blog and the blogging circle I’ve become part of.

    • says

      I think you definitely have to want to blog in order to do it … and discovering exactly what you love blogging about is the best. You say that now it is a crafty blog that it is not the greatest platform … but followers are followers!

  8. says

    Great post Kelly, and incredible advice from these very generous ladies (who I not-so-secretly aspire to be!). I blog to keep my voice humming, but I’ve become choosey about what I post, if I think an idea deserves a wider audience than my modest number of very loyal readers, and it’s got a bit of commercial clout then onto a pitch it goes! If it’s a bit of personal fluff, then onto my blog. I like having the option.

    What i don’t get though is how some people will write a 100 word post about why they prefer marmite to vegemite and they get 100 comments and 1000 readers. Savvy? Much. Good writer? Debatable, but then i guess they’re not saying they are or trying to be. We use our blogs and our platforms for different ends.

  9. says

    After a lot of money wasted and angst I am reluctantly letting go of my niche blog and concentrating all my efforts on my writing blog. I have found it hard to run 2 blogs as I transition from psychotherapist to writer.

    My writing blog has been neglected with my indecision.

    This article has made my decision a little easier.

    Thanks Kelly

  10. says

    This post could not have come at a better time for me. I think I am the worst sort of blogger for my audience because I’ll blog everyday for eight days, then not blog for four weeks and it’s getting tedious. I have quite a few commitments at the moment and the blog doesn’t really bring income…nor does it bring as much platform because I don’t have an aptitude for promoting and networking. I recently got myself a Facebook page so I am slowly working on developing that as I like the immediacy of connecting with ‘likers’ (I feel weird saying fans because I am yet to b published). That said, I still hope that my blog will be a good avenue for promoting my book. I guess I will see, but I can certainly empathise with Kylie’s points whilst also understanding the value as demonstrated by Allison and Kerrie. Definitely a lot to think about.

  11. says

    Great question! I would agree about the platform part – as a writer you will have much harder time making it if you don’t have an audience. Everyone will be asking you how can you promote your work through your own channels and you better have a good answer to that – having a blog and blog audience is a good answer.

  12. says

    I’m not writing a book, but I do a lot of paid writing elsewhere these days. I’ve found that I neglect my blog over paid work every time… which makes sense on one hand (the paid stuff is pretty much the stuff I would write on my blog anyway), but it also doesn’t make sense to neglect my “marketing”… my blog is my calling card these days so I know I should take better care of it than I have been. Waking up… x

    • says

      It’s very hard though B! The amount I write here on the blog is almost perfectly and inversely proportional to the amount of paid writing I have to get done in a given week!

  13. says

    Brilliant post Kel and something I grapple with often. Limited time and brain capacity have seem me err towards spending my words where I love them most – fiction. I’m a fan of the “slow blogging” rule so that I dont feel pressured to post to schedule and it gives me the freedom (and headspace!) to concentrate on other writing areas that I need to refine in order to meet my personal goals.

    • says

      I like the slow blogging thing too. Some weeks I am all inspired AND I have time … and I will post 2-3 times. Some weeks I will post zero times! It’s nice not feeling pressured to work to a schedule.

  14. says

    I just started my own blog. I thought it would be a good way to get my name out there, but I also thought that it would give me a place to relate my own experiences to other writers. This article helped me feel like my blog might be useful, and not a waste of my words :)