Blogging Commandments: What Works for Me

I’ve attended a variety of writing events over the past few months, and have engaged in some interesting discussions on blogging. To blog or not to blog? Is it effective for authors? What works and what doesn’t? These are just a few of the common blog-related questions writers face—questions with no simple or all encompassing answers.

Okay, so that's only part of it...

Okay, so that’s only part of it…

Through research and experience, we can find those answers for ourselves. My roughly 1.5 years of blogging has taught me a heck of a lot—both through manning my own blog and learning from fabulous others. Toward that end, I thought I’d share some of the guidelines that tend to work well for me.

My 7 Commandments of Blogging

1. Thou shalt never prioritize blogging over book writing.

Like many writers, I started blogging to build my author platform (and because my agent suggested I do). I’ve enjoyed many unexpected benefits since—fabulous friendships, fun social media interaction and more. These perks could easily take up most of my time and energy if I let them. I might even have fun in the process. But before long, I’d be sad—deeply sad, because writing (stories, namely) is my heart and, quite often, my sanity. And an ungratified heart hurts, big time. Then there’s that little thing called money; without book and article writing, I wouldn’t have any. Unless we want to be bloggers who write manuscripts on the side, working blogging into a healthy writing lifestyle that supports our craft first and foremost is vital. If you struggle with social media time-suck, save it for warmups, cool-downs and breaks. (Think of it as snacks and dessert, versus the fruits, veggies and entree.)

2. Thou shalt aim for consistency.

I’m a pantser through and through. I don’t outline, loathe schedules and use calendars primarily as wall decor. And yet, blogging if or when the spirit moves me seems unwise.* I feel that my readers deserve more than that. Plus, posting because we’re committed to doing so—not necessarily inspired—builds writer-strength. We work that get-it-done muscle, and learn that inspiration will come if we simply sit our butts down and write. I aim for two posts per week, generally on Mondays and Thursdays, but without holding myself to either with an iron fist. (Again, book work comes first.)

*I know several awesome bloggers who don’t use even loose posting schedules. If consistent inconsistency works for you, so be it! The key is finding what works for us.

3. Thou shalt write what you’re compelled to.

This might sound somewhat contrary to the above, but it isn’t. (What if we’re not compelled to write a post by post day?) We’re all compelled to discuss, share or explore ideas. It’s part of what makes us writers. Rather than write about something that seems marketable or stats-boosting, or because it’s easy—i.e., we’re expert in it, I prefer to write with my heart and gut. It lends itself to stronger, more enjoyable-to-write and share posts, and reader appreciation; they can sense authenticity and complacency.

4. Thou shalt listen to and respect your readers.

I’ve been happily surprised by how helpful readers can be in terms of shaping my content and helping me grow as a writer. Interacting with readers via blog comments and elsewhere on social media shows that we care, and provides an opportunity to understand what strikes them most. Such engagement may also reveal related topics or angles they’d like explored further—which may compel you to do so. 😉 If you want to know more about your readers, ask questions. The more engagement, the better, in my opinion.

5. Thou shalt support other bloggers and writers.

Supporting others benefits us in a variety of ways. First, it feels good. (It’s far more fun to tell Twitter and Facebook friends that they’ve “got to read this post/book!” when it’s someone else’s post/book—not ours.) Second, bloggers we support often reciprocate—though I don’t think that this should be the primary reason behind liking, commenting and sharing; give to give. Some bloggers take such support even further. Gene Lempp and Reetta Raitanen post thoughtful mashups on their blogs. Susie Lindau throws awesome promote-your-stuff/mingle with other bloggers parties. It doesn’t have to be overly time consuming, and can be a lot of fun. In addition to the support factor, hosting mashups, guest bloggers and author interviews can save us time.

6. Thou shalt proof read.

Going back through some of my early posts can be horrifying nauseating offsetting, as I haven’t always taken time to proofread my posts. (Shhh!) It’s ironic, as many of us start out nervous about blogging because we’re used to perfecting our other work. But how can we perfect blog posts and do everything else? When I started out, I tried to fit too much in too soon. “Perfection” isn’t necessary, but making sure we’ve made a solid effort at fixing grammatical errors and the like is important. For particularly important posts, I often ask my dear friend—and skilled writer/editor—Bill Parker for his expert once over. (Not sure I’ve met anyone who can read and spot typos so quickly.) Blog posts are meant to be more casual than our other writing, but they go out into the world, and we never know who might see it. We should aim to put our best blogging foot forward. If that means cutting back from three to two posts per week or delaying a post a day or two, as I have, do it.

7. Thou shalt have fun. Blogging because we feel we should, yet loathe it, isn’t likely to breed success in any arena of our lives. If it isn’t fun, or as fun as you’d like it to be, consider changing things up. I’m pretty sure I could build a sizable blogging platform in the realm of nutrition, but I’m a health writer. Endless posts about what I’m already covering elsewhere would feel like needless homework, or gratuitous “I just want higher stats!” posts. So, I cover food-related topics when I’m compelled to (sick of that word yet???). Otherwise I stick to topics that light my fire, like Girl Boners, music and thrillers.

Speaking of fun, if you haven’t checked out social media jedi master Kristen Lamb’s blog and books, what rock have you been hiding under? you should. I thought Twitter was the lamest thing since size 0 jeans until I read her stuff. Be forewarned—it’s addictive. If you’re brand spankin’ new to blogging, check out Ginger Calem’s Building a Blog in April. She’ll help you up onto your feet, and one of her lucky graduates will win a spot in Kristen’s more advanced blogging class through WANA International. For more from yours truly, and many other authors and speakers, I hope you’ll consider attending the OWFI Conference in May. I’ll be sharing insight on blogging for building an author platform (without going crazy!), and a teaching a workshop on hybrid author-hood, or going indie with an agent. (Excited!)

We’ve got to do what works best for us if we want to grow and thrive as writers. The above guidelines have helped me expand my writing, gained me some pretty nifty freelance and speaking gigs, and helped nurture my feeble “Will anyone read this?!?” blog into one with a pretty solid and steadily growing readership. The rest of my personal blogging growth (and I’m sure many of you can relate) boils down to trial and error, instinct and simply keeping on. And while I don’t have a specified breakdown, I have no doubt that my online platform has played a role in my book sales—a valuable one. I hope that wherever you are in your journey, you’ll continually find what rocks your writing world.

Do any of these resonate with you? What similar or vastly different commandments make your list? Any questions, challenges or related thoughts to share?

Leave a comment

54 Comments

  1. Not as “hot” as the Girl Boner posts, but these are great commandments nonetheless! Thanks August!

    Reply
  2. I agree with everything here. Great post August. I must say, I am also a pantser. No writing schedule for me. I have managed to write a few books and blog. What works for me is writing when my energy is high. If I am tired or depleted, I don’t even go there since my best work will not shine through.

    Reply
    • So with you there, Marla. It’s so important to use our “golden hours” whenever they arise, right? It’s obviously working really well for you—kudos! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Great post! I especially like the format. The first “commandment” was a good reminder for me. I am a new blogger but I struggle with managing my time between blogging and writing. It’s a lot! Thanks for helping me remember my priorities and giving tips on how I can improve my own blog!

    Reply
    • So glad you found it helpful, Hannah. Balancing it all out can be tough, but it’s also doable. Baby steps and remembering to breathe can be pretty helpful—for me, anyway. 😉 Good luck!!

      Reply
  4. Awesome post, August! Thanks for the shout out 🙂

    Reply
  5. Ginger Calem

     /  March 20, 2013

    August, fantastic post. It completely supports so many points I’m going present during my class in April. (Which — THANK YOU for the shout out. I truly appreciate it and you.) I’m going to include a link to this post in class to better support the idea of supporting other bloggers, ie, your #5. It’s exactly the message I’ll be making in class in addition to your other points. Thanks! I love that I can point people directly to your blog and to WANA Intl, and WANA bloggers. Squee!! 🙂

    Reply
    • Aw. It’s one big happy, helpful blogosphere, right? I’ve been amazed at the support that flows consistently around… Your class sounds AWESOME. I can’t wait to hear more about it, and your prodigees. 😉 Thanks in advance for the linkup!

      Reply
  6. I suppose since the context invokes my editing your blog posts, I don’t have to be all “oh my gosh thank you so much for the totally unexpected shout-out,” right? OK cool. 🙂

    You are the very best and exceedingly kind and I’m downright giddy (by my standards) right now.

    Reply
  7. Very good rules for blogging.

    Reply
  8. Good thoughts, GOTB. Thanks.

    Reply
  9. Love, love, love these rules, August! I struggle with #’s 2 & 3 most of all. Finding the time to both write and blog and be consistent, and then trying to bring something worthy of reading to the table can be so overwhelming. O.o

    Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    Reply
    • Aw. So happy to hear you dig them. 🙂 It’s a learning curve for all of us… I think it’s great to have guidelines (whichever work best for us), and tweak them as we go. Best of luck!

      Reply
  10. Thanks so much for the shout! You will have to bring a link to your book next week on Thursday..
    I am passionate about writing in general, but have battled between blogging and book writing. I love writing my book, but think that being a columnist would be a great job for me since I also love writing short essays. There is instant gratification in finishing and posting a blog.
    The long term satisfaction in being published will far outweigh anything in blogging and I can’t wait to hold my book in my hand!

    Reply
    • I think that blogging lends itself very well to columnist work and books, even if it comes first. (Different strokes for different folks, for sure.) I love having multiple streams going, though it can be overwhelming at times. Good luck, lady! Can’t wait to party hardy with you next Thursday. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Great ideas, August. I have to ration my blogging time so it doesn’t interfere with my actual writing. One post a week is about all I can eek out.

    Reply
  12. Wonderful post 🙂 Consistency is a big deal for me. I don’t hit it perfectly each week. Sometimes I have something going on that prevents it, but if I didn’t at least try to stick to a posting schedule my topics would be lopsided and I’d likely never post. It would always be one of those things that I mean to get to but forget about as other concerns press in. Committing to a schedule makes sure I’m producing and shipping rather than never producing and tweaking my posts so long that they’re not worth posting any more.

    Reply
    • I know exactly what you mean, Marcy. I aim for the same days and two posts each week, but give myself some wiggle room—so important, IMO.

      Reply
  13. Great post! And can’t wait to hear your session at OWFI.

    Reply
  14. What great advice! I’m such a panster, so you always encourage me. Thanks, August!
    I just looked at OWFI–It looks amazing. It’s the same weekend as DFWCon. Drat!

    Reply
  15. Those are all great commandments. It is so easy to get wrapped up in trying to read and comment on everyone’s blogs so I try to pick a few each day and give support in that way. Commenting and offering support is just as important as posting your own blogs, in my opinion. I always try to be very respectful of everyone’s time who leaves a comment on my blog by acknowledging it, because I know it takes time to make the rounds and offer support.

    You’re self-published with an agent? That’s interesting. How does that work?

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
    • It’s a bummer that we can’t support EVERY blog and post we dig, right? But I think we all understand that we’re all busy. Picking and choosing and supporting our readers and the content that most strikes us seems pretty ideal to me, all considering.

      I am self-published with an agent, and so far, so good. To me it feels like the best of both worlds: having the support of a team, and the independence and control of full-fledged indies. I talked more about my decision process, and the pros and cons, here.

      Reply
  16. (and, I see in the time I tweeted your link, and then took a phone call, you’ve already replied to my tweet before I could comment on your actual post, lol!)

    I’m very excited for OWFI this year. Last year was my first year to attend that conference, and while there’s only 1-2 “big names” this year, it’s looking to be a very informative time :D.

    But yes, this blog post was very timely today. I’ve been struggling with blogging taking over my writing time, and after a forced semi-hiatus the past week and a half (my computer power cord died), I realized how much of my life social media had taken over, and I don’t want to go back to it! At all.

    Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance.

    Reply
    • Happy to hear that you’ll be at OWFI, Rebekah! It’s my first time, and I’m really looking forward to it.

      Many of us have those semi-hiatuses on occasion… I hope that you’re able to ease your way back in in a way that’s enjoyable and effective for you. Good luck!

      Reply
  17. Kourtney Heintz

     /  March 20, 2013

    All terrific points. I would add, Thou shalt not drone on and on and pretend this is your diary. Bloggers need to remember that they have real life readers.

    Reply
  18. Great commandments to live by, Miss August!

    It’s a fine juggle between the blogging world and the novel world, and something I try to keep in check as much as possible. With my full time job, I’ve learned to scribble my rough draft of a post on my lunch break and polish it on a school night. Weekends are strictly for writing books and of course…living a bit. : )

    Reply
  19. I agree with your commandments completely, and I share your pain over visiting old posts. Sometimes I think, ‘Did I really write that?’ But I leave the post up, because letting others see my transition is part of the point, even if it is a bit humbling. 🙂

    Reply
  20. Great commandments to live by when blogging.

    Reply
  21. lynettemburrows

     /  March 20, 2013

    What a journey you’ve made, August! Congratulations on another great post. I struggled with commandment #1 for a long time but it is paramount. I’ve found a balance that works for me for now. Someday it’ll change, I’m giving myself the flexibility to do that. 🙂

    Reply
  22. Good post. This was fun to read as well. If you don’t feel compelled to write it, there’s almost no point in writing it in the end. You really have to mean what you say to make it worth it.

    Reply
  23. Thou art spot on August (And i agree with the first comment aobut the boner series!)

    Reply
  24. Those are all really good guidelines. Especially the one about having fun with it! Blogging should be fun. If we do it because we think we should it won’t be worth it. One of my favorite parts about blogging is the community of bloggers that we become involved with. I used to tease my brother about having “online friends”, but now I actually get it. Although, I do think it would be fun to meet up with everyone in person. 🙂

    Reply
  25. August! I completely agree. This is a fabulous post, full of wonderful guidelines. You’ve been rockin’ the blog for some time now. You really know how to make it sparkle. It’s no wonder people flock to you. Keep up the enthusiasm and great work.

    Reply
  26. lynnkelleyauthor

     /  March 21, 2013

    Great post, August. I never would have guessed you’ve only been blogging for a year and a half. Seems like you’re an old pro at this. I think blogging has to be fun, definitely. I agree with No. 1. Our writing must come first. As far as being inconsistent, that seems to be how it works out for me. But I’m working on that. 🙂

    Reply
  27. Agreed on all counts! I’ve reduced the number of posts I write because of #1. And also, because we should blog when we have something to say, not to fill a schedule. Bravo!
    (#6 means I’ll probably go to blogging hell, though 🙂 )

    Reply
  28. Raani York

     /  March 23, 2013

    This is one of your great blog posts which I read with interest and carefully to take in your advice. These commandments are extremely helpful! I do agree and some of them already had helped me, in particular with Networking for the time being!
    Thank you!!

    Reply
  29. You have inspired me to try something a little similar on my own blog as a post. Not the same, mind you, but similar. Thanks for the treat! I enjoyed it and agree.
    Scott

    Reply
  30. They ALL resonate with me, August! When it comes to blogging, I think the consistency and community have helped most. I have learned how to make a habit of writing and to tighten my writing to get across a point in blog-post length. In turn, that has helped me in writing fiction. Also, I have learned so much–writing and non-writing–by visiting other blogs and interacting with my blog readers. Great post here!

    P.S. I proofread my comment, but I make no guarantees. 😉

    Reply
  31. Yes, I don’t think I could have kept up blogging for as long as I have without moving my focus toward writing about what I actually care about, even if it doesn’t seem relevant to my “brand” or something like that. The truth, I think, is that everything is relevant to my “brand” in the sense that my deepest goal is to be fully expressed, and everything I write comes from some facet, however unexplored it might be, of myself.

    Reply
  32. I can’t argue with the results of your regiment, August!
    You’re one of the best!

    Reply
  33. A great list of “Commandments”… I break too many of them at the moment, but it’s a learning curve as I’m sure you’ve figured out, August.

    Reply
  34. I didn’t do a lot of number six at first. I needed to.

    Reply
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