Last Tuesday morning, I sat staring at the blank screen with no idea what to blog about.
I’d spent the previous day editing the first book in my contract, and my brain resembled a sun-dried tomato stuck to the bottom of a shoe.
Panicked, I grabbed the list of topics I keep for desperate times. Tuesday morning was a desperate time, yet nothing on the list grabbed me.
I finally gave up and wrote about the first thing that came to mind – my own name.
“What are you muttering about?” Pythagoras asked when he walked past.
“This is the stupidest post I’ve written,” I told him. “People will stop coming to my blog after this. They’ll all hate me and write my name on bathroom walls with little cartoon pictures of me with a knife through my throat.”
“OK,” he said, backing away slowly. “Good luck with that.”
I was wrong. Well, it’s possible you drew the pictures, but I was wrong about the blog post. It racked up nearly 50 comments and prompted the following feedback from regular blog reader Elizabeth Ryann:
“This is actually one of my favorite posts of yours, and the comments have been so fascinating.”
So what gives? After six month of doing this, how can I still not tell a good post from a bad one?
Though there’s no exact science, I’ll share a few things I’ve figured out about blog topics:
Keep a list. Before I began blogging, I made a list of 50 things to blog about. Since then, the list has grown to over 150. My goal is to use the list no more than once a week, and I’ve stuck to that. But just knowing it’s there gives me a much-appreciated safety net.
Realize your list sucks. Looking at the earliest ideas on my list, I giggle at things I thought might make good blog posts. Not that they’re terrible ideas – they’re just too broad to be interesting. On the flipside, there are the topics I jotted later after an unexpected brainstorm or a few glasses of wine. Topics like #127: Gewürztraminer increment wiener disarray sloppily. (Believe it or not, I do know what that means, and I plan to use it). My point is that your list should contain every random idea that pops into your head. The individual topics might not be usable, but they might spark something that will be.
The silliest things make the best topics. I’m sure I’m not the only writer whose life is full of goofiness. I write those things down and look for ways to relate them to writing. My husband losing his pants, my decision to stick a cabbage in my shirt for a bike ride, the time I accidentally spit gristle in someone’s purse, the time the neighbors saw us having fake sex in the car – all of these things made for entertaining blog posts. Look for ways to make fun of yourself or your loved ones. That’s what they’re there for, right?
Create opportunities for discussion. Though I was surprised by the popularity of Tuesday’s blog post on names, I know it wasn’t any particular brilliance on my part that made it happen. That post worked because it was a topic everyone could contribute to – who can’t share a thought about his or her own name? You guys created that post, not me. If a blogger provides a topic and asks questions that spark conversation, the posts can take on a life of their own.
Blog about things that rub you wrong. One of the most popular posts I’ve written went up over three months ago, and it’s still being re-tweeted and re-linked even now. You ARE a real author, dammit was the result of several uncomfortable instances when I realized people treated me differently since I snagged a three-book deal. I sat down and thought about why it bothered me, and that post was born. Just be careful to keep ranting to a minimum. Well-measured pondering is thought provoking, but whining is just annoying.
Marinate. Some posts take awhile to gel in my brain. I have a folder containing a dozen half-written blog posts just waiting for something to click. If a post isn’t coming together for you, set it aside and come back later.
So how do you come up with subjects for your blog posts? What do you like to read about on other blogs?
Please discuss in the comments. I’ll be over here trying to teach Pythagoras to perform yoga poses in a wetsuit. I’m pretty sure it’ll make a great blog post.