Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Making blog love outta nothing at all

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.

23 comments :

Girlinbetween said...

I have a bunch of half-written post saved as drafts on blogger!

The list thing is a great idea :)

Linda G. said...

I have a file of possible blog posts, too, but I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel. So, what would you like to read about next, "Dead Pets" or "My Fear of Bunions"?

Alexa O said...

I love the list idea. It will stop me from turning to the people standing near me (including strangers in the grocery store) and shouting, "'Word of the Week: Eggcorn!' Help me remember that! Write it down! Text it to me! Tattoo it to your forehead so I can read it later!"

Dawn said...

I resisted blogging for a long time fearful I'd run out of things to write about. I keep a list too, but I also try not to use it unless I'm desperate.

Patty Blount said...

I've got a folder, and a Word file of beginnings... I have 2 blogs (one for tech writing and one for fiction) and struggle to find ideas.

For me, they tend to attack after I read someone else's blog. For example, in tech writing, there's an old mantra, RTFM. It stands for Read the EXPLETIVE Manual. One of the folks I follow regularly posted a blog about how readers not using his manuals was OK and I pretty much hit the roof. I wrote a rebuttal called Reading Manuals is NOT OK. It's still being linked to.

This was a great post, Tawna, as always!

Cynthia Reese said...

I have a list. Like yours, it tends to have very wide-as-the-side-of-a-barn topics, and that's hard for me.

But I've been coming up with slice-of-life "posts" since 1992, when I became a humor (yeah, I know, me with no sense of humor, that's kind of ironic) columnist for a small syndicate of newspapers. And you're right -- the silliest topics are the ones that people still stop me on the street.

That's a weekly column, whereas blogs will deplete your idea file five times more quickly. Sigh.

abby mumford said...

i'm oh so very glad you and your blog are celebrating 6 sweet, passionate months together because i'm loving these posts on blogging.

*starts blog idea list*

also, yesterday's post on consistency spurred my decision today to start posting regularly twice a week. thanks for the kick in the pants! and my readers thank you too, as they'll know when to find my new posts!

and yes, "you ARE a real author, dammit" is still one of my favs.

Donna Cummings said...

My favorite blog post ideas just sort of jump into the front of my brain -- like when I was reading a library book and I got cranky about all the pages turned down instead of someone using a bookmark. LOL Or when squirrels (I hope!) were going psycho in the attic.

I like your idea of keeping a list though, since some days there aren't abused library books or crazy squirrels to inspire me! LOL

Tawna Fenske said...

Girlinbetween, do you ever go back and finish the half-written posts? I do it every now and then, and I swear I hear the audible "click" of puzzle pieces falling into place :)

Linda G, how about a post on pets who fear bunions?

Alexa, my husband has the worst memory in the world, so I don't know why I always say to him, "don't let me forget to write a blog post on XX." He never remembers, but occasionally I do!

Dawn, that was exactly why it took me awhile to start blogging. I saw so many writers start off strong, then resort to posting movie reviews, then just give up entirely. I was determined that if I started, I'd make sure I wouldn't run out of steam. The list really helped, even if I don't use it much.

Patty, don't you love it when you write a post that gets referenced many months later? I still feel all glowy when someone links to You ARE a real author, dammit (or any others, but that one has a special place in my heart).

Cynthia, one thing that's great about those broad ideas is that I can have something silly happen in my regular life (purple underwear, husband losing his pants, whatever) and then go back & relate it to a more broad topic.

Abby, yaay! Let me know which days you plan to post each week so I can put it on my calendar.

Donna, do you find once you started blogging that EVERYTHING becomes a potential blog topic? I definitely do that now.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Danica Avet said...

I felt so lost without your posts during my trip to Nationals *sniff, sniff* I did pimp you out though, hope you don't mind ;)

4 days out of the week, I blog about anything and everything that comes to mind from my deodorant dependency to childhood crushes. Friday though, is set aside for my fantasy men. When I'm really stuck for something to blog about, I'll do a movie quiz, or a book review.

SM Schmidt said...

I have no such list for when the posts become difficult, trolling Twitter, google reader & the many digests that make their way to my inbox for some inspiration. Thank you, I'm thinking such a list is going to be my new thing to ease off the panic.

Candyland said...

Blogging about fake sex in the car is always a winner. P.S. you won something today on my blog:) Thanks for everything.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I am a totally sporadic blogger, and for the moment, I'm okay with that. But I generally aim to post once a week, with whatever random thing I have on my mind. It's pretty much the definition of unstructured. But I try to talk about something really cool, whenever I do post something. I used to tie it back to writing more in the beginning, and make analogies, but that started to feel like homework, so I shifted away from it. But I do still talk about books an awful lot. And conventions featuring books. And movie premieres based on books...

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Neurotic Workaholic said...

Thanks for the advice! I hadn't thought of keeping a list before; I'd mainly just been writing a list of the ways that people annoy me lately. I've been stuck on blog posts lately too; I used to blog MWF but now it's only been twice a week because I can't think of what to write about.

Geoffrey Cubbage said...

Ne'er a truer word was spoken -- the three most popular posts on my blog remain the one about shaving my beard so that my teddy bear felt nicer and the two about how to be a better alcoholic writer. "Be a clown, be a clown, be a clown!"

Terry Stonecrop said...

The "fake sex" in the car has piqued my curiosity. Why fake sex, when you can have real sex? Inquiring minds need to know:)

I have ideas written down as well. Also, I have a couple of blog posts done in advance for weeks I'm too busy. I can't imagine blogging every day. My biggest problem is trying to keep the posts short.

I have my husband read them and he tells me if they "read fast." Apparently there is difference between being long and reading fast, so I trust his judgment.

Bona Fide Betty said...

I found your blog just recently through Lucy March's site and have enjoyed every post. Now I'm looking forward to reading your books.

I just started blogging and am still in the awkward stage, but that's OK cause it's fun. Thanks for sharing blogging tips with us.

Kathryn said...

This is how much of a n00b I am. It never occured to me to write a list of potential topics. I do agree with you about the silliest blogs being the best ones... those ones always make my day!

Thanks for the advice! I love coming over here... you have a nice place!

Tawna Fenske said...

Danica, and I missed YOU when you were at Nationals! Are you going to tell us all about it?

SM Schmidt, I've gotten an idea or two off Twitter for sure :)

Candyland, I'm a weiner? Fantastic!

Elizabeth Ryann, I'm braced for the day when this blog starts to feel like homework, but it hasn't happened yet. There are days I don't enjoy it as much, but I suppose that's a bit like any relationship, no? :)

Anonymous, why yes, I do love the animal. I love the animal very much. It's like you KNOW me!

Neurotic Workaholic, I imagine you could get quite a bit of blog mileage writing about the ways people annoy you. I know I could!

Geoffrey, um, links please! Those posts all sound splendid.

Terry, the "fake car sex" was research for a writing pal. Click the link in the post and you'll see :)

Bona Fide Betty, welcome! Nothing at all wrong with the way you're starting out blogging. You've got to get the hang of it one way or another, and trial by fire is as good a way as any.

Kathryn, aw, thanks! Noobs are my favorite people.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Haha, absolutely!

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I don't know how I come up with post ideas, besides by the seat of my pants. A list is a brilliant idea (*scribbles 'blog idea list' on my 'to-do' list*)

Thanks!

Geoffrey Cubbage said...

Tawna - you can just click my name in any of my posts to get to the blog itself, but the ones mentioned are as follow -

Shaving and teddy bear story:
http://misanthropology101.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/storytime/

Being an alcoholic writer:

http://misanthropology101.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/the-writing-life-how-to-be-a-functional-alcoholic/

and

http://misanthropology101.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/writing-life-more-functional-alcoholism/

Sorry if the formatting on those is awkward; wasn't sure what HTML was going to work in this comment form and what wasn't.