Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Random Thoughts on Blogs and Blogging - Part One

At the risk of appearing obsessed by the idea of blogs and blogging (since I keep mentioning blogs in some way or another in my posts), once more the topic is at the forefront of my attention. I feel the need to know more, probably because I still feel very new to the game of blogging. After all, this is only my sixth post since I joined the Chicks as a regular back in March. Until then I was not even in the habit of reading blogs. Yet every third Tuesday, in rotation with Connie and Molli, I put on my blogging hat and try to make it sound like I know exactly what I’m doing!

Fact is, the more I discover about blogs and blogging, the more I want to know. So I have decided to investigate this world more thoroughly, and at the same time share with you what I am learning. That’s why I have labelled this as part one. A second part will come your way later in the summer. In mid-July I will be participating in an online workshop on blogging – and I hope to learn a lot more about the practice of blogging.

Why have a blog, anyway? One of the first things I’ve noticed is that there are many, many reasons to have a blog. Some people, from all walks in life, use a blog as an online diary, a personal journal to chronicle important events in their lives and careers. These are probably the closest to the original definition; the term comes from “web log” and it has been around for more than ten years. Some people have used blogs from the beginning to share their knowledge and opinions with whoever is willing to read them. Other blogs are offshoots of the print world, so the online version of newspapers will include blogs that offer commentary on important national and world events, but also opinion pieces on travel, fashion, even pets. Blogs, as well as some of the newer methods of instant networking (Twitter, for example), are playing important roles in getting critical information to the public in political campaigns and in oppressive situations around the world. Blogs range in content from the very frivolous to the most serious imaginable.

Various types of blogs: There are niche blogs that deal with specific cultural or media subjects, including art blogs and video blogs which both include a large visual component. A niche subject area that is important to me includes the world of books, writing, and publishing. Whether group efforts like the Prairie Chicks or individual authors who write in genre-specific or literary categories, these blogs usually deal with the craft of writing, related technologies, or the promotion of books. Some blogs are online versions of print publications that have always provided information about the book trade, but now are able to do so in a more timely fashion online. For example, lists of award winners in all the various categories are posted the morning after the presentations are made. No more waiting for the next monthly issue or even the daily newspaper to land in the mailbox.

Writers as bloggers. I attended a conference session a couple of months ago that dealt with all the social networking tools that writers should be using to promote themselves and their work. At the top of the list, of course, were websites and blogs. Nearer to home, we have seen a series of excellent guest bloggers on Saturdays sharing their expertise, but also promoting their most recent work or their entire body of work, during their visits to the Prairie Chicks. I am told that some of these authors are on “blog tours” when they visit us. So some blogs provide opportunities for a virtual book tour (without all the air travel!).

When to start a blog. The next consideration for me will be a blog of my own. I have heard other unpublished writers wondering about the value of a website or a blog. Among the Chicks and members of the Sask Romance Writers there are writers at various stages, published and unpublished, who have either or both. Others have neither. So it seems to be personal preference. That is one of the areas I want to explore in the workshop next month. I am hoping that my next post on blogging, three weeks from now, will be full of practical ideas.

In the meantime ... I would like to hear from you, our regular and/or occasional visitors to the Prairie. Do you have your own blog? If so, what is its purpose? How frequently do you post? Do you also have a website, or do you have a website but not a blog? How did you decide? Does the time spent on your blog have a negative impact on your major writing projects? Do you feel it’s worth it in terms of connecting with other writers and your readers or potential readers? I look forward to your opinions and comments on any aspect of blogging.


Captain Hook said...

I have . . . way too many blogs that I am a part of. But they each have their own purpose.

There is the Beta Bloggers (on which I have been very absent due to life) with a bunch of the girls that are regulars on the Chicks.

I have my writing blog (http://countdown-to-publication.blogspot.com/). Unlike others, I don't try to dispense wisdom. I just keep friends and relatives apprised of my progress. And over the summer it will have the progress of my kids' summer Nano projects.

There is my personal blog (http://hooks-happenings.blogspot.com/) which is very much just an online journal. It's frequently a place to vent when life gets overwhelming :)

I also have a blog about what it's like to live as what society perceives as handicapped (http://handicappedisastateofmind.blogspot.com/). I try to highlight successful, disabled people and groups devoted to disabled people.

I belong to a book review blog (http://book-faires.blogspot.com/) with a bunch of other girls from Critique Circle (www.iquecircle.com) where we do reviews and author interviews.

And lastly, I have a private writing blog, for my own use, for my WIPs.

I confess to being a highly irregular poster, but hope to change that as my life gets more settled (as in I'm not living in fear of being back on the streets).

Helena said...

Oh, my goodness, Captain ... you are the High Poobah of Bloggers, for sure. You have captured so many of the possibilities of blogging that I should have got you to write my post :)

A couple of things that I did not mention, but you've reminded me -- private blogs with access by invitation only. The Sask Romance Writers have that where we can do writing exercises, share work, and critique.

I have also thought of setting up a blog for all members of my family to share family news and plans. It would be better than email or the old-fashioned newsletter idea which I considered at one time but never did get going.

I am so impressed with all that you are doing. So what if the posts come out on a 'highly irregular' schedule. If you have dedicated followers, they will find your posts sooner or later. (I get somewhat peeved when someone I like to read has not posted for a while, but then they make up for it with some great material the next time out!)

Thanks for sharing your wonderful blog world with us today -- including the addresses which I will definitely be checking out.

Karyn Good said...

Great topic today, Helena. I am quite thankful to be part of a group blog and particularly thankful to be part of this one. As the Chick who blogs on Wednesdays, I'm happy with my part time gig. I can't even imagine trying to blog daily, even three times a week would be a stretch. I do have a domain name and hope to set up a website sometime in the fall. But first I need to take a page out of Jana's book and attempt some type of organization.

I do think blogging is worth the effort and creates an opportunity to make a presence for yourself out there. It's a way to find like minded friends which has been the biggest boon of this blogging adventure.

Also private blogs like the one hosted by the SWR enable me to participate even when I can't get to all the meetings. And the Beta Bloggers is great because we get to read snippets of others' work and get ideas back on our own.

I just have to be careful it doesn't become too much of a distraction and take away from my writing.

Silver James said...

G'morning, Helena and Chicks. I have a dual purpose blog/website. It was set up so I can blog on the "front page" and then have tabs for things like FAQs, Works in Progress, Books in Print, Releases, and contests. I blog every day. I used to blog irregularly, then went semi-regular with "features" but discovered that by posting every day, I maintain interest in and traffic on my site. It's primarily there to "showcase" me as a writer and to create interest in my book(s).

Sometimes it is a pain to come up with stuff every day but I can also do posts in advance when I have time and creativity. I've made some great friends through my blog and in this day and age, I thing it's almost a necessity for a writer. I call the blog "Penumbra" and I have my own domain name, www.silverjames.com.

On that note, I need to try to get at least a little work done before I have to dash out at noontime. I enjoy your posts, Helena. They always provide insight or make me think. :D

Helena said...

You're right, Karyn. This is a great blog to be part of. Since you were one of the originals I applaud you, and the others, for getting it going and maintaining it so that it continues to draw in new readers. Because we post on a regular basis, the Chicks are a presence in the world of bloggers and blog-readers. We can also be grateful to our Sat. guests for that.

I agree with you. Can't imagine how one person can do a daily blog, altho many that I read are short. However, it must have some regularity to keep up the interest. A balancing act, that.

Looking forward to the launch of your website. We'll have to have a champagne party when it happens -- is that possible online? :)

Helena said...

Hi, Silver. Thank you for your kind remarks. And for being such a faithful regular on the Chicks.

I like your idea of incorporating a blogging feature into your website, thus keeping everything about you together. Most writers have a link on their website to get to their blog. Similar idea, but not so immediate.

Your observation about regular posts makes sense to me. I haven't yet used the alert system where a notice is sent when there is a new post to a blog I want to read regularly, so I resort to checking back, and checking back ... adds to the statistics, I guess.

Thanks for all the good ideas!

Ban said...

Ohhh, I'm all for blogging - I'd never have met any of you great people otherwise !!!
I started blogging as a way of staying in contact with fellow 'clayers' and showing my pieces : mossycreekdesigns.blogspot.com
But following links, I discovered fellow writers and I was hooked !
Set up : bansidhesworlds.blogspot.com to talk about my main WiP - background info, thoughts, snippets etc.
Then joined Beta Bloggers so I could harness my fear and share scenes with fellow writers and get their opinions/feedback and offer the same.
If I ever get published I will look into combining a blog with a website like Silver and Kira have done but for now - a simple blog works for me and though I only post once a week or so, I believe it has helped me realize this is something I want to get serious about.
I have found many great people in blog-land and I've have found lots of helpful information ... so yeah, blogs get my vote of approval :D

Helena said...

Glad you could join us today, Ban.

It's not that I doubt the value of blogs. I just want to be involved in the most beneficial way, both for myself and the readers of what I post. It's been incredibly interesting today to hear about how others are handling the blogging experience.

I certainly agree that it's a great way to meet and stay in touch. I have learned so much in a few months, but I'm kind of biding my time for the right moment to go solo.

For the time being, I love being part of the Chicks, and hope there will always be room for me to roost here no matter what else I do in blogland. (Look at what Capt. Hook manages to juggle. Still boggled over that!)

Ban said...

Yes, I'm impressed as well ! I have a hard enough time keeping up on the blogs I read, let alone contribute to :D And you know, if I'd put any thought into whether or not I'd have enough to say or type - I'd have never 'gone solo' glad I did though. Be sure to let us all know when you do too ;)

Janet said...

A thought provoking post, Helena! You know how blog addicted I am, but with the move I'm finding I don't have the time to get to all the blogs I did before. Am I missing them - you bet. Do I itch to get onto a computer and scroll through all my favorites - yep. But this might be just what I need to streamline my online activities. Of course, I find the time to read all our chick friends' blogs (waves to Silver, Erica, Captain, ban, Hayley, Anita) even though I don't comment.

I'm looking forward to your next post - looking forward to what you've learned at your blog workshop. As I go forward, a solo blog always niggles at the back of my mind - but for now, The Prairies is perfect. I love the variety of subjects we blog about and the discussion that usually takes place in the comment section (which I find to be the best part of blogging).

Come September, I have to look into getting my domain name and setting up a website. Luckily, my husband is a web master for the dealership so he's has experience in building a website and will be my go-to guy.

Helena said...

Janet, glad you surfaced long enough to wave at us all!! (Just kidding, as my granddaughter used to say when she was 15. Now she's 16, so I don't know the current flip phrases)

I've got heaps of blogs marked as Favorites, but don't visit all of them every day -- good grief, I'd be at it 24/7. But all the cruising around, mostly lurking, has shown me what a variety is out there. Another form of 'voice' and some pretty unique approaches.

I look forward to the discussion every day, too. Today has been great, very informative, and the comments tell me that I need to follow up by seeking out the blogs that are right under my nose.

There is some method in my madness, of course. I want to go into the workshop being fairly familiar with what's currently going on:) And as I've said many times, I got a late start in the blogging world, so lots to catch up on. However, I do try to use my time judiciously. (That old bugbear again ... where does this fit in my schedule?)

Thanks again for your comments!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
Very interesting post. I thought about blogging solo for more than a year, but I put off the idea because the idea of blogging everyday, or even once a week was pretty daunting. Besides, I didn't have any idea what I would say. So I was pretty much a blog virgin when Janet and I got together and decided to start a group blog.

I'm really glad I went with the group blog. There is just so much more energy in a group, not to mention more expertise. More experienced bloggers like Janet and Anita have helped me out numerous times. We also share some of the work, such as in finding guest bloggers and hosting them and doing some of the housekeeping necessary on the blog. There's no way I would have been able to do any of this on my own.

I have no plans at the present to start my own blog. I already have a website, which I set up just after my first book was picked up for publication in 2007. I also have a MySpace page, which I am sure I am not making full use of. My plan, at least at the moment, is to concentrate on these three and to try to make them as effective as possible.

Occassionally I find that writing blogs takes me away from my regular writing. But it is well worth the effort. I've gotten much from writing here, from other contributors and readers.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

I've had my blog up and going since around the same time as the Chicks, and I've really enjoyed having it. I have three 'scheduled' posts a week, but I also refuse to let it become an obligation. If I'm tired, or I have a busy day with family, the blog doesn't take priority (like today, where I'm owing a post!.. tonight maybe).

As for purpose, it's ostensibly a place to share my experiences in the writing process so that, as a whole, it will give followers or later viewers a sense of the process to publication, etc. At the moment of course, I don't have a massive amount of publishing wisdom to dispense (hah) I'm focusing on the writing process, what crafts issues I discover, and such, and hopefully creating a community for good debate and discussion about writing, fiction, and the like. I also felt it important to establish a platform early on.

As many of the Chicks have said, I've found blogging regularly gets me thinking a lot more about writing, even while I'm busy with other things. It's also been helpful to work through roadblocks that come up in writing. I plan to properly merge it with a website later once I can better look into setting up a proper (and pleasingly formatted) page. For now Eventide serves as a good front page.

Helena said...

Hi, Jana. I'm glad to get your perspective on blogs and websites.

You seem to have a strategy that's working for you. I think I would be overwhelmed if I tried to take on too many things to keep up with on my own. So my impulse is to proceed cautiously, spend more time on the writing. I take it that would be your advice? Make the most of what you've already started before adding more.

Thank goodness for the Prairie Chicks! Did you guys have any idea what a good thing you were starting? Of course, you did. And now everybody wins. We all get some blogging experience in a shared environment, and we seem to have developed a following that enjoys reading what we have to say.

Thanks for being a "charter Chick" and for your input today, Jana.

Helena said...

Hayley, you also have a great strategy, starting with a blog, and moving on to a webpage later when the time is right.

I really like what you're doing with your blog. It's a pretty amazing design, and your topics of discussion are well worth a visit.

I would spend more time on this comment, only the thunder rolls are getting closer!!

Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion today.

Pepper said...

Hi, I'm new to Prairie Chicks and blog-visiting, but I've really enjoyed the posts on here for the past week. Thanks for such great info.
I have four blogs and a website. The website is brand new and the blogs are in different 'stages' of blogging development. :-)

I have a personal blog which posts family pictures and happenings (for family and friends who live afar)

I have a book review blog, like Captain Hook mentioned, but on this blog I also mix in some devotionals in between the reviews.

I have a writing blog (which is my newest)

And I have a special subject blog...England, specifically the Peak District. This blog grew out of a trip I took last year.

It's been lots of fun, but I don't update them everyday. I hit all of them at least once a week, more or less.

The website is kind of like a compilation of all the blogs. Putting book reviews on it, has already gotten me a few requests to do more book reviews. I'm hoping that's a good sign, but I'm still in the learning phases :-)


Janet said...

Jumping in here to welcome you, Pepper, officially to The Prairies. I know Helena will welcome you as well, but with the bad thunderstorm rolling through her neck of the woods right now I'm not sure when she will get back here.

We're very proud of our little blog - and you'll notice we've made some great friends here. Silver, ban, Hayley, Captain, and Erika usually show up every day to bring their perspective to the discussion. And we try to keep the posts writerly so we all learn something - and are able to share in the comment section so that even the author that day learns something too :)

Anyway, glad to have you with us. Looking forward to your perspective in the discussions. Off now to check out your website and blog.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Helena. I started my own blog on the advice of Donna Alward who said we should have our blog in place before we become published because there's no time after. Also, the minute you are published, people want to 'check you out'.

Actually, your questions are similar to some Donna Alward asked me some months ago about blogging. She was doing an article for the RWR on group blogging. Her article was accepted. So, the next issue may mention Prairie Chicks Write Romance. Wouldn't that be nice!

I try to post to my blog every couple days. I mix up the book reviews with family and writing info. And I try to post lots of pics. I'd like a website but feel a blog is more practical at the moment. I'm thinking of switching to a blog/website combo though where it looks like a blog but has tabs for other pages for booklists, photos, etc.

Very interesting blog today, Helena.

Pepper said...

Thanks for the welcome, Janet. I'm game to learn :-)