Jane Friedman offers some excellent advice on platform-building in her post, Audience Development: Critical to Every Writer’s Future :
Mediocre writers with sales & marketing savvy are more likely to succeed in commercial publishing than talented writers without sales & marketing skill.[…] Even while producing your first manuscript, you need to find ways to meaningfully interact with others online, consider how your stories can reach readers in new or dynamic ways, and develop some skill at soft marketing and promotion (or branding yourself), before those skills are called upon to ensure the success of your published work.
I wholeheartedly agree with Jane’s thoughts. My blog Write It Sideways  has helped me network, develop my marketing savvy, and establish social outlets through Twitter and Facebook. When a publishing deal comes my way, I’ll have an established platform on which to build my readership.
While that’s a great reason to start a blog before you’re published, there’s something else I’ve noticed happening. In some ways, I feel this other occurrence is an even more important development in my writing journey.
The Self-Taught MFA in Creative Writing
I’ve always thought about going back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing, but it’s something I can’t see actually happening until my children are grown and I have more time on my hands.
Still, creating a blog about the craft of writing has forced me to teach myself a number of things about writing and publishing. I like to think of it as a self-taught MFA.
In under two years, I’ve written more than 300 articles for my own blog and others, and there’s a lot more involved in the process than just sitting down to write. Each article requires some degree of research, fact checking, editing and proofreading. I rarely spend less than an hour on each—usually closer to two hours or more.
Also, the process of creating and maintaining my blog involves reading hundreds of other blogs, magazines, and books to keep abreast of both perennial and hot topics in the writing and publishing community, sharing helpful resources, interviewing published authors, reviewing books, and writing a monthly newsletter for my subscribers.
My subscribers know to expect two articles per week, so it’s difficult to make up excuses for failure to post.
Of course, blogging about writing forces you to practice what you preach! Though I spend a lot of time blogging each week, I spend even more time working on my fiction projects, and every lesson I learn from blogging eventually gets applied to my fiction.
Some of the things I’ve learned through the comprehensive process of creating and maintaining a blog include:
- A variety of important lessons on the craft of writing
- Common pitfalls amateur authors should avoid
- The importance of reading widely and critically
- How to write clearly and concisely
- How to maintain good writing habits and stick to a schedule
- Where to find the best writing resources and continuing education
- Where to get constructive criticism on my writing
- How to spot weaknesses in my own work
- The process of how books get published
- How to find a literary agent, and what they do for authors
- Elements of a successful query letter
So, although getting an MFA is something I’d love to do one day, blogging has been an excellent (and inexpensive) vehicle for learning new writing skills, honing my craft, and keeping me accountable, in addition to helping me build a platform for the future.
Just remember, gone are the days when blogging was all about me, me, me. Most writers aren’t interested in how many words you wrote today, or what book you’re reading, unless you can spin those personal tidbits into something they can take away and apply to their own writing.
Author Larry Brooks says :
A blog is about your niche, your field of expertise, your message. Your blog is, in essence, a gift to your readers.
Focus on how you can use your quest for knowledge to help other writers improve their craft. Doing so ensures that your blog becomes not only a gift to your readers, but a gift to yourself.
Do you have a blog of your own? What are some of the most useful writing skills or lessons you’ve learned through creating and maintaining a blog?
Photo courtesy of Flickr’s hiromy