Blogging & Maintaining Our Sanity 2–The New Fast Food of Writing

Okay, last week we started a series to teach about blogging. Yes, I am going to teach you how to write a blog. Contrary to popular belief, we are not instant writers the second we eek through high school English and make an A on that drivel we cut and pasted together with note cards, ballpoint pen and sadness. Yes, I am old enough to have used index cards for my high school…*cough* okay college papers.

Journalism is a specific kind of writing and gasp people even go to college to learn Journalism. The insanity! Guess what? Writing a novel is a specific craft, with skills that must be learned with much crying, drinking and gnashing of teeth. Would we all love to be that person who knows this crap instinctively and rockets to the top of the best-selling list with the novel he wrote on cocktail napkins while waiting tables and selling pirated DVDs? YES! But I assume most of us wish we were born with Gates or Kennedy as a last name, too.

Hey, if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast a net.

Here’s the deal. Wishing we were born instant geniuses is about as productive as wishing we were born into royalty. What does this mean? It means put on the grungy pants. It’s time to do some work.

Blogging is a totally different kind of writing. I see a lot of great “writing” on crappy blogs. Blogging is different.

Think Journalism. When you want to know about the nuclear reactor in Japan, do you want to open the paper to…?:

The sun crept over the eastern mountains and glittered across the wreckage below. People, dying and wounded threaded the streets, their eyes unfocused and mouths limp. The tsunami had dragged hope and loved ones back into the dark churning belly of the sea. The reactor belched black death into air already thick with fear.

NO! That is creative writing, not journalism. We want the FACTS. We want to first know how we can help our Japanese friends FAST and then, we ultimately want to know how and if and when it might affect US.

When we blog, it is a very specific kind of writing that is meant to be fast, easy, and portable. Like journalism, blogging has to capture the attention of readers with the attention span of a squirrel with severe ADD that is high off Thin Mints and crack cocaine.

Many writers are not approaching their blog with the appropriate style of writing, and frankly, that is why you are exhausted and covered in strange bruises.

A couple weeks ago, I referenced Chef Gordon Ramsay. I LOVE Kitchen Nightmares. Gordon Ramsay ROCKS. What I really, really love about this show, is that there are so many lessons that cross-apply to writers.

There is one particular episode I saw 2 years ago that comes to mind. This owner loved to cook and so he opened a restaurant and pretty soon he was chin-deep in debt and sinking fast. The owner/chef happened to be a huge fan of Ramsay, and when Gordon showed, the owner proudly displayed the shelves of Gordon Ramsay cookbooks that he had been using for the menu at the restaurant.

Ramsay nearly fell over. Want to know why? Those recipes were too complex for a restaurant. They were written for someone cooking at home for a family or a party. No chef would ever be able to turn out quality food in a timely fashion using recipes so intricate.

The owner-chef needed recipes that fit his needs…serving large groups of people tasty food in a timely manner.

Our blogs are the same. If we approach blogging with the care and intricacy of our novel or even our NF work, we are setting ourselves up to fail.

Blogging is like fast food we get through a drive-thru window. People (readers) need to be able to keep moving and still ingest and digest. If we take a moment to think about how many people read blogs, this makes sense. With the rise of PDAs, many people are reading their blogs on their phones on stolen breaks at the workplace. If we make people work too hard for our content, they are likely to pass or put off our blogs for later.

Neither is good.

So here are some general rules about good blogs:

Blogs preferably should be short. Oh how I suck at following this rule. You can break this rule if you break it well.

Many of you guys are probably getting heart palpitations thinking you need to churn out some 1000-2000 word tome. You don’t.

My blogs are generally longer because I assume many of you want to learn this stuff before it is obsolete. Unlike me, however, most of you will not have content that you are running after like a dog chasing a car he will never catch. Thus, your posts can be shorter…like 400-800 words.

Blogs need to be portable (simple). Again, think fast food. Burgers, tacos, pizza. There are no drive-thrus serving Steak au Poivre  or roasted duck with an orange reduction. THOSE DISHES AREN’T PORTABLE.

This is why I break everything down into baby food particulates you can smear in your hair and fling at the wall should you desire. Hey, novel structure makes me want to fling things at the wall. Might as well be something orange that is easy to see and clean up, right? Simple is better. If you make points, illustrate with easy, visual examples which brings me to my next point.

Let me get this straight–an antagonist is not always a villain?

Blogs need to be visual.

Humans are story people. Stories resonate with our soul. We have enjoyed stories since we were sporting the latest Saber-Tooth fashions. People dig stories. Stories stick. If we are writers, then stories should not be that hard.

My blogs are so simple a…yes I am going there…so simple a caveman could get them. Why? Not only is it good blogging to keep things simple, but I have to be blunt. Writers are notorious for overcomplicating things. Yes! You! I know how you think, and it really is this simple. Stop making it harder than it needs to be.

Visual examples and illustrations help people grasp material and retain it. When they retain they return.

Blogs need to generate community.

Blogs do not have to be article after article. That is a formula to wear out fast and hate your blog, hate me, and end up drinking straight from a margarita machine.

Blogs are a way to just get people talking. Humans bond by giving opinions and advice. Don’t believe me? Call your mother. Like now.  We’ll wait.

*taps toe and hums*

I bet it took her less than 30 seconds to give you unsolicited advice or an opinion. Tell her Kristen says “Hi.”

Why do our mothers freely offer unsolicited therapy and opinions? Because that is how humans (including mothers) show LOVE and CARE and COMMUNITY. They give advice and opinions whether we want it or not.

Sweetie, I know you like it but that belly ring makes you look like a tramp.

If we write blogs that encourage others to give opinions and advice, that activates the warm fluffy feeling in their collective little souls. Hey, I know it does mine. I DIG giving advice. Why do you think I write a blog four days a week when I could be doing other things like dusting or paying bills or leveling up on Bejeweled?

I love telling you guys how to live your lives. It makes me feel special. But you know what? I love hearing the advice you guys come up with, especially when it involves candy, alcohol or shooting guns in the air with wild abandon.

In the coming weeks, we are going to explore many ways that you guys can blog and still have time for things like eating, sleeping and GASP writing your novel.

What are some problems you guys have been having? Setbacks? What do you love about blogging? What scares you? Do you have any advice? Recommendations? 

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Literary Agent Laurie McLean has a writer MUST-READ about making a Digital Marketing Plan

For the NF authors. Competing in a World Where Information is Free

The Power of Peer Recommendation and Reviews by talented Jody Hedlund

Author Voice vs. Character Voice–Finding Both by Roni Loren

Roasting Chestnuts: In Which This Writing Heretic Tackles Common Writing Advice by Chuck Wendig

How Much Bling Does a Writer Need? by Jennifer Holbrook-Talty

Story Engineering–An Interview with Larry Brooks over at the AWESOME Writer Unboxed

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  1. #1 by gingerclub on March 16, 2011 - 4:03 pm

    Hi Kirstin,

    You must have read my blog, I am sure. I felt so personally adressed. Great to have you as I am still in the learning process. I hope one day you can be proud and say, yes, she succeeded because of my posts.

    Cheers,

    Ginger

    • #2 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 16, 2011 - 4:07 pm

      Haben Sie ein blog auf English? Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut. In fact, mein Deutsch might make you bleed form the ears.

  2. #3 by Tiffany White on March 16, 2011 - 4:07 pm

    Thank you for the word count expectations…I’ve had no idea how much to write for blogging. Today’s blog was very beneficial!

  3. #4 by Jess Witkins on March 16, 2011 - 4:08 pm

    Oh I laughed so hard at that mother caption about the belly ring. Brought back memories of last summer when I told my sister I’d go swimming with her and her little one, but only if she promised not to tell mom I had tattoos. lol.

    I like that you’re giving advice on blogging and helping with that time management thing again. That’s my ever-lasting struggle. The time to work on all of them. I’ve been thinking about going back to square one wherein I change my diet/workout plan and see if I can use that to carve out more time for writing. I put in 50+ hours at my job every week, and I come home very tired and needing to make dinner/hang out with my partner, so maybe I’ll have to become a morning person. But I feel like I’m starting to make decisions based on the big picture. For example, I stayed late at work last night because a meeting ran late, a coworker needed her break, and a new hire walked in to train that I had no idea about. I put in a 11 1/2 hour day with no break. I almost stayed later thinking as long as I’m here, I should get some stuff done in the office, but then I thought “NO!! If you ever want to be a writer, get your a** home and start writing!” So I went home. I attribute that thinking to your blog. Thank you!

  4. #5 by K.B. Owen on March 16, 2011 - 4:16 pm

    I’m going to start charging rent for all the time you spend inside my head, Kristen, LOL. I’m experimenting with making my blog posts chattier and more “digestible,” and I think I’m getting there. (Today’s is about mothers and nurseries, check it out). Your fast-food analogy will help me stay on track when I start to get professor-ish on my blog.

    Thanks!

  5. #6 by Sheila Lamb on March 16, 2011 - 4:36 pm

    Hi Kristen – Great post! I’ve been revisiting my blog and working on some changes. Your post has helped. Thanks!

  6. #7 by Sonia M. on March 16, 2011 - 4:46 pm

    Stop peeking in my window!!!

    Seriously though, I’m loving blogging. I’m still so new at but I’m learning all the time. Thank goodness for your posts, Kristen. Although…people are probably getting tired of hearing me talk about you in “real life.” I know they’re saying to eachother “Shhhh! Don’t say blog or Twitter or social media or write or supercalifragiwhatever…or she’s gonna start talking about that Kristen Lamb again.”😀

  7. #8 by Elise on March 16, 2011 - 4:55 pm

    Kristin, this is my first visit to your blog and I’m already in love with you. I TRY to blog every day, and sometimes I feel like I nail it, and other times I treat it like I’m looking to be included in a short story anthology. Those are ALWAYS the blog posts that end up taking HOURS to “craft”… yet end up saved as drafts that NEVER get posted.

    Consider me officially signed up for this Learning Annex course, and I will gleefully share my alcohol/candy concoctions. As for guns shooting in the air, I only do Nerf.

    • #9 by Les Howard on March 17, 2011 - 3:29 am

      I can relate to that. I have more drafts than published posts.

  8. #10 by Anne R. Allen on March 16, 2011 - 5:22 pm

    As usual, you have totally nailed it. Blogging is journalism. This is why so many writerly blogs are such a snooze. Your example of what doesn’t work with the “Japanese news story” above is brilliant. Everybody needs to read this post.

  9. #11 by Melody Nunez on March 16, 2011 - 5:36 pm

    Thank you for the great post, and for the opportunity to win a critique!

  10. #12 by Dona Watson on March 16, 2011 - 5:59 pm

    Thank you for the permission to write shorter posts that are not each an individual work of art. I tend to be a perfectionist that takes way too long to produce anything. I’ve been reevaluating my blogging practices since reading your posts and am finding several ways I can streamline the process. For one thing, I spend so much time trying to make each post perfect that when I’m done, I spend too much time admiring my own work. I hate to admit it, but there it is. When it takes so much time, it’s hard to set aside blocks of time big enough to complete the “task” I’ve set out for myself, thus forgetting to have fun. Now I’m rediscovering the joy of just getting out there and being me. Again, thank you.

  11. #13 by Christen on March 16, 2011 - 6:00 pm

    Ha ha! I have a great story about a belly ring. I also love your “awesomeness mash-ups”–you give us some really helpful links.

    Thanks for giving us pointers about blogging. It’s way confusing out there, all the advice is like drinking from a fire hose.

  12. #14 by Ellie Ann on March 16, 2011 - 6:27 pm

    I hope my blog tastes half as good as a fajita burrito from Rosa’s.
    Thanks for the advice, Kristen!

  13. #15 by Alannah Murphy on March 16, 2011 - 6:41 pm

    Me thinks you’ve somehow acquired a device that can read people’s minds, as I was pondering this very subject earlier today🙂

    I have to admit, I never knew the difference between writing a blog, and writing creatively. I find blog writing so incredibly time consuming, most of the time, I cannot even think of what to write about, so I only write when I’m inspired. I am just too busy fininshing my novel, that everything else can wait.

    Never been good at multi-tasking, think I was a bloke in a previous life…

  14. #16 by Catherine Johnson on March 16, 2011 - 6:44 pm

    Every time I read a post like this I think the author has been looking at my blog again🙂 I have been thinking for a while how to connect with people without quite so much work, and may have found a routine that works for me, but I am very relieved to only blog twice a week. I just wouldn’t have any time left for writing otherwise. Love the grandma quote!

  15. #17 by Falyn Donaldson on March 16, 2011 - 7:03 pm

    My blog’s 1 year anniversary is coming up and wow have I learned a lot. One of the main things that I’ve learned is keep it simple. Don’t stress over what you’re going to say. As long as you know the topic, just talk. You can always go back and edit before you post it. If you plan everything out, it shows.

  16. #18 by silvercannon on March 16, 2011 - 8:21 pm

    I’ve been blogging for a little over three months, learning as I go. Well, learning the better ways to do it and procrastinating about changing. Stubbornly.
    I committed to posting daily in 2011 and will continue to do so but realized that it’s too much. Also, I greatly censor myself.
    Somehow I retain what you write about because it’s enjoyable to read–fun and informative. Hopefully I won’t keep blinders on when writing my blog too much longer.

  17. #19 by Madison Woods on March 16, 2011 - 9:42 pm

    For the most part, I read blogs to stimulate my mind, not necessarily for learning information about anything in particular. I love general musings about life and other writer’s public fumbling through it. Yours is about the only one I read for ‘how-to’ insight, except when I make the occasional foray into the agent and editor blogs.

    My own blog posts are a reflection of the sort of things I like to read… maybe not the kind of blog that’s going to attract a huge following, but I do feel a sense of community there and I like that.

  18. #20 by Ted Henkle on March 16, 2011 - 11:49 pm

    I loved your squirrel w/ADD on thin mints & crack commment! Thank you for the advice on blogging brevity. Gaming bloggers, like me, tend to get wordy because we feel the need to describe the complex geo-political machinations and grandiose strategic schemes that are the motivating factors behind the games being played. Now I’m curious about my word count and will keep your 400-800 limit in mind.

  19. #21 by Gary fultz on March 17, 2011 - 12:57 am

    Thank you Kristen, I thought I was cheating the reader with less words and more pictures. I’m still guilty of describing the wind swaying the noxious weeds sometimes. The hardest part is cutting short a long and very loved topic.

  20. #22 by Tawna Fenske on March 17, 2011 - 1:08 am

    Fabulous tips, particularly the one about building community. This is so crucial in the blogging world. Most of the time I think the discussion that takes place in the comment section of my blog is infinitely more interesting than anything I had to say in the actual post!

    Tawna

  21. #23 by Tamara LeBlanc on March 17, 2011 - 1:16 am

    Thank you so much for the blog writing advice. I got a kick out of the baby food analogy:) And I love the pics!
    maybe one day I’ll get it together enough to start my own blog. And with your wisdom in the back of my mind maybe it will actually be a good one.
    Have a great evening!!!
    Tamara

  22. #24 by Melissa Embry on March 17, 2011 - 1:55 am

    Hi Kristen — I loved your classes at the DFW Writers Conference! Made the jump from blogging one time weekly to three & it’s made a difference. I’ve linked to your blog & commented (twice — suck-suck-suck). Please put my name in the hat.

  23. #25 by Christi Craig on March 17, 2011 - 2:17 am

    Boy, I know I spend too much time on my blog posts.

    You’ve got me thinking. I love the fast food analogy. Maybe if I can figure out how to spend less time on a post, I can post more than once a week (yikes).

    I’m looking forward to your next posts in this series. Thanks!

    • #26 by K.B. Owen on March 17, 2011 - 2:35 am

      I know what you mean, Christi. Thanks for sharing your experience – I thought I was the only one! I’ve slaved over my posts as if they were mini-dissertations. and was scared to even try to post more than once a week. This week is the first time I’m out on the ledge – 3x! Shorter, more engaging of the reader (I hope). I’m actually relaxing a bit and enjoying doing it. We’ll see how the time issue works out!

      • #27 by Christi Craig on March 17, 2011 - 3:53 am

        Mini-dissertations. Yep. You know, it’s funny, because I love writing flash fiction. You’d think I’d be all over a “flash” kind of blog post🙂

        And, yay for you posting three times this week!

  24. #28 by writerwellness on March 17, 2011 - 2:20 am

    Advice:
    candy-hide it
    alcohol-order by the case
    shooting guns in the air-don’t

    My blog advice for the day.
    Joy

  25. #29 by sarahnsh on March 17, 2011 - 2:24 am

    I’ve been blogging since I was a teenager, though my ‘blog’ has been like what I’ve had since I was a kid, which is a journal. I’ve had a journal/diary since I was 5 years old, I’ve always loved doing it. I find your hints and tips very helpful! Your pictures are super cute too, and I loved your article.

  26. #30 by nrhatch on March 17, 2011 - 3:27 am

    It’s great when we can “get the party started” on our blogs . . . with comments flying around faster than strained carrots off a baby’s spoon.

    Then, people check in daily, not just to see what we are serving . . . but to see what others are bringing to the mix.

    Blog on!

  27. #31 by Marilag Lubag on March 17, 2011 - 6:16 am

    What do I love about blogging? The fact that it makes me think. It’s one of those things that I go, “so that’s what it was”. It’s a discovery along the way.

  28. #32 by Judy Croome on March 17, 2011 - 6:59 am

    This is going to be a must-read series. I probably won’t listen to the advice (ask my Mom, she’ll tell you my ears are for earrings only!) but maybe I will. Although that first tip (keep posts short) is simply….OUCH!

    Seriously, I’ll be watching for your next post. I need to get teh balance on my blog right so that I can free up more real writing time.

    Judy (South Africa)

  29. #33 by Gene Lempp on March 17, 2011 - 8:50 am

    Dutch chocolate, Baileys with coffee (cause we need both and the mint Bailey’s is just yum) and remember that your head is the first thing in the way when whatever you shoot into the air comes back down, shoot a picture instead, it rarely shoots back🙂

  30. #34 by juliastephens on March 17, 2011 - 2:07 pm

    Since I’ve recently started a blog, this advice is incredibly helpful to me. I tend to be very wordy in my writing and my blog is no different. I’m learning to edit, edit and edit some more. I tend to plan my blog posts, come up with topics to talk about, much like my books. I write them, save them and then go back to do my editing later.

    I came across your blog because I follow you on Twitter and now I have access to many other blogs because you list them. It’s like having a reference librarian working for me personally.🙂 Many thanks for all your advice!

  31. #35 by educlaytion on March 17, 2011 - 8:15 pm

    Yay for community! I love figuring out ways to get people talking through blog posts. We’ve got a little tournament going on right now and someone from our group has been Freshly Pressed each of the last two days. That’s great, and we can all celebrate that together. I’m very comfortable in grungy pants.

  32. #36 by Angel on March 18, 2011 - 2:11 am

    Thank you for this entry! I’ve been struggling to begin a real blog, and now I think I’ll have a better chance if I approach it more like this than like a short story. Thanks for the advice! Will be keeping an eye on your blog.

  33. #37 by Denise Wolf on March 18, 2011 - 2:44 am

    I would like to start a blog but am having difficulty deciding on a topic. There are lots of things I want to comment on and I’d like to keep it open but I seem to read advice that implies I should narrow my focus. Any advice?
    Thanks.

  34. #38 by Ells on March 18, 2011 - 11:45 am

    The thing that I struggle with is keeping blog posts short and to the point. I’m working on that one.

    And also trying to inject a little more humour/drama into my posts so that they catch people’s attention more, rather than just being dry and full of info.

    I love the way you manage to be funny and informative at the same time… “with the attention span of a squirrel with severe ADD that is high off Thin Mints and crack cocaine.”

    Best phrase ever!

  35. #39 by Piglet in Portugal on March 18, 2011 - 10:59 pm

    I thought this post really useful! I’ve often pondered as to the ideal length of a blog post; many are just too long. I personally enjoy reading short snappy posts with an eye-catching picture or cartoon. Community is also very important and since the WordPress challenge I’ve noticed how the “community” feeling has evolved; not only on my blog, but also those I visit on a daily/weekly basis. Do you feel blogging should also be fun?
    PiP

  36. #40 by Jenyfer Matthews on March 19, 2011 - 1:20 pm

    I love blogging for all the reasons you say – my posts are usually shortish, light and chatty, and I include colorful photos when I can. I get consistent traffic so someone is stopping by regularly – now if only they would comment more!

  37. #41 by Jenyfer Matthews on March 19, 2011 - 1:22 pm

    By the way, I should thank you for removing the occasional pang of guilt I feel for not being more “serious” or “instructive” in my blog posts on a regular basis🙂

  38. #42 by Roni Loren on March 20, 2011 - 12:40 am

    Thanks for including me in your mash-up!🙂 And I totally understand on the breaking the “don’t write long blogs” rule. I’m notorious for long posts too. But like you, I do try to break it up with headings and vital points in bold so that skimming can be done if necessary. And not I’m going to watch Kitchen NIghtmares with a new eye.🙂

  39. #43 by Jen on March 20, 2011 - 2:24 pm

    I’ve actually got a question. When you picture your blog in your mind, should you consider what other authors of the same genre are doing and try to incorporate some of that? IE, erotica authors giving sex advice, romance authors posting a hunk o’ the week, SF authors posting sciency tidbits?

    What’s a good number of topics to cover in a blog, especially if they’re not really related to your writing, but topics that make you who you are (or stuff you can speak on with some bit of authority or entertainment)? How do you keep your blog from becoming “hey guess what my kids/cats/dogs/frogs/chickens did today”?

    • #44 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 20, 2011 - 2:47 pm

      Write 100 words that make YOU unique. Your brand is YOU. Then find a theme and blog on topics that interest you AND interest readers. Your objective should be to make your blog a community water cooler where people like hanging out and sharing and voicing opinions. There is nothing, per se, wrong with blogging about our kids as long as we make it a discussion and invite people to share their opinions, thoughts and advice. Blogs are more than information and entertainment….they are engagement.

      This blog series is going to address this in more detail. But your blog cannot do what only your book can. Only your book can make people love your book. Our blog makes people like and want to support US, whether they happen to read our genre or not. I also have a book that will be coming out soon called, “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer” and it is a deeper explication of blogging😀.

  40. #45 by Catherine Johnson on March 20, 2011 - 5:24 pm

    Your blog posts have inspired me so much, even though I’ve only recently changed my blogging habits I’m going to change them again and I’m really excited about it. Thank you!

  41. #46 by Nick on March 27, 2011 - 5:58 pm

    “How Michael Connelly books saved my sanity” was a blog written on the assumption that we all share a need for a sense of escapism. We all need an escape from ourselves and to find it through books was really impressive.

  42. #47 by Jo on March 29, 2011 - 6:38 pm

    LIGHTBULB! I feel like you’ve just taken my wrist and gently spanked it. Thanks for the eye-opening, time for me to lighten up.

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