Years ago, not all that long after the Libertà blog began, our good friend Lesley Cookman — she of the wonderful Libby Sarjeant mystery series — asked me if I would write a blog about writing a blog 😉
I didn’t. Not then.
And even now, after nearly 10 years and hundreds of blogs, I’m not prepared to tell you how writing a blog should be done.
What I will share with you, in today’s blog, is my own personal approach. If any of it is helpful to potential bloggers out there, that’s great. Chances are that most of you will already be doing what I do, and doing it better. And if you have other tips to share, do please share them in the comments. We can all learn to blog better.
Choosing what to write about is possibly the most difficult aspect of writing a blog. I can tell you that, after some two hundred-odd blogs, I find that increasingly difficult. But I do have some tricks and tips to help me find a topic. They may help you, too.
Writing a blog: choosing a subject area
Tip: start by asking yourself about the broad subject areas you are interested in. And the subjects you are knowledgeable about. You’ll be surprised how many there are.
In my case, because I started out writing historical romance set in the Regency period, I had history to fall back on. Plus costume, of course, since a Regency lady must be beautifully dressed for the exact period of the novel. (This image shows a costume from the Bath costume collection for the BBC’s Northanger Abbey.)
Then, once Sophie and I started running workshops, there were all the various aspects of writing craft.
Think about it. Don’t you have a similar list?
I’m sure you do. (We have dozens of categories in our list in the side bar. Tip: do have a look. You may be inspired.)
Going back to Lesley, who provided the inspiration for this blog, I’d suggest, just for starters—
- the craft of mystery writing,
- research for crime writing,
- anything to do with the stage and performance (Lesley was an actress),
- pantomime (where Lesley is an acknowledged expert and panto author),
- history of the theatre (for most of the above),
- Edwardian history (Lesley’s series The Alexandrians)
- travel and visiting foreign places (Lesley was an air stewardess for a while),
- the musical scene now and earlier (Lesley is from a family of musicians)…
And that’s just my guesses about potential subject areas for Lesley, without actually talking to her first. I’m sure she could come up with loads more.
And so could you. If you haven’t already.
Writing a blog on a specific topic
I admit finding a specific topic within a subject area isn’t all that easy. It’s all been done before, hasn’t it? And probably done better by someone else?
For me, the key here is to make the subject sound new and a bit different. Tip: I try to approach writing a blog like telling an anecdote to a good friend. If I preach to my mate about the glories of the Roman Empire, say, she’s soon going to get bored. And I’ll see that she is, when she yawns or intervenes to change the subject.
Writing a blog, I can’t actually see my reader’s reactions. But we can all imagine them. And we all know when we’re getting preachy, don’t we?
My tip here is to find a quirky side-light on your subject. Blogging on one occasion about the Romans in Pompeii, I turned to their porn. Or was it art?
Not preaching about the Roman Empire, though. (I hope.)
For another example, when I was writing a blog about the glories of autumnal tree colour—lovely pictures but a pretty bland topic, no?—I leavened the blog with a tale about my own run-in with a gingko tree in full autumn fig.
In case you haven’t read that blog, I can tell you now that I lost, hands down. And most readers laughed at exactly how I lost. (Tip: it’s good to make readers laugh if you can.)
My slant has been to look at how the gowns were made, or at the women who stitched them (for very poor wages) or at the lady’s maids who looked after them and tried to remove the stains and mend the tears. Which led me to a whole new subject area I could mine — servants.
Anyone for the curse of manly calves in silk stockings?
Choosing a blog title
It’s obvious isn’t it? You choose a title that reflects the content, like “Autumn Colour” or “Footmen”.
Er, no. At least, that’s not what I do.
Put yourself in your potential reader’s place. She has loads of blogs trying to claim her attention. Is she more likely to click on one entitled “Footmen” than on one entitled “Footmen: the curse of manly calves in silk stockings“?
My tip here is to try to get an element of your quirkiness, your side-light on the topic, into your blog title. That may be the only advert for your blog that potential readers see. You want to intrigue them, to tempt them into your world.
Titles can be quite long. My tip here is not to be afraid to use the available space. To beckon readers in. Provided they like what they find, they will keep coming back. And that’s exactly what you want to achieve, isn’t it?
Style for writing a blog
Everyone has their own writing voice, their own style. But it’s possible to write in more than one style.
For writing a blog, my tip would be to use a very informal, chatty style. As if you were talking to just one person. That’s what you’re actually doing, more or less, since each blog visitor reads the blog by herself.
If you make her feel you’re chatting to her—not talking at her—she’s more likely to keep reading.
What does an informal, chatty style look like?
And there’s nothing wrong with addressing your reader directly as “you”. Ask her questions. Ask for her opinions. If you’re lucky, and if she’s not too busy, she’ll comment.
If in doubt about your chattiness quotient, my tip is to read your draft blog aloud. Ask yourself whether you would say what you’ve just written—exactly as you’ve written it—to that good mate I mentioned earlier.
If you wouldn’t talk to her like that, it might be a good idea to change it to something you would say to her. The immediacy and the friendliness will come across on the blog page.
Do try it. You may be surprised how easy it is to get into the chattiness groove.
What to include in your blog?
Tip: use images. Lots of images.
They add interest to your words. And they can emphasise a point you’re trying to make (chattily, of course!)
Tip: you can even add a pithy caption to an image as I tried to do with the nail art above.
Tip: our rule of thumb, at Libertà, is that the reader’s screen, as they scroll down the blog, should always have at least one image in it, as well as text.
Why? Because screens of unbroken text can be really off-putting.
If you doubt me on that, have a look at the opening of a novel by Scott or Dickens or even the sainted Heyer. You may well find that a single paragraph covers one or more pages.
And don’t you agree that the lack of white space puts you off reading?
Tip: include links too. Links to your own previous blogs, for example. And links to other internet pages that help readers understand what your blog is about. Your readers may not follow the links. They don’t have to. But if they want to find out more about, say, the Bath costume collection that you mentioned, you should provide the link. (I did, further up, alongside that costume pic.)
Tip: links help your blog to rank on Google. It’s one of the many tricks of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). I’m not going to go into the mechanics of SEO in this blog since it’s already quite long enough. (That’s another tip. Your blog shouldn’t be more than one cup of coffee’s worth of reading.)
What I will say is that it can be useful to use an SEO plugin for your blog. At Libertà we use the free Yoast SEO plugin.
We don’t always do what the SEO says—it can be quite preachy about things like passive voice even though it doesn’t always know what passive voice is 😉 —but it does provide good advice on things like the meta description of the blog. That’s the short text that appears on a Search Engline listing. You don’t have to let Google write it. Tip: you can write the meta description yourself using an SEO plugin.
For interest, the meta description I wrote for this blog is above. And the keyphrase is “writing a blog”. (Tip: the keyphrase should appear in the blog title and the meta description and should also occur several times in the blog text.)
What about “buy my book”?
Ah, there I differ from some bloggers. Some authors write blogs that are “buy my book” or “read this great review of my book” or “come to this event where I’m promoting my book” and very little else. That may go down well with their fans but it’s not something we do here at Libertà.
At Libertà, our rule of thumb is that we each do just one promotional blog here when we have a new book out. And we try to give even that blog a different edge, like a competition, or some new insight into how the book came to be written. We think that’s fair on our visitors who come here to be entertained, not for a hard sell.
I admit to having done a selling blog over Christmas, but in my defence, I did give you a cute cat along with the sales pitch.
Here’s the cat. The video is still on the previous blog if you want to watch it again. Saying “aaaah” is not mandatory…
What do you do when writing a blog?
I’d love to hear your ideas now. Do please share because I, for one, am not above stealing all your best ideas to make our Libertà blogs more entertaining.