April 11th, 2013


How to Generate Content

In Tuesday’s post on using social media, yachiru asked a great question:

I've got an author blog and no idea what to put on it. Hey, I got rejected again by the same magazine?




(I do.)

Not all content is equal. As notodette discovered, sometimes guest blog posts (yay!  The blog owner doesn’t have to write today!) were not as well-written as original content. Some bloggers find that guest posts are actually thinly-disguised advertising. Bad content is worse than no content—it diminishes your reputation, it turns off readers.

But quality doesn’t have to be a huge, many-drafted essay--it can come from our personal experience. In fact, regular blog content is better when it’s

Personal, and

OMG—I have to write something every week? What if it’s not a diamond-sharp, multiply-revised presentation of my Best Thoughts Ever?

Be brief.

It only takes 20-30 minutes to write a blog post of about 300-750 words. Shorter belongs on Tumblr, so use the social media platform that suits you. Longer can be done, but not every reader has that kind of time. You’re actually doing your readers a favor when you are, usually, brief. Chances are you’re not the only thing they’re reading that day. They want to be provoked, or made to laugh, or get involved, briefly.

Being brief helps you write more often, using the available time you have. You don’t have to feel guilty that you don’t have an hour—feel good that you got out 400 words.

Ideally, you’ll end up in a rhythm—every Tuesday, or Mondays and Thursdays—that feels familiar to your readers. My most-prolific blogging streak was 18 months of five days a week. If I missed more than a day or two, regular readers would email and ask if I was sick. That helped keep me going—not just feeling accountable, but knowing people were eager to read and respond.

It’s OK to repost (properly attributed) content, use links, make it a picture on a day you’re not feeling like words. But whatever you do, make it yours. Put your attitude or spin on it.

Penelope Trunk is one of my favorite bloggers. Her break-out fame came from tweeting about having a miscarriage during a business meeting. She personally attacked a guy on Twitter who criticized her parenting, and “I Hate David Dellifield. The One From Ada, Ohio” is still one of the most popular posts on her site. Some days, I read Penelope and think, “She’s a loon!” and other days I think, “Wow, this is amazing—I’m glad she’s brave enough to write this.” I’m not just showing up to her site for the information, I’m reading because I’m fascinated by her.

So if your news today is, “I got rejected by the same magazine again,” write that. If your personality is manic, write about how you went down and made 100 copies of the rejection and used them to fold paper airplanes, wrote “Never give up!” on the wings, and flew them into the playground from the elementary school roof. Or how you dreamed about doing that. Or how you added another hatchmark on the bare plaster of your crumbling bathroom wall, how every day you sit on the toilet and count rejections like a prisoner counting days. No matter which of those is closest to your own experience, someone reading will gasp in shock and recognition and say, “Me too!” And then they will read you again next week.

You gotta give away the secret recipe. A genuine interest in the well-being of your readers helps them love you, and when you share information, they know you care about them. You can be judicious—I generally don’t offer up the magazine I’m currently submitting to, but if I see a good contest I know other writers will want to enter, I promote it.

You do not have to be "universal". The more specific you are about a resource and how it helped you, the more useful you are to your readers. The more effort you put into sharing something cool, or funny, or interesting, the more engaging you become. Karmically, this is an excellent thing. Cravenly, generosity makes you look powerful: That person has so many resources she can give them away! Passing on information helps you be seen as connected, part of the writing world or the blogging world or whatever world you want to be in.

* * *

Generating content is not an immediate return. I want to stress—again—that Amanda Palmer slept on a lot of couches before becoming an indie media darling. John Grisham sold about 2000 copies of A Time To Kill before The Firm broke out. Stephen King lived in a trailer—for several years—before someone bought Carrie.

In this respect, we are immensely privileged. King typed on a typewriter. His work had to pass through agents and editors before a reader could have access to it. We can get our content out there instantly, and we are our own gatekeepers. It’s up to us to determine the quality of what will represent us—forever—on the internet. So start slow, start small. Take on the amount of commitment you can deliver. Respond to comments. Engage with all four of your readers. Practice makes perfect--and brief, personal and useful content is a wonderful writing practice.

How much social media commitment can you take on? What does deliberately connecting with readers--personally or professionally--do for you?