As Stephen King advised in his book On Writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
There’s great truth in this for fiction writers. To write well, you not only have to practice — to actually write — but you also have to read the work of others. You have to know the context in which you’re writing; you have to be familiar with the conversation already taking place in the world of books. (Especially in your genre.)
That’s no less true with blogging.
If you want your blog to grow and thrive, you need to commit to writing … and to reading others’ blogs.
The blogosphere is a massive conversation. Actually, it’s an array of wildly different conversations, overlapping and echoing each other with a variety of topics and voices. When you blog, you’re walking into a crowded room (your subject) in which people are already deep in discussion. What are they talking about? How can you join in and get others to listen to you?
You can only find out by listening to them.
Unfortunately, that takes time. And time spent reading is time not spent writing. So how do you strike a balance?
Tip #1: Prioritize writing. Give it a set time every day.
This is all I’m going to say on the subject of writing: do it. Every day.
Whether your “set time” is a specific hour, a duration, or a word count, give yourself one and stick to it. If you catch yourself arguing that daily writing is impossible, start with a minimum of 50 words on your blog or another project. You may be surprised at what you accomplish even with such a low goal.
This tip is especially important if you’re the type (like me) who finds it easier to put off writing than reading. If you want balance, sometimes you have to tip the scales in favor of the thing more readily neglected.
Tip #2: Don’t read what you don’t want to.
If you feel pressured to read someone’s blog *solely* because they’re an influencer, or they were recommended, or they have a reputation for blogging well … then don’t. Stop in once in a while to get some inspiration, but don’t force yourself to be loyal. You’ll just end up dreading it.
Stephen King followed up his comment in On Writing with this simple but important sentence:
I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read.
Why waste your time listening in on conversations that don’t interest you?
Read what catches your eye. Read what speaks to your heart, or ruffles your feathers. Most importantly, read what others are saying in the area you want to blog about.
It saves time and keeps you focused.
Tip #3: Subscribe by email to blogs you like.
Here I’m recommending more than insisting.
If you like a blog, subscribe to receive posts by email. Even if the blogger doesn’t have a newsletter (shameless plug: this one does), you can usually subscribe via WordPress or whatever platform they use.
The benefit of subscribing, for me, is that 1) I don’t miss good posts, and 2) I don’t have to fall into the vortex of social media to enjoy blogs. I do anyway, but that’s beside the point.
When I get an email notification of a new post, I’m far more likely to read it. I can mark it and save it for when I’m ready to sit down and focus.
Which leads to my next tip …
Tip #4: Dedicate a time each week to read blogs. Not scroll and scan — read.
This is the uber-secret.
You don’t have to read every day, if you’d rather not. You could choose one afternoon, or three half-hour sessions per week. The frequency doesn’t matter, and the length of time doesn’t have to be long. Indeed, it shouldn’t be.
What does matter is your focus.
This is not the time to keep Facebook in the background or respond to texts. Nor is it the time to scan posts like a rushed college student and leave a comment just to get your name and backlink out there.
One by one, go through those emails and bookmarks you’ve collected. Read them in batches sorted by topic, if that helps you stay focused.
Have a cup of tea and sit in a comfortable chair. Do what you would normally do when you’re pleasure-reading. Relax, concentrate, and enjoy the process.
Tip #5: Interact — but be sincere.
Leaving a thoughtful comment on a post is a great way to interact with what you’ve read. It signals to you (and the blogger) that what you’ve read is important enough to think and write about. In an age of quick likes and other shallow forms of interaction, comments are signs of humanity.
It may not help you balance reading and writing in a direct way, but commenting slows you down and encourages you to take the process seriously. If you’re digitally exhausted, slowing down and interacting in an authentic way is like a breath of fresh country air.
One caveat, though: don’t comment in order to get attention. If the blogger doesn’t reciprocate by checking out your latest post, or even responding … well, this isn’t tit-for-tat, as much as we’d like it to be.
Comment for these reasons:
- You enjoyed the post.
- You have something to add to the post.
- You have a question about something the blogger wrote.
- You disagree (and you do so with respect).
- You want to support the blogger.
In other words, be sincere. You should be writing because you enjoy it; you should be reading because you enjoy it. A comment, as in a real conversation, should reflect your desire to communicate with the blogger on their turf.
Tip #6: Get reciprocal with content, not comments.
Finally, if you really want a two-way conversation with another blogger, use your content.
Pitch guests posts. Quote them on your blog and link back. Ask to interview them. Respond to one of their posts with one of your own, adding another perspective. Enter a conversation!
That way, you’re not only being sincere … you’re also balancing reading and writing in the best sense: by weaving the two things together in a purposeful manner, rather than keeping track of time spent on one or the other.
Now … one last thing.
I’ve got a talent for dishing out advice on things I myself need to work on.
I need to get better about reading other blogs, especially blogs of writers in my genre. I need to get better about commenting, supporting, and holding up my end of the conversation.
But once you know what needs to be done, you’re that much closer to making the change.
So here are my questions for you:
What blogs do you read most often? Where (and why) do you comment?
Also … did I miss anything?