You probably know the great business reasons why you should write a blog, just as you know why you should write a book (and not just because Seth Godin thinks you should!) Something that will support your business, expand your network and your influence, showcase your expertise, raise your profile, develop your insights… But here’s the surprising bit. You should write a blog even if no-one reads it. If a book is part of your business plan, start today with a blog. This is why.
1. Depth and detail
Most bloggers start off with huge topics for each blog post, then quickly discover how much they need to zoom in. ”Redesign your garden” becomes “Textured foliage for borders.” ”Manage your time better” becomes “A different kind of to-do list”. As you write regularly, you realise how much depth and detail there is to your expertise. You start with a list of 7 possible topics and suddenly it proliferates into the hundreds.
Similarly, when people plan their books, they overestimate the size of a book and underestimate the depth and detail of their knowledge. When I critique a book outline for a new writer, 9 times out of 10 I’m advising them to narrow the scope of the book and enrich the detail. If you’re already blogging regularly, you know this. You can estimate the size of ideas.
2. Categories and tags
Categories and tags emerge organically as you blog – and sometimes surprisingly. A topic you didn’t think would get much air-time is the biggest word in your tag cloud. Strands you hadn’t planned to cover become major categories. Likewise, the topics you thought would be central end up being just one or two posts. You learn the shape of your information.
Now imagine trying to map out your book with no help, no Megan reviewing your book outline, and no blogging experience. You write out that initial list you envisaged for the blog. You try to write the book to that structure. It doesn’t work, you can’t fit other important information in, you’re struggling for content… but if you’re blogging, you’re already learning the shape of your information.
3. Put things in words
Serious writers write all the time. We don’t carry notebooks to look cool – we fill them, constantly, and have boxes of the things at home. Our hard drives are reeling with writing. We write for work, for fun, for love, out of confusion, to understand our own thoughts… We are constantly putting our thoughts in written words. Expressing your ideas in written words and full sentences is a habit. (I even think in Times New Roman.) It’s a skill you develop. Shaping those full sentences into paragraphs becomes part of your thought-process.
To write a book, you need the regular practice of putting things in written words. Artists don’t start with oil paintings – they start with daily sketches. Your blog posts are your sketches. Even a week of daily writing will boost your skill.
4. Develop your natural style
Most people’s last experience of writing was from school essays, university dissertations, or business reports and plans. All of those need formal language. That’s why I get how-to books to edit which need to be almost rewritten – and they’re not even written badly! They’re just painfully formal. It’s the wrong style and it doesn’t work for the reader. It needs to be translated back into natural English. When I speak to the same person on Skype, to discuss it, I hear a completely different voice: friendly, natural, and engaging. That’s the voice we want in a book.
When people blog, they instinctively write in a more normal style. We all know that blogs are a bit informal, but not too chatty – natural. If your last writing practice was essays, dissertations, reports, and plans, you’re used to writing a formal style and it will show in your book. If you’re writing a blog, you’re already discovering your natural style. Again, even a week of practice can make a vast difference.
5. Learn your writing practices
As you start blogging, you realise that sometimes it sings from your fingertips, sometimes it’s blood from a stone. You rejig your weekly schedule: that Monday morning slot is the worst time for you, but you can patter it out no problem around 11 a.m. – or before breakfast – or at 2 p.m. You learn whether you need to map out a quick plan first, or whether it’s easier to just write it and then cut-and-paste around for a while. You learn how long each post takes you and what’s a comfortable length. You discover that you write best away from your desk, or with a clear desk, or staring at a plant…
All of these are essential lessons about your writing practice, if you want to write a book. You need to know the time and place you write best, whether to plan and write to the plan or draft and redraft, how much you can write at a time, how many words you produce in that time. When you have that info, you can estimate and schedule your book-writing process accurately. It’s not a looming great dream: with a little maths, it’s a clearly scheduled project with specific interim goals and an achievable deadline.
Bonus: Join and build your community
All this is if no-one ever reads a single post of your blog. That said, I’ve never read a blog that no-one reads. (If you have, you’ve created a paradox that might collapse the universe. Think about it.) Even without trying, you will garner some hits. And of course you’ll try, because it’s part of your business plan. What you might not realise is that it’s also part of your book plan. 99U explains why you should build a community of readers – before you publish and your blog allows you to do that. Develop your readers. Be a reader – find other blogs on your subject, learn more. Network with other blogs – post links to their info, guest on each other’s blogs, link to your favourites in the blog roll. While you write your book, and when you publish it, you’ll want cheering spectators.
Your next step: if you don’t have a blog, open a blog. If you do have a blog and it’s on the backburner, open it up and plan to write. If you write your blog regularly already, read last week’s post on how you can turn your blog into a book… in 30 seconds!