Monday, November 8, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Six: Creating Content

I don’t quite know why I feel compelled to add a disclaimer here, but I do. So here I go.

A vast majority of people online do not sit down and strategize their online presence. They kind of jump in and splash around until they find a dog paddle stroke that works for them. So if you’re comfortable with that, that’s fine. Just like there are a thousand different approaches to writing books, so are there a thousand different approaches to your online presence.

But for some, an online persona will be a primary way for our readers to connect with us, we might want to put a little more thought into it. That doesn’t mean it is inauthentic—it merely means it is not 100% spontaneous. And that’s okay. Just like we can’t write a publishable book with our first attempt at a first draft, we should expect to have to spend some time thinking and planning how we want to come across online.

So. Content. It’s the core of your online presence. It’s not only how you communicate who you are, but it makes you relevant to others.

From your previous week’s exercises, you should have a pretty good idea of what tools are in your online persona toolbox: your passions, your general blog style, your unique interests, things you love, some places where those intersect with your writing self/themes/mission statement, the reasons you want to be online in the first place, and your writing strengths. Phew. I’m exhausted just listing all those!

Hopefully, some connections and ideas have begun to form in your brain. Some new angle or approach to a familiar topic, some passion that connects to your writing in a way you haven’t seen before. Some layer of yourself you haven’t been comfortable sharing until now.

You also probably have some idea of your communication style. (That doesn’t mean you need to limit yourself to that. In fact, I HIGHLY recommend you give yourself permission to experiment and take some risks, try on new blogging personalities. But I’ll talk a little more about that later.)


It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many different approaches to each of these communication styles.

Let’s take information. Think of how very many different ways there are to inform: compile, synthesize, report, develop an expertise niche. (I truly believe that there will be a bigger and bigger need for compilation and synthesis. With over 14 billion blogs out there, the sheer tidal wave of information moving in our direction is beyond daunting. How do we even know where to begin looking?)

Not to mention all those ways of informing can be applied to thousands of topics that pertain to writing and publishing. Craft, industry, publishers, editors, agents, rejection letters, query letters, genre, writing processes.

What we’re looking for is a unique facet of ourselves that intersect with one of those broad based categories.

Similarly, there are many ways to entertain. Some bloggers entertain us with their voice. Others’ entertain by having their blog presence become almost an extension of their books (Deanna Raybourn, Gail Carriger). Some post short fiction or blog in character (Gilda Joyce, girl detective).

And if all that fails to jiggle something loose, you can always fall back on brainstorming. (I’m going to pick a few random examples from our comments and play with them for brainstorming purposes.) The thing is, you want to be certain the topic will sustain you and offer enough for you to  talk about for a long time.  Ideally you should be able to come up with about twenty topics relating to your broader subject matter. Then we’re going to expand each individual topic into specific posts.

If I were going to start fresh today, I might focus my online presence around being a Writing Craft Junkie, because the writing process—and creativity in general—fascinate me.

Writing Craft Junkie (Broad Subject)

(list of topics related to that subject*)
  1. Different plotting methods (3 act structure, 4 act structure, GMC, Snowflake method, Hero's journey, etc.)
  2. Different writers writing processes (There are so many writers! Endless possibilities!)
  3. Different structural tools (charts, graphs, worksheets, templates) 
  4. Different characterization techniques and worksheets
  5. Different schools of craft thought
  6. Definition of common craft terminology
  7. Nature vs nurture in building creativity
  8. Writing craft book reviews/discussion
  9. Writing craft website reviews/discussion
* I only did the first three just to illustrate what I meant. You will need to do it on all of them. :-)

Now that’s only nine topics, BUT, each of those has an almost endless supply of things that can be discussed within each of those topics. For example, the number of writers to interview on process is huge, as are the number of books or websites to review.

So even if you can’t go deep on a given subject, if you can go wide, you might be okay. As long as there are a ton of possibilities due to an ongoing, replenishing source of material, then it works.

Another example:

Happy Hermit (Broad Subject)

(list of topics related to that subject)
  1. Joys of being alone (quiet, no demands, in control of own destiny, getting to know oneself)
  2. Advantages of hermit lifestyle (use less energy, need less space, self sufficiency)
  3. How to be alone (dining, walking, traveling, entertaining oneself)
  4. Defining a hermit lifestyle
  5. Things to do when you’re alone
  6. Activities that are better alone
  7. How hermits navigate the holidays

Get the picture?

Another fun angle would be to take something like Melissa’s passions and interests, which were: Uninspiring Cook, Lackluster Housekeeper, Reluctant Laundress, Houseplant Murderer, and play with an online personality surrounding that. It could easily connect to writing and writers, since so many of us share those same qualities—usually they are the first things we ditch trying to make the time to write! That would be such an awesome support/connect/humor type of blog! I think there is a great seed/nugget for a dynamite, affirming community there.

So, this week's exercise is to comb through all the work you’ve done in the previous five weeks and see if you can find two or three broad subject areas that have an angle or perspective that is unique to you, then brainstorm and see if you think it can sustain a blog or online persona.

If you’re feeling brave, share your exercise in the comments and you will have a chance at winninga copy of MADE TO STICK. This book is great at defining what elements go into making ideas 'stick' with us, something that will come in most useful when writing your blog content!

Content is SUCH a huge topic, that I am going to talk more about it next week.

Also, if you have any specific questions about topic you want to make sure I cover, include those in the comments and I’ll be sure to address them.


Anonymous said...


“What we’re looking for is a unique facet of ourselves that intersect with one of those broad based categories.”

I’m having a Julie & Julia moment. Thanks, Robin!

(I'll be back later to share my exercise. Grandbaby is grabbing my ears, so I can’t concentrate today. LOL!)

Anonymous said...

I’ve been blogging with blinders, Robin. I never thought about making a list of topics pertaining to one subject, and it makes perfect sense. Here’s my assignment, although I need a snappier subject title. Hope I did this correctly:

Picture Book Writer and Collector (Broad Subject)

(list of topics related to that subject)

1. History of Picture Books (evolution, popular authors, myths, fables)
2. Collecting Picture Books (classics, award winning, hardcover versus paperback, etc.)
3. Different Medias of Picture Book Illustrations (oil paints, acrylics, recognizable styles, etc.)
4. Writing Picture Books (genres, craft)
5. Picture Books in the Classroom (curriculum tie-ins, meeting standards, resources, offer freebies for teachers like crafts, puppet shows, and plays)
2. Award Winning Picture Books (Caldecott Medal, Newberry)
3. Picture Books and Novelties (baby/board, plush toys)
4. Celebrating with Picture Books (party themes, crafts, games, and decorating ideas)
5. Picture Books and Social Issues (resources and interviews with professionals)
6. Writing Nonfiction (research, bibliographies, resources)
7. Picture Books in the Digital World (say it isn’t so, classroom benefits, etc.)
8. Picture Books at Bedtime (family traditions, establishing a routine for reluctant sleepers)

Each category could branch out into endless posts that correlate with personal projects and method, etc. There are several authors and illustrators with similar blogs (Anastasia Suen and Elizabeth Dulemba), but I think my unique background and perspective could bring something different to the table.

By the way, your last post really got me thinking about my silly privacy issues. I need to break away from that and start sharing more. I totally get what you’re saying, Robin. Thanks!!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Yes! That's it exactly, Kimberly! Yay! I feel like I should channel 'enry 'iggins and exclaim, By Jove, I think she's got it!

And I think it's always good to rethink our position on stuff. TMI is different from sharing authentic parts of ourselves which is different from creating privacy risks. Lots of fine lines with this internet thing!

Although my sons both tease me because we were so adamant about them being cautious online when gaming and joining forums, etc. and here's my name that's plastered across the internet. They claim irony is sweeter when directed at a parent. :-)

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Robin, can I just say that you are BRILLIANT?!?!!! This entire workshop on Online Persona has been incredible.

Anonymous said...

LOL, Robin.♥

Outstanding workshop!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Aw, thank you guys! And I have to say, I feel a little like I've just been whistling in the dark, so I'm THRILLED to know it's been helpful to you!

Anonymous said...

After your "taking risks" post, I found myself doing a "That which does not kill us gives us something to write about" post about channeling past experiences into scenes.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

My current blog has a bit of an identity issue. The bulk of the blog is devoted to query and synopsis critiques with weekly (or so) personal posts about life on my small farm. Neither of which have much to do with the type of novels I write and hope to promote in the near future.

I get more comments and interaction with my personal posts about farm life but fewer hits overall. These personal essays allow me to showcase my writing in a way that satisfies my creative need. With every essay I teach a little something about the topic as well as try to touch the reader emotionally. This is where I'm most authentic. But I only get about 70-80% of the traffic for my personal posts as I do for my critiques.

My critiques get traffic but I depend on others to feed content. The critiques and rewrites show off my exertise and knack for writing queries and synopses. I enjoy doing the critiques and I especially enjoy helping writers get requests but I feel the focus on critiques may be too limiting.

In both cases, however, I'm only attracting other writers. It just feels like such a closed community.

I think these topics are my strengths and my passion, but that I may need to extend myself into other areas instead if I'm going to tap into audiences outside of the writing community. Must think harder about this exercise...

Will the next post about content discuss frequency of posting? Is there a best-practice answer for this? Daily? 2X / 3X / 5X per week?

I notice, Robin, that you've mentioned you have multiple blogs, so do you think it's better to divide your efforts across two or more topic-specific blogs? How easy is it to promote and drive traffic to multiple sites?

And will we be considering how to measure the success of our online presence? Are there benchmarks for what constitutes successful blog promotion? How quickly should my traffic be escalating? Should I be shooting for 50 / 500 / 5000 hits per day at the 3-month / 6-month / year marks?

I'm realizing I have no idea what I should or could be expecting in the way of traffic. Or is that fodder for the next workshop? :o) said...

My blog, I hope, will be enlightening--show how political and economic system impacts environment, communities, families, health--especially in Florida.
It will also inspire readers to action
It will connect readers to take action—and write—together.
And, of course, I hope it will be entertaining, humorous, to get non choristers to return and sign. In particular, use irony, contradictions between the myths/platitudes readers in my rural community accept and the reality they know.
It will share only when I have a personal experience and reaction to that experience that illustrates how some event/situation has impressed me.

Blog name I'm thinking of: Chiggers, Sandspurs and Magnolia Blossom Wine. Tagline: Skipper Hammond’s Prickly Blog.

Possible topics:
1.The latest in Florida’s history of boom and bust. Lots of statistics on foreclosures, numbers of units built, units vacant, acres of wetlands drained, farm acreage lost, species lost or severely hurt by loss of habitat. Lots of before and after photos.
2. Reviews of books on Florida environment, including some fiction and biography.
3.Stories about Coalition of Immokolee Workers
4.Progress of canoe trail around the state
5. Construction of wildlife corridors under interstate highways.
6. Rails to Trails projects
7. Why is the water in all the springs named “Blue Springs” green?
8. Environmental organizations and land trusts
9. Farmers markets
10. Organic farms
11. Photos and stories from Florida Historical Archives—rivers, beaches, wetlands, longleaf pine forest.
12.What happened to mammoth catfish at Silver Springs? Would Johnny Weismuller recognize his jungle river today?
13. Trends in University of Florida ag school curriculum, research, extension programs
14. GM soy corruption of neighboring organic fields.
15. “Roundup Ready” weeds
I’m starting to get too specific, but you get the idea.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Kristin said: "After your "taking risks" post, I found myself doing a "That which does not kill us gives us something to write about" post about channeling past experiences into scenes."

Ha! That is so true, isn't it? I think that's one of the GREAT things about having a creative pursuit. All our heartbreak and turmoil makes such rich material!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Phoenix, what great questions/issues you bring up! Finding a way to branch out and connect beyond our immediately obvious comfort zone is what these exercises have been about, so hopefully you've gotten some ideas from them.

And yes, I have a blog problem. I am spread over too many places on the web, I think. I blog here, at my own author blog, I have a Theodosia blog where 'she' used to blog, but that has since turned into a more kid friendly/Theodosia's author blog. I also participate in two group blogs. Because of that, I do feel fragmented and as if my impact is defused somewhat, so clearly I am in need of an online presence makeover. Which I am ruminating on and plan to come up with a new approach sometime next year.

The blogs do not seem to drive traffic to each other very much, to answer that question.

And I will be talking more about traffic and followers and all that stuff in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned. :-]

R.L. LaFevers said...

Skipper, not too detailed at all! This is a great example of pulling together all that we've talked about, creating a broad-based subject you're passionate about, then brainstorming specific post topics. Excellent!

I also think your blog and its topic will perform a critical service--one that is evaporating (sorry, couldn't resist!) as more and more small independent newspapers and publications go the way of the dodo. It really does sound fascinating, topical, and informative. I think it's a winner of an idea!

And I adore the title. ;-)