Today marks a year since I created Slumdog Soldier – the anniversary of my first post on blogging advice, when I started publishing on a consistent weekly schedule. This was my first go at being an active giver to this online community rather than just a passive consumer; over 20 short stories and 31 chapters later, here are some key things I’ve learned:
You don’t have to write literally every single day. Just write consistently.
Since I’ve noticed everyone’s Number 1 Writing Tip on writing forums is “write every day”, I wanted to offer a counter-perspective.
Writing every day doesn’t work for me. It never has. You hit a running stride for a few good days, then you run out of steam and it’s like beating your head against a brick wall trying to keep that momentum going. Once I hit a writing slump, I won’t recover until I take a day or two off. Doing too much can be exhausting, paralysing and creatively draining.
In my opinion, the far better (and easier) method is keeping to a set schedule. Take breaks to recharge yourself but always get back to consistently improving your writing.
I try to ‘work’ on my stories every day. Note: Background research & getting outside inspiration is just as important as writing. In a given week I’m only really writing stories for a couple of hours. The rest of that time is exploring, researching, playing with ideas, outlining, trimming down old stuff. Reading old favourite books is a great way to get new inspiration too! That happens almost every day, and is just as important as typing the words on the page.
However, sometimes the ‘work’ behind my writing can take 3+ hours of my day (usually across multiple stories) and sometimes that’s just 15 minutes. My ideal schedule is publishing on Mondays, at least one story a week. To some bloggers that’ll sound ridiculously small but that’s exactly the point. I always meet (and often surpass) my personal goal, write more than expected and feel great. On bad days it’s a manageable goal to hit and I can edit more rough drafts during the rest of the week.
I’ve noticed much better feedback since trying this weekly schedule. People respond to my characters better, feel a stronger forward momentum in the story plots and I’ve even gotten a few really heartfelt messages regarding a flash fiction or two. When I’ve spent time polishing up each story, they really resonate with people.
Just because I’m not physically ‘writing’ a particular story every day, doesn’t mean I’m not consuming other inspirations to improve my work, whether watching film and TV, reading old favourite books, or going for a breath of fresh air and change of pace. Jotting ideas down. Playing around with scenes and characters in my head. Tweaking a section of dialogue over a few days to get it just right. Fixing this plot hole here. Altering that illogical action there. Always keep your creative brain humming – it’s not just about padding out the word count every day.
For example, I’m polishing up my next fantasy story right now (ahoy Philip Pullman fans!) and in my spare time I’ve been re-reading His Dark Materials trilogy. It’s taught me a lot about how to naturally map out a set piece around sympathetic characters, build emotional stakes for your audience, and how to craft believable exposition that pulls the reader into a vivid fantasy world. By absorbing other content, you’re constantly learning new ways to enhance your writing skills and improve your own stories.
And that’s just as important as staring at a blank screen trying to coax words out onto the page.
Don’t be afraid to push yourself
I’ve spent plenty of times staring at a blank draft late at night, worrying why I was doing this to myself for a few hundred meagre words that would be lucky to get maybe ten people to read it. However, there were even more times where I sat down to a blank page and wrote something in a few hours which I was genuinely proud of. I knew last September that if I didn’t have a regular schedule, I wouldn’t be able to convince myself to post something consistently when I didn’t feel up to it. By giving myself a set weekly deadline and a fixed posting hour, I had the small push I needed to keep writing. And after that…the blank page wasn’t quite so intimidating.
Stat counts don’t really matter
Worrying about increasing your follower count, your likes, or the peaks and valleys of your viewing figures…will only increase your immediate stress and can be really disheartening, particularly when you’re first starting out. I know: I went through that phase. I got low, I reassessed what truly mattered, I pushed the stats worries out of my mind, I got over them.
And I got better.
Everyone goes through that initial self-doubt. Don’t get hung up about building your audience with every site or blogger that shows a passing vague interest in your work – if they truly enjoy your content, they will revisit your site and leave constructive comments on your work time and time again.
Put it this way: which would you rather have, a nameless faceless mass of over 5,000 indistinct followers with no real personalities behind them…
…or a much smaller close-knit community of fellow writers, artists and bloggers who enjoy what you write, look forward to new content, prop you up on your bad days, and take time to leave genuine positive feedback on your work?
Because of my particular niche and the spaced-out nature of my weekly blogging, I know my audience is naturally small and I won’t build a large following anytime soon. That’s completely fine. I don’t want to strive towards an unrealistic end goal. I like it this way. Rather than being overwhelmed with spam comments from token viewers or a flood of advertising, I’ve deliberately kept my audience trimmed to a small crew of supremely talented people – it’s much more manageable and enjoyable when you know there’s an actual person behind the screen. There’s maybe…thirty people (if that) whom I can confidently rely on to keep up with my new content and regularly leave genuine supportive feedback for my novel and flash fictions. We all keep up to date with each other’s latest works, so it’s great to have that close community of talented writers and poets spurring each other on.
And I think that’s wonderful 😀
Engage with other bloggers
Your online family is one of the first big audiences you’ll have for your creative work – so take the time to connect with them. People can spend their time doing a million things under the sun, so the fact that they’re spending time reading your blog does and should mean a lot to you. If they leave you a comment, respond to it. If they send you an email, let them know that it came through. If they ask you to check out their page, check out their page. Let them know that you’re actively listening and that you’re grateful they took time out of their day to view your blog. I’ve learnt so much from interacting with talented bloggers who’ve been kind enough to return the favour.
Networking isn’t just about growing your stats page – it’s about connecting and learning from other bloggers and reading some fantastic new blogs! So reach out to others who interest you and whose work resonates with you – it’s so worthwhile in the long run. You’ll gain new knowledge in a particular niche, new ideas on how to build your blog, and expertise from other writers.
I’ve definitely improved as a writer by connecting with other bloggers here – having them critique my stories definitely helped me polish them up to be the best work I can make, as well as noticing any faults I might have initially missed. Don’t underestimate how useful beta feedback can be – it changed my blogging for the better 🙂
I love returning to my old favourite blogs, but I would absolutely recommend any new blogger to go read other blogs – explore, read, share, learn and enjoy; the payoff is totally worth it. Having that fantastic WP community here has really encouraged me to continue creating such varied stories for my faithful readers. I’ve found some truly wonderful, creative, talented, hilarious, amazing and supportive friends here who love what I publish and found value in my stories, motivating me to keep writing new material every week. Every encouraging comment from a fellow blogger is a positive fist-bump that keeps me going and reminds me why I’m doing this.
Thank you wonderful readers for supporting me by reading my scattered ramblings, commenting on my stories and consistently enjoying the content I publish. It means the world!
Tom 😀 ❤