News room: Using a blog to learn about writing... from your readers

Using a blog to learn about writing... from your readers by Anna Lewis

Sam Starbuck was the winner of Author Blog Awards in the Unpublished Author category with his blog Sam has been blogging since 2003 and so has plenty of experience to pass on. Sam explains how he uses his readership to help him with writing books by posting chapters online and encouraging others to critique his work. It may have started as an accident, with Sam thinking of his blog as a “very public email system” but it has turned into a tremendously useful process.

So, here’s a CompletelyNovel Q & A with Sam Starbuck.

COMPLETELYNOVEL: Why did you start blogging?

SAM: When I started in 2003, the general concept of what a blogger was hadn’t really yet been solidified. The blog was mostly a way to connect with other people; I thought of it as a very public email system. While I enjoy chronicling my life, I hadn’t ever been very good at keeping a diary, so I also thought if I could do it digitally then it might help me to keep it up on a regular basis.

That seems to have worked pretty well…

CN: Writing a blog isn’t like writing a private diary where no one knows if you haven’t made an entry in months. What keeps you motivated when you don’t feel like writing?

SAM: It’s rare that I don’t feel like writing, and when I do I usually just don’t write. Once in a while I’ll get an email or a comment saying “Hey, you haven’t posted in two days, are you okay?” and then I’ll put up a note to let people know I’m still alive, but that doesn’t happen very often. There’s always something to talk about, really, a book I’m reading or something funny that happened to me at work. A lot of information comes across my desk from my readers, so I almost always have interesting links to post if nothing else.

For me, blogging isn’t part of a job, it’s not work; it’s how I share my thoughts and see what other people are thinking.

CN: How long does it take you to write a blog post?

SAM: Depends on how long the post is. Sometimes I’ll start one in the morning and won’t get to post it until the afternoon because I’m gathering research for it; other times I’ll write a few paragraphs in a few minutes and send it off. It usually doesn’t take me longer than an hour or two, but then the style of my journal is very casual. Once in a while, if I know what I’m talking about is going to be controversial, I’ll set the post aside for a few days to think about whether I really want to post it.

CN: How much does blogging feed into your writing, and vice versa?

SAM: They are absolutely essential to one another. I have a process for writing my novels: once they’re written, or a good deal underway, I begin posting chapters of them for my readers to review and criticise. It started out sort of accidentally, but the process was amazingly educational. I learned more about writing in a month, the first time I did that, than I had probably learned in the previous year. I love the community of readers I have, and I love that they’re willing to tell me what they think is right or wrong about my work.

Plus, when I’m frustrated, they very kindly put up with me moaning about it on my blog.

Sam Starbuck’s Top Tips for creating a successful blog

  1. Find your own voice.I think the best blogs are the ones where people have developed a specific, detailed way of seeing life and are willing to put that into prose. I had an English teacher in high school, before blogging existed as a concept, who taught me that originality stems from honest perception — that in sharing the way we encounter the world, we are original, no matter how we express that.
  2. Realise when you are wrong (and understand that you don’t get a prize for winning an argument on the internet).
  3. Apologise when in error, even if it bites one’s pride.
  4. A love of research also helps.

CN: Are you active on Facebook and Twitter? Which platform do you prefer?

SAM: I have a Facebook but I find it a bit overwhelming, so I rarely use it. I am more active on Twitter but that comes and goes. I find both of them inefficient for meaningful communication; they limit mass interaction and tend to create an environment where misunderstanding and conflict happen very easily.

CN: How much do you think writing a blog has helped you as an author?

SAM: I think it sort of depends on how one views “being an author”. A blog, my blog anyway, is a direct interaction with others, more of a casual conversation than a book would be, so in that sense my blog is not really authorial. I don’t compose blog entries the same way I would the chapter of a book.

On the other hand, the very first book I published was the offspring of a series of posts I made about my experiences as a graduate student. So, I suppose you could say that writing the Copperbadge blog has given me a platform from which to develop my books.

CN: Tell us about any books you are writing now.

SAM: I have three books currently at various stages of development. “Charitable Getting,”: a novel about corporate fundraising in Chicago (the field in which I currently work), is in rewrites with an expected print date this summer. The Dead Isle, an alternate-universe steampunk fantasy, is set to start rewrites once Charitable Getting is complete. The Valet of Anize, a science-fiction novel about a servant on a futuristic colony planet, is currently about a third of the way completed, though it’s been paused for the moment while I deal with rewrites on the other two.

Thanks very much Sam!
You can find all three of Sam’s books for free at Go take a look!
You can also find out some more excellent blogging tips from Emily Benet, the winner of the Author Blog Awards in the Published Author category.

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Written by
Anna Lewis
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