Writing Diversely From A Non-Diverse Standpoint

A few weeks back, someone posted a thought on Twitter that can be summarized as such:

Dear white people: Please stop writing minority characters into your books. You’re taking away readership from POC/minority writers.

I remember not being particularly caught off guard by the tweet. After all, it came from a writer who identifies as a minority writer in many ways (race, sexuality, religion…those are the ones I can recall at least). And part of me gets the point. There is definitely a gap between sales of books from white authors and from non-white authors, whether we’re talking about children’s book authors or otherwise. There’s a need for diversity in writing, not just in characters, stories, and points-of-view, but also in authorship. That much is very true.

And yet, I can’t do anything about the fact that I am writing from a white, straight, English-speaking, higher-educated male viewpoint. I want to write in a more diverse manner. It’s a goal I put forward for myself after publishing An Epilogue to Innocence.

I do think there are some things I did well in AETI. I tried to make the book less about good guys and bad guys and more about people — regardless of their gender, background, or religious views. Yes, religion, sexuality, gender, and mental illness were addressed in the book to varying degrees. And yes, there were shortcomings I had with the book. In particular, I wanted to find a way to make my future writing more diverse racially and culturally.

As an example, I recently wrote a story that I think has a lot of potential. The story is intended to introduce a larger world and as such, there are very limited deep details given about the main characters in the story that will be reappearing in later iterations of the story. You know, world building and what not.

One of the characters is supposed to be a woman of Filipina descent. I actively chose not to introduce this facet of her character in the first section[1] of the story because I didn’t want her race to become the focus of her introduction. While her race is part of who she is, in the world in which she exists, what causes judgement and discrimination is not race — it’s something else entirely[2]. Yet, at the same time, I feel as though it’s not only important that I have an understanding of the discrimination that any minority individual goes through in order to write my story effectively, but also in order to grow as a writer, I need to better understand how to write characters who are culturally different from me.

So I look to you, my readers, for advice. Many of you are also fellow writers, hence hoping to pick your brain on this topic. How do you write more diversely when you write fiction? What tips, tricks, and recommendations would you have for me as I look to become a writer that writers not just about those I know, but also those I hope to better understand?

The Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Blogging

I’ve been blogging for far too long. While That Tiny Website has only been active for just shy of a year((The first anniversary is technically October 20th)), I’ve been blogging regularly since January 2009 and blogging intermittently since 2005. By my count, I’ve written over 1,200 posts with way too many words viewed by hundreds (if not thousands) of people. Some of those posts might even have been interesting.

There’s a lot I’ve learned in that time — some of those items useful, some not. For today’s post, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the more lasting lessons I’ve taken from blogging and talk about them a bit. While blogging may well be a dying art((Or at the very least one that’s slowly becoming dominated by businesses trying to push a product and salespeople trying to mislead you into buying something you don’t actually need through the use of deceptive information.)), I know fully well that there are young people out there who are just starting blogging and are looking for advice. Hopefully this is able to help that reader.

Blogging Consistently Is Better For Your Traffic Than Binge Blogging

I realize these concepts may have some level of overlap in the concept of volume blogging. There are plenty of bloggers who participate in programs like Post A Day, Blogtember((Or Blogtober, Blogvember, or any other month jammed against the word blog you can think of.)), or BEDM((Blog Every Day in May.)) for sake of hoping to draw in lots of readers over the course of a one or two month blitz of blogging. As someone who participated in Post A Day in both 2010 and 2011, I can tell you confidently that while you will see in your traffic short-term during the event in question, it’s rare that many readers from that event will stick around long-term. Sure, you may have a couple of readers stay after the event in questions, and if that’s all you’re looking for, awesome. But don’t expect people to stay around if you post 30 posts in 30 days, then nothing for months.

A key component to gaining consistent readership is to have a posting schedule and stick to it. I’ve personally found that my blogs get the most traffic if I’m posting three times a week((Usually I went with a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, however your mileage may vary with such a schedule.)). While I can’t currently post with that frequency due to the demands of work, even following my current schedule((Twice a week on Mondays and Fridays for those who aren’t familiar with this blog.)) has netted me consistent readership. I don’t typically see giant spikes in my traffic month to month — but at the same time, I don’t see giant valleys in stats either.

Replying to Comments Helps Build Repeat Readership

It might be a very simple statement to say this, but I really wish I would have known to reply to comments when I started blogging. My very first blog had relatively decent readership for the amount of marketing and sharing I did for that blog((Read: Zero. This was a pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook age where I blogged on Xanga.)), and I actually got comments from time to time. I also don’t think I replied to a single one of them. While not replying to comments can work out fine if you see the commenter regularly, it’s not a good way to build rapport with someone over the internet. Interacting through comments, both on your blog and on blogs you read, is a great way to build a consistent readership base.

People Will Prefer Pictures To Words

I have a second blog. It’s an invite only blog where I post my short stories/longer stories as I write them so as to get feedback on the piece itself, how it’s progressing, character development, and what not((If you’re a regular reader and would like an invite, let me know.)). I had someone come to me earlier this year and ask me why I don’t use this blog for that same purpose.

Statistically speaking, the story posts I write generate the lowest number of hits and fewest comments of any of the posts I write. That’s not to say they’re the worst quality — usually they’re the posts I spend the most time on writing. That said, my short stories tend to average 1,000-1,500 words, while the chapters of longer stories I write can be anywhere from 1,500-4,000 words at a time. While those items certainly can qualify as long-form blog pieces, there’s a reason that more than a few blog advice sites will tell you to keep your blog posts under 500 words. Many readers prefer a quick article with pretty pictures over something written with substance, research, and detail. That’s not to say that shorter pieces can’t be interesting. But it is to say that if you plan to write longer posts((As I tend to do.)), you should fully expect to have a smaller blog following. That can be good or bad, depending on how you look at things.

Other bloggers: What did you wish you knew when you started blogging? Agree or disagree with my pieces of advice? Sound off in the comments.

Play While The Arena Is Empty

A common experience every new blogger goes through as they’re starting out is a writer is a lack of traffic. There’s a myriad of reasons for this quiet period — people don’t know your blog exists (at least in large quantities), you (likely) don’t have a ton of content already written, and search engines haven’t picked up on your posts in mass. While there are efforts that every blogger can make to improve their traffic, those actions are not the focus of today’s post. Rather, I’d like to focus on why it’s important for bloggers to use that quiet time before their blog gets big to hone their craft and ready your blog — and by extension yourself — for the time when you do have a large amount of traffic.

This post was inspired by 8 Practical motivations to blog when no one is reading it by Mark Schaefer over at businessesgrow.com. I’ve decided to provide my own take on the concept of blogging while no one else is watching, hopefully expanding on Mark’s reasons in an effort to make any aspiring bloggers who come across this site motivated to write.

Your Craft is What You Make It

Those of you who are long time readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of professional wrestling. When a wrestler is just starting out with a gimmick (their character), they’ll often work a series of live matches that occur prior to the television show that they’ll be appearing on. These matches, referred to as dark matches, are meant to help the new wrestler build chemistry with a crowd in anticipation for their television debut. Think of a quiet period early on in your writing as a dark match. You’ll spend time honing your writing skills all while learning what works and what doesn’t for a far smaller audience than when you hit the big time.

Your Success Is Dependent On Your Effort

Recently, I had a discussion with a coworker about how new hires at any job go about learning their new skills. Sure, there’s a traditional training designed to get a new hire up to speed quickly and smoothly, but at some point in time, the responsibility for succeeding at a position falls squarely on the shoulders of that new employee. People around you can certainly create the base for you to grow as a blogger, but it’s your responsibility to achieve your own dreams and forge your own path. Go to the blogs you read and look for inspiration, as it’s great inspiration. That said, when it comes down to it, your voice will be the one remembered when you write. Let your product be reflective of your work ethic.

An Empty Arena Is An Echo Chamber

Who’s your best friend when it comes to writing? Do you have a muse or a source of inspiration that you have to go to in order to be motivated to write? While having inspiration is a great thing (hell, I’d encourage it in most circumstances), it’s important to be your own ears when you write. As you gain more followers and readers, while many of them will be wonderful, helpful, welcoming individuals, you’ll likely have to wade through your fair share of bullshit along the way. Train your ear early on to determine what feedback is constructive criticism and what feedback is blatant dickery. Remember: just because someone’s trolling doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to help, and just because someone’s trying to help doesn’t mean they aren’t trolling you.

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait…The Right Amount of Time

So you want readers to come to your blog and comment? Good. That makes you one of 634 million websites who want the same thing. The difference between being memorable and being a statistic is knowing when to promote yourself. If you’re not writing while all is quiet and no one is reading, you won’t have the practice to post quality content when people actually care what you’re writing about. If you spend too much time promoting your coming site and don’t write great content, you run the risk of being here and gone quicker than a hiccup. Building a readership base is a process. Don’t neglect the most important part to any website — content. Your content will let you know when it’s time to promote.

Do you have any feedback you’d like to share to new bloggers? Feel free to post it in the comments.

Understanding Why You Write

From time to time, I want to try to be able to give advice to new bloggers who stumble across this site. While I recognize that the majority of my current readers are veteran bloggers (as am I…this month marks 10 years since I wrote my first blog post), everyone had to start somewhere. In order to stick with blogging — in order to bridge that gap between a newbie blogger and an established blogger, there are many things that must be taken into consideration. I personally consider the most important of these to be knowing and understanding why you write.

I’ve done the whole “why I write” spiel at various points on old blogs, and may well write it at some point in the future on this blog. Why I write isn’t the purpose to this post. If you’re a new writer looking to understand what makes you write, having a greater understanding of why writing is important to me will only (likely) help you a bit more than a handful of comments on your blog. But to have a deep understanding of what drives you? That’s an invaluable asset.

I was reminded of that very fact by this post from Erin over at Coma Diary, wherein Erin shares what drives her writing. I’d encourage you to click the link and give it a read, as it’s an interesting view into the psyche of why someone who is both a blogger and an artist does what she does. Without taking too much of her thunder away, blogging is a very personal endeavor for Erin — one where she wants…no, needs…you to feel her persona, her emotion, and her passion in her words in order for it to be quality. I’ve talked to other bloggers who write to share their story, some who seek to tell the story of those who can’t tell it for themselves, or even others who use blogging as an outlet to allow them to continue living their own story.

As you go to write your next post, take a moment to think about what ignites your passion for writing.

Is there a specific topic that you love to research? Do you have causes or political views that you enjoy bringing forward for a nuanced debate? Are you looking to chronicle your family and their lives? Does the aroma of a freshly cooked meal take you back to places you’ve long since left and raise nostalgic memories for your childhood? Is your love something else altogether?

Whatever your passion is, I encourage you to latch onto it and talk about it in your blogging. While you certainly can blog about things that you don’t care about, you’ll find that your writing will be more enjoyable — not to mention a longer-lasting hobby — if you tie your writing in with whatever your passions are.

Front page image credit: Keith Williamson on Flickr.

Finding Your Writing Place

I enjoy writing when I’m flying. Perhaps it’s the lack of distraction that being on a plane typically affords me, perhaps it’s habit more than anything else. I’ve found that if there’s one consistency to my travels the past three years or so, it’s that if I’m on a plane, I’m finding a way to write.

Getting on a flight to anywhere is a rather expensive place to find solace and comfort to allow creativity to flow. If I had to choose between finding a couple of hours of (relative) quiet, distraction-free time, and saving a couple hundred bucks for a one-way flight, I’d take my chances sitting at a Panera and hoping they had black bean soup that day.

I bring this point up for a purpose. Specifically, I believe that anyone who endeavors to be a creative writer needs to find a place that they can call their writing place. What that writing place looks like will differ a bit person to person, as there’s no single trait that is universally revered when it comes to creativity. There are a few things I think need to be considered attempting to find your writing place.

Noise Level

First and foremost, consider the noise level you’re comfortable writing in. I can personally deal with minimal levels of ambient noise around me when I’m writing, particularly if my project is work related or a blog piece that’s non-fiction. However, if I’m working on a short story or other piece of fiction, I need near silence in order to concentrate and work effectively. One of the people I went to grad school with wrote all of her course papers sitting in a Starbucks at six in the morning. While that certainly wouldn’t be my cup of tea, I’m all for whatever works.

I would recommend that if you are writing, you avoid using headphones to change the noise atmosphere around you. While I’m guilty of ignoring this rule at times myself, I still preach this as putting in headphones encloses you in a bubble from the world around you. In particular, if you’re writing creatively, putting headphones in masks you from potential inspiration going on all around you, be that the conversations in a coffee shop, the sounds of the outdoors, or even the mechanical whirr of the air conditioning in your home.

Proximity

Regardless of if you’re someone who has to write for your job or if you’re someone who writes purely for pleasure, the proximity of your writing place is key for being able to grab inspiration whenever it arises. This doesn’t mean that your writing place has to be in your home. Although it’s certainly helpful if your writing place is in your home, the key is to be able to get to it quickly when inspiration does strike.

I recognize that not everyone can drop what they’re doing at a moment’s notice just to chase an idea that we must write about. Responsibilities, be they work, family, or child related, regularly take priority over our writing for good reason. For those who have smartphones, if you’re struck by a moment of inspiration, but don’t have the time to write, I’d recommend making use of a note saving program like Evernote to quickly take down the idea and move on. Even if you never end up writing about that specific idea, it’s out of your head, allowing you to think more clearly and focus on whatever tasks you have at hand.

Time of Day

Finally, it’s important to recognize how time of day impacts our writing place. Think of your writing place as if it were your bed. You go to your bed at nighttime because it’s time to sleep, and your bed will help you to sleep. If you were to go to your bed in the middle of the day, you might take a nap, but it’s more likely that you’re not using the bed for sleeping at that time. If you spend too much time in your bed when it’s not time to sleep, you’re training your body to believe that the bed isn’t always for sleeping, which may make it harder to fall asleep when you actually need to.

Your writing place works by the same premise. If you’re a nighttime sleeper, you’re typically not going to sleep during the day. Why would you go to your writing place first thing in the morning if you know you write the best in the late afternoon? You’re doing nothing but wasting your time. Find the time of day you’re the most productive and stick to going to your writing place during that time of day. Many productivity applications can help you determine when you’re the most productive for certain tasks (RescueTime is the one I use personally). Take advantage of the opportunity to put data in front of you and learn when you’re best served to write.

Do you have any recommendations for someone looking to find their perfect writing place? Sound off in the comments.