Blog of the Week: Jeff Goins Writer

Jeff Goins is an unpretentious blogger. You won’t see him writing stuff like the novelist and essayist Jonathan Lethem wrote a week or so back. Stuff like:

What’s a novelist? I remove myself from human traffic to sit in a room alone and make up stories about human traffic that doesn’t exist. For my living I climb into and then punch my way out of the paper bag of my solipsism on a daily basis…

Imgae of Write to Done Top 10 badgeNo, “solipsism,” both the word and the concept, is not in Jeff’s game. The Jeff Goins Writer blog, which was named one of Write to Done’s Top 10 Blogs for Writers in 2011, is shooting for a different audience than Lethem. Here’s Goins describing himself:

Hi. My name’s Jeff, and I’m a writer. I love compelling stories, worthy causes, and Pez candy.

I’ve been writing for most of my life. I started this blog in 2010 with some burning questions and a few ambitions. I wanted to know:

  • How do successful writers make a living?
  • What does it really take to get published?
  • When is it okay to pursue your passion?
  • Why do writers write?
  • How do you succeed at the creative life without going crazy?

Jeff goes on to add:

What I found in this search was a community of like-minded individuals sharing many of the same struggles with the craft.

Here is where we wage war on the blank page, where we band together to find purpose in our art and lives.

So there you have it, Jeff’s persona is that of one more stumbling-along explorer trying to learn the publishing game, on the same quest as a lot of other wannabe writers. He means that word “community.” The subliminal message of his blog is, “We’re all in this together.”

And here’s Jeff in a typical post, first published as “Finding Your Own Writing Style” (It seems to have been retitled as “Different Styles of Writing & Which Is Right for You”):

Your writing is unique. So is mine. Each of us may have multiple styles of writing, depending on the context. The trick is knowing when to use what and not getting pigeon-holed as a certain type of author.

This is the tension in which we all live: creating art as the Muse moves us, while being sensitive to the market for it. Your unique style will help you do this in a way that doesn’t compromise the integrity of your work.

You have to know your audience and writing in a way that is authentically “you,” while still being sensitive to their needs.

I’m sorry to say this, but this style of blogging ain’t authentically me. The problem is not so much that I disagree with Goins’s advice – though I do in this case – it’s that his way of putting things is so reassuring as to be a kind of pablum.

photo of Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem, a different kind of writer.

My advice to young writers is quite the reverse: try to figure out what kind of writer you are – that is, what genre comes naturally to you – as soon as you can. It may take you a while to do that, but knowing your genre will save you much frustration. Goins is so soothing in his prose, however, that it took me a while to figure out I disagreed.

But Goins is doing some things very well as a blogger. Witness the fact that he made the Write to Done Top 10.

What’s most impressive to me is the number of comments his blog posts get: 41, 204, and 101 for the three posts I benchmarked. How does Jeff draw all those comments? If we were to reverse-engineer out of his oeuvre (a word you won’t find Jeff using, by the way) a “7 Tips” article on how to generate comments, it might look like this:

Write short posts – Jeff sticks to the 500-600-word range.

Use a lot of white space and many short paragraphs – Jeff doesn’t want his readers to be alarmed by the sight of too many words visible all at once.

Know your audience – Jeff does – that is, an audience of true beginning writers. Jeff’s simple, unpretentious prose suggests a powerful subtextual message, something like: “Hey, writing’s not so hard. You can do this too.”

Stick relentlessly to your chosen topic – In Jeff’s case, that is tips for writers. This is the conventional wisdom about how to attract readers for any blog: become the world’s leading expert in your little field. Jeff stays on message.

Write hook ‘em titles – Jeff’s posts cry out to be read on their titles alone. Each one makes you want to know more. Some examples: “The Secret to Influence Is This”; “My Biggest Writing Struggle (What’s Yours?)”; “A Writer’s Biggest Barrier to Success.”

Always ask your readers what they think – Each post of Jeff’s ends with a question to his readers. They respond.

Zealously promote your blog in other forms of social media – When I last checked, Jeff, who started his blog in 2010, had 23,040 tweets floating out there in the Twitterverse, many with links to his blog posts. At that point Jeff was following 12,373 people in Twitter and 12,573 were following him. (Just as a basis for comparison: I see myself as a fairly active tweeter and I’ve been at it since 2008, but I’ve put out only 6,500+ tweets and  my numbers hover around 1,100 for my followers and those I’m following.)

Lesson I learned from Jeff: as Hamlet once said to a minor character, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Jeff Goins Writer is not a blog at the top of my list, at this stage in my life as a writer, but Jeff knows what he’s doing, he works hard at it, and he has his readers. Isn’t that what all bloggers want in the end?

2 Responses to Blog of the Week: Jeff Goins Writer

  1. Dunno, RasoirJ, but his blog did not please me at all and all I felt was a damn smart salesman behind it, who drew out of multiple drawers, none of which was his own. For some reason, he reminds me of Mark Whathisname of that ‘let’s all be friends’ so-called social site. He, too, knows what he is doing, knows it very well.

    • As always, RDR, I’m with you on your assessment of Jeff Goins as a provider of tips to writres. It’s not my kind of thing. But I do genuinely admire his energy and his ability to find an audience. I’n curious to see whether any of the rest of this Top 10 batch of bloggers is simpatico with the likes of you and me.

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