Read a Lot
Excellent writing typically does not occur in a vacuum. Most often, excellent writing is a conversation with someone else. This does not mean that you have to flat out agree or disagree with something that you read. You might be expanding upon someone else’s point, applying it to a new situation, or looking at it from a different angle. But, to do that, something needs to have sparked an idea. Often that idea comes from reading widely. My own discussion posts do not only come from reading other blogs. They also come from reading literary criticism, perusing a magazine, or reading the newspaper. They might even stem from conversations I have with other readers. Inspiration is everywhere, if you know where to look.
This approach can also help you to be timely. For instance, when discussion posts picked up years ago, people started noticing that they have a tendency to get more traffic than reviews and some considered dropping reviews altogether. This raised the question of whether it was feasible to run a book blog without book reviews. And every now and then discussions of plagiarism rock the book community. So we’ve written several posts clarifying where the boundaries are.
Identify a Need
By reading widely, you might also notice a need that no one is directly speaking about. For instance, Briana noticed that bloggers were feeling stressed by the increased number of things they are expected to do (not just blogging anymore–also social media, web design, graphic design, etc.). This allowed her to write a post about the possibility of cutting down your workload by co-blogging.
On the other hand, I noticed something because people weren’t talking about it. Realizing that the book blog community focuses primarily on YA, I wrote posts discussing the joys of reading other types of books such as middle grade and picture books.
Bring Something New
Discussion posts that really catch my attention are ones that bring something new to the table. If everyone is talking about Topic X, once I’ve read two posts on it, sadly, I’m pretty much done clicking on any other post addressing it–unless there’s a spin. If everyone is talking about why they hate X, I’d like to see someone write why they love X. Or, if everyone is talking about how they hate X for the same five reasons, I’d like to see a post about why someone hates X for five different reasons.
Doing research is one way that enables you to bring something new to a conversation. For instance, I still see bloggers worrying that YA isn’t a respected genre. And yet, its incredible popularity, its inclusion in college courses, its presence in academic journals and panels, all suggested to me that literary establishments have accepted YA. (What your aunt or BFF says to you personally is a different story.) So I did some research and I concluded that the debate over YA is over. Generally speaking, not many people are arguing adults should not read YA–actually, few people ever did! I still have not seen another blogger write about this, suggesting to me that doing the research really did bring something fresh to the conversation.
Write about Literature
I don’t often see discussion posts about the actual content of books, just about the reading or buying of books. However, I would enjoy seeing more literary analyses. We’ve done some here in the past, such as this post about whether Eowyn is a feminist character and this one on whether Cath is an unlikable protagonist in Heartless. We also ran Classic Remarks for a time, encouraging people to discuss a literary question each week (and people are still joining in the conversation!). Adding more literary analysis would be to do something radically different–and different is often engaging.
What are your tips for writing engaging discussion posts?