Here are my reflections on some of the reasons that I think writers should maintain a blog. They are by no means mutually exclusive.
In no particular order…
Blogging is a very forgiving medium in some respects. You can, if you like, keep a blog going just for the sake of experimentation with different writing styles. You don’t have to share it with anyone else, except if you’d like their feedback on something you’ve tried. You could even use your blog for writing against a creative writing prompt each day. If your efforts are not, in your opinion, wonderful, who’s to know?
Keep an online notebook
To an extent, this could be similar to the previous point.Rather than, or as well as, keeping a notebook or scrapbook of conversations overheard, or things seen, you could post it as a blog. Again, you don’t have to share it with anyone, and it’s there whenever you wish to refer to it, from wherever you happen to be.
There are alternatives – perhaps even better alternatives. (For example, Evernote is especially useful for this sort of thing. I think that when the Moleskin Evernote notebook is available (which I am told will be in January 2013 in the UK), you will be able to have the best of both worlds: write something in the notebook, then take a photo of it and upload it to your Evernote account.) However, the advantage of a (private?) blog is that you can practise writing, keep notes, and do lots of other things all in one place, and then easily share all of it if and when you feel confident enough to do so.
This could be subsumed under the previous heading, or it could be more organised, and possibly deeper, than merely keeping notes. You may, for example, wish to write your views on a particular book, play, or blog you’ve just experienced. Your reflections could even be developed into reviews, for public consumption.
So far, much of what I’ve said suggests having a private blog, for the most part. But there are compelling reasons to have a public blog as well.
Showcase your work
I should not like to mislead you into believing that there are hordes of editors and publishers who have nothing better to do than trawl the internet looking for their next best-selling author. However, it does no harm to have what amounts to an online showcase for your best work. If you cannot obtain permission to publish the items from whomever you’ve sold them to, perhaps you can publish links to them instead. At the very least, you could list the places where your work has appeared, like I have done on my Writing page.
I don’t think your blog writing alone is likely to cut much ice, because it is an act of self-publishing. Being (a) published by someone else and (b) paid for it is much better.
Unless, of course, you’ve written a blog which not only has attracted thousands of followers but could also be reasonably easily turned into a book.
Show you’re an expert
This is not quite the same as showcasing your work, although there will be an element of that. If you earn your living from an occupation other than writing, or if you only write about particular issues, you can use your blog to show that you are an expert in your field. If people believe you are, they are much more likely to buy your next book or hire you to speak at their next conference.
Which, indubitably, brings us on to marketing. A blog is a great way of marketing yourself and your books. Not in an obnoxious “Buy my latest book: it’s even better than the last one, which was a masterpiece!” kind of way, but by both showing yourself to be an expert and demonstrating that you are a valuable member of that particular community.
For example, if I wrote crime thrillers, I would write how-to articles on how to commit the perfect murder (!) – probably without going into so much detail that someone could actually do so! -- review TV crime thrillers, and write a series of blog posts about how crime fiction has changed over the last 100 years.
Oh, and I’d also promote my latest book and book signings!
Share the love
Hidden in the previous section was a desire to share useful and/or interesting information with other people. A series about crime fiction, for example, would be interesting I think, as would reviews of crime fiction websites, books, and social networking forums. In short, if you find something useful, share it with others. It should keep them coming back in the future.
And even if it doesn’t, it’s a nice thing to do anyway.
There is an interplay between the reasons for blogging that I’ve suggested. In other words, they overlap, and many writers who have a blog probably do so for many if not all of these reasons.
And there are almost certainly many other reasons that writers should have their own blog. If you think I’ve left some out, please email me or leave a comment below.