"The web," said Tom Smith, the opening speaker, "is not a publication - it's a conversation." And, while websites tend to be static and one-sided, he argued, blogs are the perfect medium for online interaction.
Blogs - journal-style websites where entries are dated and appear in reverse chronological order - also have the advantage of being free and very easy to set up and manage. As Tom demonstrated, using Blogger, you can be up and running in less than a minute and don't need any technical knowledge or previous experience.
Taking us through the key components of a blog, Tom highlighted the blogroll which is where you list links to other sites you think are interesting. "Links," he explained, "are a real currency in blogging, so it's good to link to other people and, hopefully, get links back in return." He also showed how tagging posts with categories can help people navigate your blog and build up a picture of its content, and how you can use RSS feeds to manage reading other people's blogs.
Encouraging everyone at the event to start a blog, Tom pointed out how good they are for increasing communication. He even offered to build a site that would bring together all the Guild members' blogs into a single location.
Proving Tom Smith's pudding, as it were, was the next speaker, Danny Stack. "Two years ago," he said, "I knew nothing about blogging. But when I discovered the huge range of American screenwriting blogs I decided to create my own, with a UK focus." At that time, apart from James Henry very few writers were blogging in the UK.
Drawing on his experience as a script reader and screenwriter, Danny's blog includes advice to writers and reflections on his own experiences. It has become well known in the writing community and, as Danny explained, has brought him into contact with a wide range of other writers and people in the industry. "You don't have to be confessional or too specific about projects you're working on," he said. "The key thing is to be genuine, honest and regular with your posting."
The final speaker, Sophie Nicholls, began by pointing out that blogging can even be good for your love life - it was how she met the person she currently lives with (a certain Tom Smith). Sophie runs a blog and wiki called Lots Of Big Ideas, featuring stories by refugees and asylum seekers.
The fact that people can be published online and get their voices heard has been incredibly valuable, she said and, while some have been reluctant to post on the blog, putting stories on the wiki has allowed others to add comments.
Wiki's are normally used for collaborative writing, and, though that's not really the case on Lots Of Big Ideas, the site shows how blogs can work well with other online tools.
Reconvening after a glass of wine the writers in attendance fired questions at the panel. Most seemed surprised and excited about how easy it was to begin blogging, although some worried about whether they could find them time. Tom Smith back-tracked slightly on his earlier contempt for traditional personal websites (he'd characterised them as being full of pictures of cats) and said that blogs can work very well in conjunction with a more static site.
How, though, do you get people to visit your blog?
Tom Smith pointed out that search engines like Google are well-disposed to blogs because of their format and the fact that they tend to have regular new content. More importantly, though, was to write something good. Do that, he said, and people will find it.
In a response to a question about getting work via your blog, Danny Stack said that he regularly got contacted about different projects and, while most of them were unpaid, he had picked up lots of useful connections.
Other hints and tips:
- Find a 'friendly geek' who can help you tweak the code on your blog to make it look just the way you want it
- Use search engines to get help with technical queries
- Try not to repeat what other bloggers post about
- Always attribute and content or links you get from another blog
- You can point a blog at a different domain name
- It's easy to add pictures to a blog, or video (especially via YouTube)
- You can link a blog to a commercial site like eBay to give more information about a product
- For self-publishing, try using Lulu.com, and blogging to promote the book
- You can put adverts on your blog using AdSense from Google
- Tom Smith's reading list: The Cluetrain manifesto