What do neuroscience and creative writing have in common?
Much more than you may think, as Livia Blackburne shows blogging at A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.
She is a PhD neuroscientist at MIT, blogger and fiction writer who carries out an analysis of writing from a brain scientist’s perspective. The results are extremely interesting (whether you are an aspiring writer or a scientist she will catch your attention).
Blogging is not a scientific process, however it is still an ongoing experiment where good results come from following the right steps. That’s why we have asked Livia what lesson she learned during her blogging journey and what was her biggest mistake as a blogger.
Livia, how and why did you start?
I started my blog almost 3 years ago, when I was starting to become more serious about my writing career. Many people advise aspiring writers to start a blog to build a potential audience for your book (I actually have mixed feelings about this advice, but more on that later.)
I knew that if I wanted to keep a blog long-term, it had to be on a sustainable subject — something that I could keep writing about, and something that I was interested enough in to maintain. I decided to stick with something that I already did — analyzing books I like and figuring out the writing techniques that made them work.
At the time, I didn’t write about neuroscience, even though I’m getting my PhD in neuroscience. That happened later, when a friend e-mailed me a link to an article on the neuroscience of stories. I blogged about it, and it was a huge hit. Now, about one third of my stories are about psychology and neuroscience, as applied to creative writing.
How much time do you spend working?
I’m currently blogging less in order to finish my dissertation, but during normal periods, I blog once a week, and the entries take anywhere from 1 to 7 hours to write.
Beyond that, there isn’t much upkeep. I respond to comments, and that takes about 30 minutes per article. Once in a while, I check the analytics, but try not to spend too much time on that.
What is the best lesson learned you’d like to share?
My best advice is to think first about what you want to accomplish, and who you’re trying to reach. I’m most familiar with the writing blogosphere, so I can use that as a example.
Aspiring writers are often advised to keep blogs in order to build up a future readership for their book. Many aspiring novelist, upon hearing this advice, run off and start blogs about writing. But then, you need to stop and think.
If you write, say, vampire novels for teenage girls, how many of those teenage girls would really be interested in reading your blog? And how many of the people who enjoy reading about an aspiring writer’s writing journey would actually be interested in reading a vampire novel?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with blogging about writing if what you want to do is network with other writers and talk about your craft, but don’t do it with the illusion that you’re building a future readership for your novels.
After you’ve thought through your goals and audience, the next best advice I can give is to turn the focus away from yourself and towards your audience. Don’t think about what you want to write. Instead, you should be asking what people want to read about. What’s in it for them? There’s a lot of content on the Internet, so if you have nothing to offer, people won’t come.
What is your best advice on how to get readers?
It’s cliché, but the best advice is to write quality content that people want to read and share. That’s the only way you’ll get an audience that stays.
Beyond that, you can hang out on social media. When you post links to your articles, do your best to frame them in a way to arouse someone’s curiosity so that they’re motivated to click through. There are plenty of articles out there on writing good headlines, and they’re worth reading.
What is your biggest success and biggest mistake?
I can’t think of one single success, but I’m really thankful for the opportunities that have come my way through my blog.
I’ve been lucky enough to correspond with many people in the industry, who have advised and supported me throughout my writing journey. I also published my first ebook, From Words to Brain because the editor of 40k Books stumbled upon my blog and invited me to write for them.
As for biggest mistake, I think I underestimated the importance of responding to comments at first. It’s really crucial for building a connection to your readers.