Blogging Lessons from
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

image from movie poster

A 40 year-old unsolved murder mystery. Strange cryptic codes in a bible. Sweden, sandwiches, and many, many cigarettes. The badass-est female protagonist since . . . forever. And an author who has, posthumously, caused quite a ruckus in the book world and in the minds of conspiracy theorists everywhere.

Yes, I’m talking about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. If you haven’t heard of it, the rest of us are inviting you to come out from under your rock. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) is topping bestseller lists as we speak and the theatrical release of Dragon Tattoo hits the U.S. next week.

I had the good fortune of screening an advanced copy and, of course, my mind went blog, blog, blog. Because that’s what blog obsessed people like us do. So here are the blogging lessons I learned from this tattooed ‘girl’ . . .

Gasoline feeds a fire, but first there has to be a spark

At one point in the movie, a man lies under a car. Having just flown off the side of the road, both he and the car are demolished, gasoline is spilling out everywhere . . . and he waits, watching, trapped. Finally there’s a spark . . . and then fire, total combustion.

So often we have all of the ingredients, right? The design is just right, the writing is perfection, the research says that there’s a need for the content . . . but then, nothing.

No traffic, no comments, no buzz. No combustion. What’s missing?

There has to be a spark.

Maybe it comes in the form of a new partnership, a referral, or an outside event (like a shortage of light bulbs) that makes your product (candles) suddenly burst into high demand.

Maybe you have a life-changing event that triggers your passion. Maybe you read a book that causes something to click in your brain or your heart.

And then, there’s no stopping the heat.

Nothing more, nothing less

Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, is a woman of few words, but they’re always the right ones. She communicates through her gestures, carefully chosen words and even her silences. To some people around her, this is maddening. But others totally get it and they pay incredibly close attention to her. They listen closely . . . and they also watch.

As a blogger, what you don’t say can be as important as what you do say.

Do you find the positive in challenging situations, gleaning lessons and inspiring others? Or do you bitch and moan, spreading negativity?

Do you stick to your topic? Or is your blog scattered, full of everything under the sun?

Do you promote everything that could be remotely related to your blog? Or do you bow out of a big launch that, for one reason or another, isn’t quite right for your readers?

What is the significance of what you leave on the blogging room floor?

Document everything

In the movie, as Blomkvist and Salander try to solve the mystery, they are aided again and again by the record-keeping of other characters, the police, the newspapers, and themselves.

It’s the last, ‘themselves,’ that holds the lesson.

Working to uncover this decades-old secret, the investigators look for the needle in the proverbial haystack. With so much unknown, their path to discovery lies in documenting every thought they have, literally pinning them to the wall for examination — and never, ever brushing aside even one moment of insight or possibility.

Ideas for blog content, joint venture partnerships, promotions, ebooks — and even tweets and Facebook updates — often shoot through our brains at a fast and furious pace.

Blogging fodder is everywhere. It’s in the conversation you have with the souvlaki guy outside your building every day at lunch, it’s in the color of the car that just drove by, it’s in the ad that you saw for hairplugs.

If you don’t grab these ideas as they fly by, they will keep flying. Trust me.

Write it all down. Nail it to the wall. Even the thoughts that seem impossible, unreachable, or just plain ridiculous.

The clue to your own success will lie in your own observations and insights. Don’t lose them.

It’s hard to be brilliant all by yourself

The story’s protagonists bounce their ideas off one another — and often hear brilliance in their partner’s ramblings.

Blogging is about community. Who can you bounce ideas off? Who might hear your mumblings and, in turn, grab you by the shoulders and tell you that you’re actually onto something? Who can you help by being a sounding board?

You might have someone’s missing piece in your back pocket.

Like a tattoo, things are permanent on the internet

Lisbeth has many tattoos, including a dragon covering her entire back. Getting ink like that is a serious commitment. Yes, you can have laser surgery to get a tattoo removed, but from what I can tell, it never completely disappears. A scar is left behind. And I’m told the process is neither pleasant nor easy.

If we really want to get deep here, we can go so far as to say that your memory of the tattoo can never be removed.

Blogging is also a commitment. We commit our time, we commit our creativity, we commit our resources. And every time we hit ‘publish’ we commit to our ideas.

The internet is a pretty permanent place and it’s hard to ‘take it back’ once the words are out there. Yes, you can go to the trouble of having something uncached — but again, it isn’t pleasant or easy. People will remember your post, they may have even printed your words on paper. We’re time-stamped and cached, linked to and quoted, and even scraped.

Be as sure as you can be each and every time you share.

Don’t underestimate anyone

Played perfectly by Noomi Rapace, Lisbeth is mysterious, tattooed, and pierced. She’s also tiny, often mistaken for a skinny, 14 year-old boy and underestimated because of her small size.

But she’s able to fight off grown men — both physically and mentally — time and again. I believe the appropriate term here would be scrappy ass-kicker. And it works to her advantage. She has surprise on her side and she’s impressive, even to those who don’t particularly like her.

With a blogosphere more crowded than a Twilight premier (and some days with just as much screaming), it’s a phenomenal idea to stand out.

It’s the old case of man bites dog. What can you do, how can you say it, where can you share it so that it lands like a snowman in a cranberry bog? (That is: with a splash, much coolness, and bright by contrast.)

Lisbeth is also the underdog. To be honest, she’s the runt.

But a few people look beyond that (or don’t even see it at all) and take a chance on her. It helps her, of course, but it also helps them. They don’t see her size, her income, her appearance, her odd personality, her history. They see her skill, her brilliance, her dedication, her inherent goodness.

How many Top 10, 25, 50, 100 lists have you seen that tout the best bloggers, the best writers, the twitterati?

Sadly, many people get caught up in these lists and think that these people are the only ones to do business with or read, because they look good on paper. But we all start somewhere.

Chris Brogan just wrote that it took him 8 years to get 100 subscribers on his blog — and look at him now.

As bloggers we can only help each other and the quality of the blogosphere by discovering new talent, sharing what we know and giving people a chance.

No matter how small and skinny . . . no matter how many tattoos.

About the Author: Julie Roads invites you to join the Dragon Tattoo Blog HUNT — an internet wide scavenger hunt tied to the feature film launch of bestselling book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

You can win great prizes — free movie tickets, books, movie soundtrack, posters and more. To join the contest, start at the beginning of the HUNT by visiting for full details and the first clue. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is in theaters near you starting March 19th.

THE NEXT CLUE: Rachel Bilson & Christina Ricci are celebrity supporters of this national network that fights violence against women. Their strong volunteer program just goes to show that when kindness RAINNS, it pours.

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Reader Comments (44)

  1. says

    As a fairly new member of the blogosphere, I am impressed and grateful for the excellent advice I consistently find on Copyblogger (including the invaluable Copywriting Maven Roberta). This post is one of your best – it combines all the elements you promote! Congrats and Thanks!

  2. Gail says

    Well done post. Saw the film last week at Cinequest in San Jose – excellent adaptation and perfect match of character to actor. Enjoy!

  3. says

    Great post! Entertaining, and made me think. I’ve been wondering how my blogging should fit in with my freelance writing, and this gives some great advice. Thanks!

  4. says

    “The clue to your own success will lie in your own observations and insights.”

    I agree.

    Oragami Analogy: try to look at everything you observe, not as a piece of paper, but paper waiting for you to create oragami out of it. See the world like this, and your observations and insights will be much more valuable.

  5. says

    Definitely agree with the “document everything” approach. I have little notebooks and scraps of paper everywhere. When you hav ideas coming out of every orifice in your body, it make is much easier to find just the right blog topic for that day. Since I write every day, I’m always on the lookout for odd-ball examples that can be morphed into my customer’s wants.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  6. says

    It’s so true that there needs to be a spark. My head caves in whenever someone says that there’s ‘nothing to write about’.

    There’s *always* something to write about.. just not always the motivation.

    Thanks for the recommend, apparently I’d been living under a rock! I guess you can’t know everything going on at your local library, though.

    Being the 5’6 martial artists tends to make me partial to runty underdogs :). Sounds like a good read.

  7. says

    What a great blog for the day. Good advice, good review, good ideas abound. And I’m taking this positive approach on over to my blog and continuing to make it better. I always am thankful for what I find here.

  8. says

    Wow! What a great article. I enjoyed every word of it, which is not something I can say about many of them. You write with such energy; each thought interesting, well paced, and memorable. You make it look easy, Julie, but just like removing a tattoo, it’s not easy.

  9. says

    Long time reader, but I have never commented – until now. I am in love with this post. Sure part of it is that I really like the Stieg books, so that helps with the topic. But damn I love how Julie did her usual magic and turned it into a life lesson.

  10. says

    I can’t wait to see this! The book was so good a perfect for a movie. Thanks for all the great advice and links. I am just starting out on this blogging, work from home journey and your blog is inspiring!

  11. says

    Luv it! This is one of those too often occurring moments of “Damn I wish I had thought of that!” I love these books, can’t wait for the movie, but never thought to mine it for blogging inspiration. Good for you…

  12. says

    Joanne – I mine EVERYTHING for blogging inspiration…it’s like a disease.

    Dan – So glad we lifted that rock for you…and you will love the action in the film. Lisbeth’s got the moves. Apparently the actress, Noomi Rapace, kick-boxed for 7 months (intensely) to prepare. It shows…

  13. says

    Julie – If the action in the movie is anything like you say, I might just have to tell everyone about it one my side, too :)

    Where did you hear that she studied kickboxing? I’m trying to find more info on the martial arts of it, but there’s nothing on IMDB (my usual secret recipe)

  14. says

    Really enjoyed this post. It presents the ideas in a way that anyone can grasp. Too often there is no clear flow, but not in this case. Thank you.

  15. Sonia Simone says

    A little meta lesson in this post for you all — it’s really cool to set up a multi-site “event” to promote something, but it’s about 10 times as cool if the content you use with the event is really strong in its own right!

    So thanks, Julie, for writing a great post for this. :)

  16. says

    Hey Hot Kelly Gal… nice to hear from you here too. It’s like Kelly’s Girl with Dragon Tattoo day.
    Thanks for sharing awesome stuff… love and much more 😉

  17. says

    Julie, great post. One question.

    “Do you promote everything that could be remotely related to your blog? Or do you bow out of a big launch that, for one reason or another, isn’t quite right for your readers?”

    Is that to say that we should be doing both of those?


  18. says

    I enjoy your posts,they are refreshing and are devoid of the “same same” boring trend I see in a lot of internet marketing/blogging posts.Writing speaks to us about life,and I have always suspected that some of the “categories” we create are artificial and limiting.If our writings do not have a”USP”,why should people bother? You are right,our themes and topics are everywhere,if we are prepared too embrace them.I think writer’s block is an excuse for indolence.

  19. says

    Hey Drafty – good question. If you look at all of the questions I ask in that section of the post, I’m talking about what’s the significance of what you don’t do. What do those things say about you? What do they communicate.

    It wasn’t a directive, so there’s no wrong or right answer according to me. They’re just questions for you to consider. Only you know what’s right for you and your blog.

  20. says

    Thanks for the post. Certainly gave me cause to pause. I am at a crossroads with my blog. For quite awhile I was writng about one topic. I’ve read a lot of advice about finding a niche and sticking with it. But I wasn’t getting read, subscribed to, followed, or anything. So, I started writing about random things that were on my mind like Tiger Woods, Global Warming, Haiti, and Google. More people (not a lot of people) are reading my posts and I am having more fun. But I feel scattered and random and just out there flailing around. I don’t have a product to sell and I live in Colorado where Amazon just closed my associate account because of some recent legislation here. I was actually making a tiny bit of money on that. So, bottom line, great post, added to my angst, and that’s a good thing!

  21. says

    Hey Brad, thanks for sharing. I think it’s great to write about current events and issues/topics that you are passionate about even if they are directly related to your main topic. The trick is to find the way to connect these things to your main topic. There’s always a thread, find it – and be the unique voice for your area of expertise.

  22. says

    This was a great Blog. In blogging you do have to write everything down as it comes to your mind. Because sometimes when you finally get to your computer you might have a writer’s block.

    Kind Regards,

  23. says

    Great insights Julie. My wife has been trying to get me enthused about watching The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo with her next week – and I haven’t been all that interested .. until now. Now I can justify it as ‘work’. I’ll go along with a blogger’s eye to see what I can learn.

  24. says

    Talking about the Tattoo, I was reminded of a friend who makes tattoo on his arm. Did not make a distinct advantage compared with the image he wants. Self-expression tattoos made by displaying the image we want.

  25. says

    Good article and right to the point. I am not sure if this is truly the best place to ask but do you folks have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thx :)

  26. says

    Definitely some good lessons here! Thanks for the blog. I will also definitely need to go and read Stieg Larsson’s trilogy.

  27. says

    One great way to “nail all of the details to the wall” is to create a mind map to capture all of your ideas, keep them visible and see relationships between them. You never know when they may turn out to important.

    There are also numerous digital tools for capturing your ideas, any time, anywhere, and then expanding upon them later. My personal favorite in this arena is Evernote. Like Julie Roads, the author of this post, I have ideas strike me at any time. I record them in Evernote on my iPhone, sometimes using the Dragon Dictate app to transcribe them. I then expand upon them later using the web-based version of Evernote. This technique works like a charm!

  28. says

    I admire the original poster in this article, she managed to draw a link between two things, blogging and the movie. Everything written is true, “Gasoline feeds a fire, but first there has to be a spark “, “It’s hard to be brilliant all by yourself” and the rest.. I got some insights here specially in the blogging part. Thanks Julie for the nice post.

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