I’ve been blogging for a long time now: on pre-blogging sites where I kept a travel journal 10 years ago, then starting here in 2004 and my business blog in 2005. I know that blogging isn’t for everyone, but it is for a lot of people, and I take a lot of pleasure in helping those who want to blog but just don’t know how to get started.
Two blogging protégés of whom I am particularly proud are two professional writers, both of whom I helped technically, but also provided encouragement through the early days of “but what will I blog about?” For those of you who blog, you know exactly what I mean: that feeling that you can’t possibly have anything interesting enough to say that people will want to read. To you, I say two things: first, everything is interesting to someone, and Google will be the matchmaker; and second, the half-life of a blog post is about one day, so if you say something stupid, just keep writing tomorrow’s post and today’s will be forgotten.
My friend Ingrid has a business based on making business writing understandable. With a background in both law and journalism, she writes, edits and coaches businesses on creating business communications – both internal and external – more readable and clear. She has done some business blogging on her site, but her real blogging treasure is her semi-monthly On Being column. On Being started as an email newsletter of sorts, and I finally convinced her that it would be perfect in a blog format, since that’s what it essentially was already, although distributed to only her email list. One of her concerns was that she wanted to monetize these articles, possibly selling them to a magazine, and she was concerned both that they would no longer be saleable once published online, and that other people might steal her ideas. I hear the same arguments from many people: why give away ideas if I can charge people for them? What if someone else copies my work? As Cory Doctorow often points out (apparently quoting Tim O’Reilly), the biggest issue with most authors isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity: if you give away some of what you do for free, the money will follow. To that, I add my own view: if all you have to sell is what you’ve already written, then your business model is not sustainable. Think of your blog as marketing, a sort of online portfolio of your work and ideas. I’ve written 730,00 words on my business blog in the past 6+ years, and I consider every one of them an investment: almost all of my business now comes to me because someone reads something on my blog.
My friend and neighbour Doug is a retired history teacher who writes books about the history of Toronto. In his 70’s, he might seem like an unlikely candidate for blogging, but he has grabbed it with both hands and seems to be loving every minute of it. It started a few months back when he was bemoaning that all of the material that he had gathered for his latest book just couldn’t make it into the book due to space constraints. I suggested the blog as a supplement to his books as well as a creative outlet, got him set up on WordPress, and he was off. After the initial setup, he maintains his entire site and blog himself using Windows Live Writer, poking into the WordPress web interface only to check site statistics. He has a page for each of his books, but I especially enjoy his almost-daily updates with historical perspectives on neighbourhood happenings, such as his recent series on a historical building close to us being moved to another location, which were inspired in part by a conversation that we had at a coffee shop one day when he spontaneously described the entire history of the building (a former iron works) to me as we sipped. He even bought a new camera to add a little colour to his posts (although the language is often colourful enough). He’s getting started on Twitter and Facebook, although those are still works in progress.
Blogging is not, as many insist, dead. It’s just being left to the professionals.