Monday, January 09, 2012

FAQs about blogging

How do I know whether I should start a blog?
I would recommend a blog if you have things to say and you take pride in expressing it.

Do you find yourself occasionally having thoughts about stuff and wanting to express them in a fuller extent? Do you take pride in what you write on message boards or even your facebook notes, facebook status messages, tweets, or correspondence to other people in e-mails? That’s material you can put on a blog.


Do I have to like writing?

You might or might not like the process of writing. Sometimes, I might not like the actual writing, but I do like the feeling I get of looking at something I’ve written and knowing that it was written by me. In other words, I write for love of the finished product.

In another scenario, writing might also be cathartic or therapeutic for you. It might not be the thing you enjoy most in the world, but like eating vegetables, it could be a healthy component of your daily activity.

Lastly, you might see it as an ideal vehicle for advancing your point of view or opinion.

What are the benefits of blogging as opposed to just writing on a blank word document?
Blogging is partially about creating a body of work. You can use it as a reference for yourself for things you’ve written. I’ve had two occasions where someone wanted me to write about the film “From Here to Eternity” and fortunately, I’ve already written about it multiple times on my blog. That’s fairly easy material to rework for someone else’s needs without having to rewrite the piece. More importantly, it’s a way to display to someone else what you can do which is what you often need to get ahead as a writer.

Blogging will also keep you productive. If you see that the current month has only one blog post, you think it looks kind of lonely sitting by itself and are tempted to add another one to it. It’s a fairly easy way to ensure that you’re consistently writing each month.

Does blogging make you money?

Blogging on wordpress or blogspot will likely not make you much money at all. Even if I do have ad sense, people have to click on those ads and google ad sense doesn’t yield much profit as opposed to other sites. It depends on growing your readership to 5 or 6 figures which is easier said than done.

That’s not to say that blogging shouldn’t make me money. I do firmly believe that the world is a better place if people pay for art they consume in the appropriate amount. If you enjoyed reading my piece on Capitol Critters, for example, you should pay whatever you think that experience was worth (donation jar on the top right, tis the season for generosity folks), even if it was worth 19 cents. That said, believing that people SHOULD pay and convincing people to ACTUALLY PAY are two entirely different things.

So you don’t care about the money? Why are you doing this?
For the money, of course. I originally graduated college as a na├»ve idealist who didn’t think money was important, but I've come to understand that everything I do is underlined by capitalistic motives. My goals are to grow readership and to direct you (through links) to sites where I do get paid based on traffic. That's not to say that that strategy is working particularly well.

So everything on this blog is your third-rate throwaway work?
Exactly! So if you like these measly article scraps, you should check out my better stuff. In all seriousness, though, I do strive to maintain a minimum level of quality for this blog. Putting my best efforts on this blog while trying to maintain a presence on my new home at Gunaxin and Examiner (my home of two and a half years) and give both of those outlets my best stuff can be somewhat of a challenge.

The consequences of trying to maintain a minimum standard in quality. so that anyone seeing this blog would be impressed translates to a loss in quantity. I have a lot of things I could write easily, but to write them and not have them come off as sloppy, takes twice as long.

But you’re writing is still sloppy

I’m not writing the most perfect piece with a blog entry. I’m writing the best I can in the time I’ve allotted myself to write that entry. Every fact check and spell check I do is time and it adds up. There are bloggers who argue to the contrary: Poor spelling and grammar is unacceptable. I’m not ideologically opposed to those people and would get everything right if I could. It’s just a matter of time constraints.

What are the benefits of blogging as opposed to writing for a site that pays you money?
Three main reasons:
1. Sometimes, blogging fires up your creative juices or gets the wheels turning in your brain en route to producing that thing you would get paid to write.
2. I have free reign to write whatever I like with my blog. In order to write for examiner.com, I have to go through the trouble of using their more complex interface system and I have to stick to the topic on the film industry in Washington D.C. In order to write for Gunaxin, I have to make something that’s conducive to heavy visuals. In order to write for toptenz.com, it needs to be a list. In order to write for cracked, it has to be meticulously researched and pass through an editorial team
3. Sometimes a blog entry is a first draft of a better piece and it’s good to get that first draft out.


PART II:
WHAT ABOUT ME, What should I write about?
It generally helps to write about one thing, but you don’t have to stick to any rules. If you look at my early posts, I was pretty free-flowing. In order to develop a readership (i.e. one of your main goals), you should try to stick to the same general area of interest, the same style, and/or consistent features. That’s what they call branding.

If a reader stumbles upon your blog because of one good post you wrote, they’ll appreciate that, but they might not stick around. If, on the other hand, they come across more of what bought them there in the first place, they might have cause to stick around.

What if I can’t contain myself to just one interest?
If you have multiple interests and don’t want to constrain yourself to one topic, I recommend that you rely on an efficient tagging system. For instance, if you’re equally passionate about insects, skiing, and Cambodian politics, I would just tag all three posts and clearly divide it on your blog. That way if a reader stumbles upon an excellent article on the Cambodian elections, he can easily sort his way through other articles on Cambodia.

You should also diversify how you write on a topic. I do standard film reviews, but I also have a feature on guest star rosters, a directorial list progress report, and an ongoing list of songs that I like based on lyrics, for example.

But that’s not branding!
Yes, it is. I’m actually building a new brand with each new feature I do. You might stumble upon a guest star list and want to see more of them. I know this because this happens a lot to me as a reader.

I’ll give an example: A blog I have on my google reader is Zulkey.com. The reason I follow this blog is because Claire Zulkey (a published author) interviews writers (who otherwise don’t get press coverage) and I find it interesting and informative for someone in that field.

Looking at her feed, she has two interviews from her last 12 posts. In between, she has a variety of other stuff. She has a wide variety of topics, mostly resembling the kind of oddball humor bits you’d find at McSweeney’s. She writes about boring presidential scandals. If I stumbled upon her blog article about boring presidential scandals, I might enjoy it, but I also might be more inclined next time to go to a site like snopes.com (dealing in urban legends) or oddee.com (dealing in oddball munitiae of that sort). However, because I already was at her blog (because I like her interview pieces) to check out her latest interview, I was able to jump to that piece fairly easily and enjoy it too.



Also of note, Zulkey uses the blog to promote larger projects of hers. In this case, it is an event she's speaking at.

So that's how web traffic works?
No, that's how I work. Most people are worrisomely overreliant on web searches for everything, so in response, a lot of bloggers try to make their writing match google searches by using a technique called Search Engine Optimization. People still remember branding and blog names, however.

Is that how people find their way to my blog?
Yes and no. People find their way to your material through a variety of ways, but not as many ways as you think. If you do absolutely nothing to promote your blog and if you write on a standard wordpress or blogspot account, then people will find you through searching. You can, however, network and ask to be listed or linked to by other blogs. You can also keep a twitter account and mention your blog on facebook. I personally find message boards to be an effective place.

What if no one reads my blog?
First of all, join the club. If no one is reading your blog, go get some more readers.

OK, what if I do that and fail?

That’s part of what blogging is about. Whether you succeed or not, going through the struggle of getting more readers and trying different methods to accomplish that goal will likely have taught you a lot about how networking, promotion and media work. There are people who have been interested in hiring me in the field of PR because I've been through the trenches in trying to promote a blog that no one reads

Any other questions? Post in the comment section or email me at mrpelican56@yahoo.com

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