Several years back, a friend of mine started a blog and e-mailed the link to me and a bunch of her other friends. I didn’t *get* her blog or anyone else’s. In fact at the time, I thought most blogs were self-indulgent, boring, and poorly written. And as someone who puts a high premium on privacy, I couldn’t get past the idea that my friend was willingly broadcasting intimate details about her life into cyberspace. It was as mystifying to me as the people who go on the Jerry Springer Show and spill all.
Another turnoff was the fact that every blog I encountered seemed like the electronic version of a hard copy diary that should have remained tucked away in a box in the back of an out-of-the-way closet—embarrassing content, poor writing, and all. Why were people spending all kinds of time writing online drivel that no one really cared about? And furthermore, why were people spending all that time writing blog posts that they’d never even get paid for?
I could only come up with one explanation. In my mind, blogging was just a socially acceptable way for bad, wannabe writers to go mainstream with their poorly written rants and diatribes about things that made no difference to anyone else but the writer, a handful of family members, and other poor captive souls who loved the bloggers enough to read all their bad prose. In fact, if someone mentioned that they had a blog, my mind would click into sleep mode like my MacBook does after 10 minutes of inactivity. I’d think: Oh, one of those self-indulgent wannabe writer types. Where’s the nearest exit?
In short, blogging just seemed like a waste of time and effort. And I guess I had a snobbish writer attitude too—the idea that real writers didn’t need to blog because their writing was good enough to get published through more legitimate, mainstream ways. In my mind, push-button publishing was for the wannabes, not the real McCoys.
Fast-forward a few years. Now, everyone who is someone seems to have a blog these days. And if you’re a freelancer and you don’t have a blog, people sometimes wonder how you can bill yourself as a professional writer. Blogs aren’t just popular among individuals anymore either. Big companies have blogs. Mothers with babies have blogs. Teenagers with pimples and braces have blogs. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if some dogs have blogs too.
So this past year, I finally succumbed to this thing called blogging. I decided that since I was billing myself as a serious writer and freelancer, I needed to join the blogosphere. I started writing my own blog about freelance writing. And then one thing led to another and I eventually became the editor of The Golden Pencil, a b5media blog about freelance writing and how to build a successful freelance business.
The transformation from non-blogger to full-fledged blogging enthusiast was short—less than a year, in fact.
Now, I wonder what took me so long. I write a lot of things on a daily basis, but it’s the blogging that I enjoy most. That said, I’m not getting rich or pulling in six figures (yet anyway). But I’ve learned a few great things along the way.
My most surprising discovery? Blogging has made me a better writer. It has helped me:
1. Discover my voice
I know this sounds odd coming from someone who has written for most of her life, but you have to understand that up until this blogging thing, most of my writing was been functional. What I mean is that I write business and HR stories for various online and print publications. Throughout my career, I’ve also written newspaper articles, technical training manuals, employee handbooks, policies and procedures, press releases, and marketing materials. But what I stopped writing a long time ago was anything in my own “voice.” Blogging has helped me find that voice again, the one that got lost in between all the same assignments, projects, and stories that have thankfully paid the bills and kept the lights on month after month. See, when you blog, you’re writing about a particular topic, armed with all the facts that you’d be including in a typical news story. But I’ve learned that good blogging also means that you toss in your own observations, experiences, feelings, and unique perspectives. You create dialogues with your readers and make the consumption of information more personal—something that often makes what you have to say more relevant to the reader than just a straight here’s-the-facts-and-nothing-more news story. And I’m happy to report that since discovering my writing voice, I’ve also started to write other things. Things like that novel that I’ve continued to transfer from one New Year’s resolution list to the next for the past several years. More importantly, I’m starting to write for the pure joy of writing again—something I attribute largely to blogging.
2. Connect with readers
If you’re like me, sometimes you write stories and you think,“Gee, I wonder if this is going to help anyone?” And one of the main reasons I started writing for a living was because I wanted to help other people. I love writing service-oriented articles that help readers. But the problem is, if you write straight news stories, magazine articles, or service-oriented pieces for online outlets, you sometimes never find out whether you’ve really helped anyone or not. But for me, one of the most satisfying and gratifying parts about blogging is having the opportunity to find out when I’ve really helped someone. I love it when I write a post and then later find comments from readers who tell me that they’ve learned something or that I’ve helped them in some way. I really enjoy it when a dialogue starts between my readers and I. And it’s that potential for dialogue with readers that distinguishes blogging from any other type of writing.
3. Get feedback
I just wrote a big piece for a business trade publication, and while the magazine has a large circulation, I won’t ever know what readers thought of the article or whether it helped them or not. Like most freelancers, I like to get feedback every once in awhile. And I have to say there’s nothing more gratifying to me than getting a “Good job” “Funny article!” or “Great read!” from the people who matter most—my readers. I remember after my second or third post over on The Golden Pencil, I received a nice compliment from one of my readers. It was completely unexpected, it came at the right time, and it literally made my day.
4. Get disciplined
Blogging is a commitment, and the daily discipline of posting every day during the week over on The Golden Pencil has really helped my writing. Granted, I was writing every day before that. But blogging is much different than simply reporting on a story—it’s a more creative process. And what I’ve learned or relearned through the daily discipline of writing blog posts is that inspiration doesn’t always precede good writing. To be honest, some days I don’t feel very inspired at all when I first start writing a post. But I know that I am accountable to my readers who depend on me for fresh content every day during the week. And regardless of how sluggish I feel some mornings, inspiration always seems to meet me somewhere in the middle as my writing picks up momentum. So here’s the lesson: if you’re a professional writer or full-time freelancer you can’t afford to wait for inspiration to show up before you start writing. Otherwise, you’ll go broke. And speaking for this writer, blogging helps me make creative writing a part of my daily schedule.
5. Write faster
Many times, I write my blog posts a day or two in advance. But there are some mornings when I don’t have anything in the hopper and I have to start from scratch after fueling up with a triple expresso skim milk latté. And while no one on b5media tells me when or how often to post, I impose a daily deadline on myself. I’ve missed the mark a couple times, but I try to have a new post up by noon Eastern Standard Time every day during the workweek—no matter what else is on my schedule. My blog posts vary in length, but generally I write between 750 and 1,500 words per post. So that usually means there’s no time for slow thinking or writing. It’s amazing how much your writing process speeds up when it has to! And as someone who can sometimes get stuck in that perfectionism trap, the need for speed helps silence my inner editor so that my cursor continues to move forward instead of the write-four-words-delete-three problem that sometimes crops up.
So how have you improved your writing through blogging? Comment below or drop by The Golden Pencil and tell me all about it!
Written by Jenny Cromie, a full-time HR/business freelance writer, editor, Twitter convert, and recent author of “8 Sure-Fire Ways To Tick Off the Twitterverse” on TwiTip. Jenny also is editor of The Golden Pencil, a b5media blog about freelance writing and how to build a successful freelance writing business. Please feel free to say hello on Twitter too: @JennyCromie.