Penelope Trunk, one of my favorite bloggers, held a webinar (web + seminar) on becoming a better blogger, hosted by her 3rd startup, Brazen Careerist. Her key messages were the bold-typed five points, which are simple and easy to understand (presumably easy to follow too).
This is the first part of the two entries on becoming a better topic. The second one deals with my personal experience: what worked for me actually. As a defense on putting such a dumb title, I must also say that not writing an entry on becoming a better blogger could be the way to become a better blogger. Just write "real" entries, man.
Have a topic.
Penelope: Topic is a contract between readers. Surprise them sometimes, but keep the promise as much as you can.
I reluctantly agree with Penelope. Although I like my aimless writing style, I am also learning that it does not bring me too far as a writer. I have two blogs: this, and a Blogger blog. The other blog has a topic: technical communication. This one doesn't. But it is this blog I have more fun writing. It is a mashup of everything that stimulated my curiosity in my life. Yet, the word "everything" suggests that I cannot describe what that blog is about. Probably it is more of an excuse for not focusing on a topic.
I don't think we should force ourselves to limit the blogging topic to one or two categories. Still, a blog without a topic might just be called a diary. Who cares about reading that? So it is better to have a topic. If we are having a hard time defining it, we can re-read what we have written to find an underlying theme that constantly emerges, and make a topic out of it. For this blog's case, it is: Learning+Taipei (tentatively).
Write at the edge of the topic.
Penelope: Don't write the obvious (such as 5 ways to screw your design). Write something about the intersection between topics you are familiar with. Whatever is mainstream, it is already done.
Too late, I am already writing two entries on how to become a better blogger. I agree, stating the obvious is lame. Putting a personal spin might work, but probably what she wanted to say was staying on the edge makes it much easier to make our blogs unique, than staying in the center and trying to be edgy. Which is like trying to be cool. Doesn't work…
Penelope: No one likes know-at-all. Write what you have discovered. If you don't, it gets boring.
"Write what you know" used to be the mantra back in our school days and in our worklife. It does not work anymore, at least in blogging, because no one cares about what we already know (even ourselves) – it's all there in Wikipedia. The act of writing is for the author, but the manuscript ultimately belongs to the readers. We cannot bore them.
The new mantra should be "Write what only you can." It is not about making things up: it is about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and write about something new as we explore new territories, such as urban life + gardening. Or Geisha + Steampunk. I don't know what I am talking about.
Be interesting and short.
Penelope: Anything more than 600 words is over-indulgent.
This entry has around 1,000 words. Enough said. I pretend that the Q&A list tucked behind the main text body should be treated as a pseudo-separate entry. It's optional. How is that?
You have to care.
Penelope: About your topic/community. Write with the community in your mind. Remember, a blog is a conversation.
Am I caring? Am I engaged in a conversation? No. So far, my blog consists mainly of my monologue. Monologue works only if the subject is aptly defined, or if it's Ayn Rand. I will start caring more about people who read this blog. I say it to myself for the 15th time this year.
————– The Q&A session ——————–
A: Pioneer Woman is HOUSEWIFE PORN. (Isn't that a topic?) Many topicless blog started at the early age of blogging. Nowadays you won't get traction being topic-less.
Q: What if I cannot find a good topic?
A: Write what you are curious about. You will naturally hit a topic.
Q: Isn't topic limiting?
A: No. Look at how much extra stuff I, Boing Boing, TechCrunch can put in.
Q: What is the hook to keep people coming?
A: Be honest. Trust who you are (no matter how messy your life looks) and write about things that are bothering you.
Q: How can I avoid being boring?
A: Think of what you say at a cocktail party. (Yours truly: I pretend this advice never existed.)
Q: How can you learn while showing yourself as know-it-all?
A: Nobody cares what you know.
Q: How should I promote my blog?
A: (Ryan Paugh) You really need to reach out to other people on the blog. Get involved in a community. We have seen great writers who did not reach out to many people thus did not gain many readers, but saw that situation change when they started being involved in Brazen Careerist. (Yours truly: to be fair, he is the Communication Manager of Brazen Careerist, and my limited experience shows that he genuinely cares about others.)
Q: How do I know I am doing well?
A: Don't use the traffic as the sign. Good signs are: Do you keep going on your blog? Did you get a job?
Q: What if you hit a wall?
A: Write! Be an adult, get up every day, do it! Force yourself to sit down!
Q: What if I want to take back what I have written?
A: Why would you do so? Put it there, learn from your own stupidity!
Q: Can I write stream of conscience?
A: No, you need to edit heavily. I edit several times to make it a "good" stream of conscience. Hire an editor if you can. (Yours truly: I am seriously thinking of this option.)