Penelope Trunk, one of my favorite bloggers, held a webinar (web + seminar) on her 3rd startup, Brazen Careerist. becoming a better blogger. The following five points were the key messages, followed by her summary and my comments.
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 Typepad blog. This blog has a topic: technical communication. The other one doesn’t. But it is the other blog I have more fun writing. It is a mashup of everything that stimulated my curiosity in my life. And yet the word “everything” suggests that I cannot describe what that blog is about. It is more of an excuse for not having a topic.
I don’t think we should force ourselves to limit the blogging topic to one or two categories. Rather, we can re-read what we have written to find an underlying theme that constantly emerges, and make a topic out of it.
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.
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 us) – 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 a new territory, such as urban life + gardening. Or Geisha + Steampunk. I don’t know.
Be interesting and short.
Penelope: Anything more than 600 words is over-indulgent.
I checked the word count; it has already surpassed 700. Over-indulgent. I dodge this accusation by pretending 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. If the subject is aptly defined, that works.
————– The Q&A session ——————–
Q: What about Pioneer Woman? Boing Boing? They don’t seem to have topic.
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 topicless.
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 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.
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.
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? 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? 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.