Warning: The post below assumes you want to get better at blogging. If you're blogging just for fun (hell, I am), this rant is not for you. It also contains snarky arrogance, so don't read it if you're not prepared to admit how wrong you are and how right I am about everything. Namaste.
Forget about sure-fire tips to wild blogging success, there are really only two secrets to be a successful blogger and I've found them:
- Write well.
- Or be a cute and nubile girl who blogs lots of photos of herself.
To everyone else who says you don't need to write well to be a good blogger: that's bloody stupid (cute and nubile girl photo-bloggers excluded). Blogging is a written medium and it is read. To say you don't need to write well to create good reading is like saying you don't have to cook well to make a good meal. To be good at your art invariably demands that you be good at your craft.
And this is art. Not Art with a capital 'A' that involves a lot of what-the-fuck moments, feigned understanding and pompous exclusion. But art because when it's done well, it involves creativity, thought, and hopefully adds to the world of the person who's reading it. Not unconsidered word vomit.
Web 2.0 Doesn't Kill Good Writing
But Alvin, this is blogging! It's not stodgy old literature or dusty cobwebbed print journalism. It's Web 2.0 now, gramps, so suck it up and deal.
Well, fuck me. The arrival of blogging kills the craft of writing as much as the arrival of MP3s killed the craft of music. Don't confuse the medium for the message. The fundamentals of quality work don't change. A weblog is simply a technological tool that helps you publish your work online easily without hard-coding and FTP-ing. Simply put, a blog is an easy-to-use digital pen.
Just like a more expensive camera won't automatically make you a better photographer, a new pen won't automatically make you a better writer. Pens don't write words, people write words. And you're stuck with you, no matter which social media is your choice of poison.
As John Gruber says so succinctly;
The entire quote-unquote “pro blogging” industry — which exists as the sort of pimply teenage brother to the shirt-and-tie SEO industry — is predicated on the notion that blogging is a meaningful verb. It is not. The verb is writing. The format and medium are new, but the craft is ancient.
This is what pisses me off so much about people who proclaim the coming of blogs/Facebook/Twitter as the second, third and fourth coming of the Internet that will revolutionize your life. Does it change your life? Hell yes. Does it make you more compelling just because you now have a louder microphone? Hell no. The Internet is not a magic pill. You'll become awesome by becoming awesome, not by pressing a button.
Or become awesome by uploading lots of photos of yourself (hint: doesn't work if you're not cute, nubile and female)
What if I'm not Cute & Nubile or I am and I Just Want to be Twice as Awesome?
‘Write well’ is a blanket term that’s easy to say and harder to define. Merlin Mann probably put it best when he said:
Topic times voice. Or, if you’re a little bit more of a maverick, obsession times voice. So what does that mean? I think all of the best nonfiction that has ever been made comes from the result of someone who can’t stop thinking about a certain topic — a very specific aspect of a certain topic in some cases. And second, they got really good at figuring out what they had to say about it.
Topic, interest or obsession is your thing. What you love is something you find on your own – that’s all you. To write well, 'voice' can be broken down into technique and opinion. Technique without opinion leads to staleness, while opinion without technique leads to inelegance. Nobody can help you with opinion if you don’t have one, but luckily there are many sources for technique.
Pick up On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William K. Zinsser or On Writing by Stephen King. Listen to John Gruber & Merlin Mann's Blogging Panel at SxSW '09. Then dive in and do your darnest. Think about what you want to say with each post. Be as original as you can. Try different ways of arranging your words. Think about how this post adds or doesn't add to your reader's life. Let your draft rest for a couple of days before re-reading it again and see what new ideas turn up. Edit and trim your work so you publish a polished piece not a hasty first draft.
You take care of the way you present yourself for an important date, why not do the same for the words you present to the rest of the world? Good writing is a pleasure to read, and you want to show the people who visit your online house a good time, not stick them in the barn and feed them rotten cabbage.
I know I sound like an elitist arrogant smart-ass writing-Nazi, but the last thing I want to do is scare anyone away from trying a new creative endeavor. Having worked in creative fields all my life, I know how rewarding the creative act can be and how daunting it can look like to outsiders – when creativity is really just practice, work, trying and falling and trying again. Don't assume you have to be a licensed 'creative professional' to be creative, I've seen enough of clueless professionals and astounding amateurs' work to know different.
Yes, it can be really hard at times (and I've fallen off the bandwagon so many times), but when you make something you can be proud of, it pays off so many times over. And there's no better time to try this than now, when the means to broadcast your voice to the entire world can be both easy and free with just a WordPress or Twitter sign-up.
And have fun. Because if you've never had fun, aren't having fun and think you'll never have fun writing, then blogging isn't the creative medium for you. Thank God there are countless others. I can't dance for fuck but maybe you can.
Good luck and good hunting.
P.S. The last time I wrote a post like this, some helpful person wrote a comment about traffic. Yes, I know traffic, thank you. But all the cute SEO tricks in the world won't help you if you write badly. And this is the blog where I don't fucking care.