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If you write a blog who is going to read it?

This blog is for anyone who has felt the urge to write a blog but has been put off by questions such as ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘who would read it anyway?’

Here’s a summary of my journey to answer these questions for myself. I talked with a couple of other people who are also writing blogs, reflected on the advice from blogs I like to read myself by Michael Katz and Copyblogger, to figure out what approach would suit me best.

Is your blog for other people or yourself?

One of the questions a friend and I talked about is whether a blog can be an online journal or whether it needs to be very outward facing writing, providing advice to other people, such as ‘six ways to do xxx…’ My friend is doing a full time creative writing course and her tutor is coming down hard on the side of the six ways approach.

Similarly, the Writing Articles for Websites and Blogs course I just finished through the New Zealand Writers College, was very much about having robust articles with two authoritative external sources.

Combining the personal and the professional in your blog

However, both my friend and I are interested in writing something with more of the personal style. I Iove reading the blogs of Michael Katz, of Blue Penguin Development, who is writing to promote his email newsletter business but is firmly of the view that solo professionals should write from a personal angle. This is what makes the writing interesting, and is how you stand out from everyone else who is offering the same kind of services and advice as you are.

I always read his newsletter. His consistent approach to writing a newsletter is to start with a personal event or insight, then make a bridge to an insight of relevance to all solo professionals who are seeking to connect with their target market.

I broadly follow the Michael Katz approach with my Writing for Councils blogs. However, this new blog (here) is more of a personal writing project, so it needs its own ‘reason for being’ and a different understanding of who I am writing for.

Takeaways for other people

I talked with another friend who is underway with an online writing project. As with this blog, she is in the early days of ‘just writing’ and finding out along the way what it’s about, where it will lead, and who will read it. Her advice to me was that it is fine to write about personal experience, as long as the article finishes with some ‘takeaways’ of benefit to other people.

The problem with writing blogs for other people

This seems like a great option, and her series of articles has the potential to come together in a year’s time or so in book form. The problem for me is I don’t really have a broad theme, at least yet.

When I first set up this website, I allowed myself to be a bit “bossed about” by trying to fit the design elements of the website theme … coming up with ‘topic tags’ on what the website would deliver which I thought might appeal to my unknown readers. But as soon as I did that I stopped writing … it started to feel more like an assignment to do, rather than a fun project for my spare time. I want to be able to write about anything that is important or interesting to me at the time.

It’s a bit like the optimal mindset for buying clothes (and especially togs) … you have much better success and feel much better about it, when you go out looking for something that suits you rather than trying to fit yourself into what’s currently available.

Starting my blog with what interests me

If I am to sustain a reasonably regular flow of writing for this new website for which there isn’t a clear commercial purpose, there needs to be a lot in it for me. So maybe it means that I let go of the need to have readers? What I really liked about Confessions of a Forty-Something by Alexandra Potter is that the main character started a podcast to make sense of her own situation, and then it resonated with other people. And there are so many people in the world … so maybe we don’t all need to be writing about six ways to live the perfect life in some way …

Nell’s fictional podcast was the exact opposite of that. She talked about getting to forty-something and life not being what you had believed it was meant to be. And how to make peace and live well with that and to find her tribe elsewhere when all her friends were unavailable to her, lost to a world of marriage, children and demanding jobs. And her predicament was a whole lot more interesting than reading about someone who is doing exactly what everyone else is doing. All the books I have gravitated to recently, and perhaps that is mostly what does get written, is about that fall away from the status quo approaches to life.  I’m thinking of Erica James, Jo Jo Moyes, and the legal drama TV series ‘The Good Wife’ … all these stories are about people suddenly finding themselves bereft of all the relationships and roles that had previously made their life meaningful and safe.

Don’t try too hard to appeal to others

I realise now that starting with the question of what might or might not appeal to unknown readers was creating a creative block for me getting underway. And I think first drafts do need to be purely for ourselves. That way they avoid being stiff and boring, and completely externally referenced.

So I am going to start my blogs as a sprawling ‘whatever’. This reflective stuff, that winds together the books I am reading, the shows I am watching, the life I am living, the freelancing I am doing, the podcasts I am listening to, and bringing all that together to make meaning of it in my own way. Not so separated out. into tidy tags. I don’t want to categorise so much. I just want to have fun, but also write something that I can publish.

Start writing for yourself, then adapt it

As I was writing the first draft of this article, an email came through fromTim Stoddart of Copyblogger with the title ‘Who are you writing for?’

He recommends a process of being creative, then concise, then creative. This means you start your blog by letting your mind go where it wants … which doesn’t happen for me when the topic is too tightly defined beforehand. Then once you have that first draft, and you’ve taken a break, you can be focused on clarity (moving things around, deleting things that don’t fit with the overall topic). Then it’s time to be creative again (honing the sentences).

I think those second and third writing stages are also the time to become more reader-focused. Let that first draft be as inward looking as you like, so that you write something only you can write, and that surprises and delights you. Then you have something to work with, gently turning your ideas to look outwards, to have relevance to the other people.