Friday, March 16, 2012

Rules for Writing a Blog

I don’t think there are many things more boring than reading about writing. I even love reading non-fiction, just not about writing. I tend to think those who write about writing are teachers, and as everyone knows… those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.

Reading about writing is also about as entertaining as someone singing about singing or doing jokes about comedy. I think there’s a market there, but it’s really aimed at the fellow artists in the craft, and most people aren’t singers, comedians or writers. On top of that, most singers, comedians and writers are broke, so it’s not exactly a profitable route.

I don’t make any money on what I write, however, and I was asked to write about how to write blog posts. So, I figured… why the hell not?

The first rule of writing a blog: never turn down an idea. If even one person suggests you write about something, that’s one more potential reader than most blogs ever get. Why am I presenting these as rules? Because everyone looks at a set of rules and decides which ones they’ll follow and which ones they’ll ignore, but everyone follows some of them. People ignore suggestions and advice completely.

The second rule of writing a blog: carry a notebook and pen everywhere. It’s plain and simple. If you don’t do this, you will forget more good ideas than you remember. Your memory is nothing compared to the memory of a piece of paper. Well, that’s not to say you can only write notes on a piece of paper… some of my best ideas I had to write on my hand.

The third rule of writing a blog: do your chores. Some of these won’t even be about writing itself, because frankly, anyone can write. The trouble most people have is figuring out what to write about. I’ve written every day for years now, and the trick is to always have new ideas, and nothing seems to get the creative juices flowing quite like emptying your head and doing a dull, routine task like laundry, dishes, or even showering. This lets the creative part of your brain wander, since you are occupied with a simple task that requires no problem solving.

The fourth rule of writing a blog: no publicity is bad publicity. Eventually, you will offend someone. Even if you go out of your way to be polite and nice, some cunt somewhere will feel compelled to act indignant and post a link to your blog in some public forum, beseeching others to descend upon you with disapproval. Don’t worry about it; those people don’t matter. You have no control over whether someone gets offended by what you write, and you will find that such incidents will also attract those who agree with you. My most controversial posts are usually followed by legions of disagreeing commenters who disappear in a few days and a handful of pleasant new readers who stick around for a while. Thank the haters for publicizing your site, free of charge.

The fifth rule of writing a blog: expect nothing. If you blog hoping for people to read it, no one will read it. If you blog hoping people will comment on it, they’ll read it but leave no comments. If you blog hoping people will tell you how amazing your ideas are in the comments, they will leave comments telling you how much you suck. But if you expect nothing, after several years, you can expect someone to compliment you on what a fine idea you had maybe once or twice a month. Don’t let their kind words discourage you… keep expecting nothing and you will continue to be pleasantly surprised.

The sixth rule of writing a blog: keep it honest. I’m not suggesting people are lying in their blog posts, but sometimes people don’t tell the whole truth. Omit nothing. The more open you are, the more interesting it will be. All the things you think are too embarrassing, unflattering, sad, personal, or intimate are the things people want to actually read. And for fuck’s sake, insert your opinion in your blog post. No one wants to read a boring, mechanical, neutered post seemingly written for an encyclopedia.

The seventh rule of writing a blog: keep it short. Focus your ideas and don’t try to cover too much in one post. Few people will read it if your post is over five pages long in Word (oh yes… I recommend writing in a word processor and then copying it over…). It’s okay to make some long posts, but if you generally stay brief, you won’t have any problem getting people to read the occasional endlessly epic editorial essay. Still, more than about one a week and people will find your blog reminiscent of a daunting homework assignment.

The eighth rule of writing a blog: keep it witty. Not everyone can be funny, but it’s not that hard to drop a joke in here or there. Still, anyone can be witty. Being witty is nothing but being able to cleverly point out how similar things are different, and how different things are similar. If you present someone with a connection that they never made before, you’ll either make them think or make them smile. Either one will have them coming back.

The ninth rule of writing a blog: just write. Honestly, anyone can start a blog and say they’re a writer. It’s like buying a guitar. You can point to it and say you’re a musician, but until you actually sit down and play some music, you’re just a guitar owner. Don’t just be a blog owner, be a writer. That means sitting down at the keyboard and writing whatever is in your head, whatever you’re passionate about, whatever makes you have long, angry conversations with people. You may think you don’t matter, but what you write can mean something to someone, maybe not even today or tomorrow. I think it’s almost mystical that something you write late one night could make someone chuckle at work the next day, or maybe even motivate a person to change. Don’t get your hopes up on that latter outcome, though.

If you do all of these things… you’re a better blogger than I am.

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