Discovering What Your Blog is About
This blog is relatively new at the time of writing. While I’ve owned the domain since 2015, it’s only over the past 12 months I’ve written here with any frequency. This is my 45th post.
I’m still exploring the site’s identity and discovering what it all means.
Naturally, I had to ask myself, “Why write a blog?”
And I mean why bother with a blog at all? What’s the point of writing one? Does it have an overall shape, sense, and purpose, or is each post a standalone? Is a blog a literary entity in the same way as a book, magazine or newspaper? Should it confine itself to a single subject or can it range across many interests?
I could write several thousand words just asking questions about what blogging means.
There isn’t anything unique about this. I suspect anyone who starts a blog has a similar existential need to find clarity about the motives and purpose behind what she’s doing.
When I write the first draft of a short story or novel, I have a clear idea of the characters in mind, especially the protagonist, and the ending to which the plot will lead. But what the story is about, its theme, is not clear until it’s written. The next draft involves rewriting to draw out and clarify that theme.
But a blog ain’t like that.
It’s more like a conversation. It’s closer to something spontaneous in real time.
How many blog posts do you have to write before you understand what your blog is for? With a short story or book-length fiction there’s a predetermined endpoint. With a blog, there’s no finishing line. There’s always something else to say.
Why Do Other People Write Blogs?
So I decided to find out why other people write blogs. And this being the age of the internet, I fired up the laptop, brought up the world’s favorite search engine and typed in the question, why write a blog?
I didn’t want to disappear down the internet rabbit hole, so I limited myself to reading the top three results returned.
They were disappointing.
In fact, the experience was rather weird. The top three results linked to mind-bogglingly dull, personality-free blogs. And the weird thing was the written content. All three blogs were carbon copies of each other. Hmm, showing my age with that metaphor. Okay, not quite. There were slight variations. But I didn’t need a degree in hermeneutics to see that they’d all been copied or derived from a common source.
Stupid as I undoubtedly am, I’m not wholly naïve. I appreciate many bloggers regard their endeavor as a business, and whose sole aim is to make money. What’s going on is clear. The people behind the blogs have no personal investment in their content. They draw up a list of keywords and plagiarize articles they perceive as likely to pull in search traffic, tweaking them enough to fool robots into classifying them as unique.
Then they sit back and hope a percentage of their visitors will click on advertisements. Or they try to up-sell a dull-as-ditch-water, also-plagiarized “information product” which they claim retails for $997 but is on a fake time-limited offer for just… *yawn.*
It’s the “there’s a sucker born every minute” model of business and it stinks.
Is Blogging Dead?
What a soul-destroying way to scrape your pocket-money together! If that’s what blogging is about, no wonder so many quit. No wonder we hear rumors that the blog is dead.
But the blog isn’t dead.
And making money is a reasonable aim for any blogger.
This post will not be about how to make money with your blog. I’m not qualified to write such a thing as I don’t blog with money in mind and couldn’t tell others how to do it. But I’d like to “clear the air” of the money issue before exploring deeper motives.
How to Make Money Blogging
There are very successful money-making blogs. I’ll give you four examples of different approaches that might work for you if your aim is to make money.
It’s worthwhile noting the following examples are broadly ethical. They’re more-or-less honest about what they do, at least. They’re also the product of hard work by their hosts and have taken years of failure-defying determination to achieve the success they now enjoy.
A Blog About Blogging
One of the most well-known, Copyblogger, teaches other people how to make money blogging by teaching other people how to make money blogging! But the blog is upfront about its purpose and declares its financial affiliations. The information it offers is reasonable, well-written, and entertainingly presented. Although by selling a dream few will realize, it’s positioned itself at the top of a pyramid. And if you’ve ever climbed a pyramid, you’ll know there’s not much room at the top.
Blogging About Personal Development
Another successful money-making venture is Steve Pavlina’s personal development blog. It offers thousands of articles on every aspect of self-development the host can devise. It makes its money on the “personal product recommendation” model. The idea is you come to trust him and so become a “warm lead” when he pitches you the sale. Not original, but effective, if a trifle disingenuous.
Curating a Blog
Then there’s Maria Popova’s blog, Brain Pickings. It’s rather eclectic. But the model is smart. It involves little original writing. The host “curates” thematic lists of quotations from other writers’ work. Popova makes money by asking for donations and equating donations with an act of love. That equation whiffs, but you’re under no obligation. It also relies on soft-selling the quoted authors’ books via Amazon affiliate links.
An Advice Blog
The last example I’ll give of a successful money-making blog is Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn. It’s one of the legions of advice-for-writers blogs, but with a clear business strategy/book marketing twist, directed at the independent author. Long-form, personal-testimony style articles offer practical advice and inspiration to the budding indie author, and the money comes from up-selling affiliate products, books, and member-only video courses.
So yes, one possible reason to write a blog is to make money.
Blogging for Money is Hard Work
But it’s damned hard, and the market is all but saturated. If that’s your aim, you must choose a niche, define your market, create 1000s of pages of original, laser-targeted content, and either create high-value products, sell advertising space, or push for affiliate sales.
When blogging for money, writing is often secondary, it’s a function of the money-making process and you can even out-source it. You can also get around content creation by curating other people’s work. Just be sure you understand copyright law before you start down that road.
It’s possible. And the examples given above are good models, although at this stage it’s too late to imitate them, as you’d be running to standstill.
You must come up with your own unique spin.
It’s very hard, rather boring, technical work; the odds are stacked against you, and you typically take between 5 and 10 years to succeed. You have to want the money badly to stick with it. There are easier ways to earn a crust from writing, believe me.
But I’m sure in the hands of the right person with the right idea it could be a worthwhile and fulfilling way to make a living.
Right, enough about that.
There Are Other (Better) Reasons to Blog
What if you already make your money elsewhere as I do? You have no products to sell. You don’t run third-party advertisements. You’re not blogging for money.
In that case why write a blog?
I love words, their origins, and changing usage.
So let’s take a look at the word, “blog.”
How Blogging Started
It started out life way back in the ’90s as two words: web log. Web log became condensed into weblog and then blog in the same way that video blog became “vlog.” It’s part and parcel of the syntax of the internet: if nouns can be compounded, they will be.
There’s often a semantic function to compounding nouns. So the word blog comes to mean something other than the original weblog.
What Was a Weblog?
The first weblogs were personal journals posted online, or business updates and agendas. Their audiences were family, friends, and colleagues. The web was a handy, but still relatively private place everyone with a connection could access.
In the early days then, weblogs were also rather elitist. Few could afford the hardware, dial-up connections rapidly inflated your telephone bill, and the number of computers connected made for a tiny web by today’s standards. It was pure geekery.
But we can take the concept of the weblog back even further to a time long before the computer, or even electricity, had yet sparked in anyone’s mind.
And for me, the concepts of a web and a log are excellent, natural symbols to explain why I write this blog…
The Etymology of Blogging
Come with me, if you will, on a short etymological diversion, and you’ll see why.
We’re all familiar with “logging information” and “keeping a log of progress,” “logging in,” and so on. Trekkies will no doubt recall the original Star Trek TV series. It always began with an image of the Starship Enterprise in deep space and a voice-over of Captain Kirk saying, “Captain’s log, stardate 34571. It is three months since we lost contact with Earth. Spock has been behaving strangely…” or something of the sort.
But why a log? Why not just a record, book, or journal?
The reason is the Captain’s Log originally pertained to… a log.
Yes, a lump of wood.
The Ship’s Log
Back in the days of the tall ships, from the early 16th century more-or-less, they used a physical log tied to a rope to measure a ship’s speed and progress. The log was hefty enough to sink 200 fathoms and not drag overmuch. Knots were tied at regular intervals. Once the log hit the seabed, the rope loosed and the mariners counted the number and rate of knots let out as the ship sailed away from the log. This enabled them to calculate the direction and speed of travel in open water with no landmarks, or overcast skies with neither sun nor stars to navigate by. They still use “Knots” as a measure of speed in shipping.
The captain of the ship noted all this information in a book known as the “log book” because it derived its information from the ship’s log. By the 19th century, the log and the book had become synonymous.
In time, the captain and navigator annotated the log with information that might prove helpful to anyone taking over the ship. Thus the ship’s log also became a repository of accumulated maritime wisdom and experience. It not only recorded the ship’s progress, but provided information useful for others, and laid down for posterity.
So a log is a means of recording the direction and speed of travel, and of sharing useful information and insights with others. Those are good reasons to right a blog, too. When asking myself, “Why write a blog?” I find this answer pertinent and true:
To keep a record of my progress as a writer in a way useful, interesting, informative, or entertaining, to others.
That seems a noble and decent motivation for anyone to write a blog. And I’m happy to note that this blog fits the description.
And there’s more meaning we can extract from our log, too.
A log is part of a split tree trunk. If you’ve ever seen one, you’ll know it shows a series of rings. They’re known as “growth rings” because each one derives from the tree’s annual growth as the cells multiply and the tree gets taller and wider. You can tell how old a tree was when logged by counting the number of rings. So a log is also a way to look back over the history of a tree. It offers insights that otherwise we couldn’t know.
Each vast oak, whose spreading branches and rich foliage offer home and succor to thousands of other creatures, started out as a tiny acorn. Then it became a small green shoot; a tender sapling bending in the wind; a young tree reaching up to the sky; and at last, a mature tree capable of withstanding the most powerful tempest and offering shelter to others.
So the log gives me another reason to write a blog:
To offer value to others which can only come through long seasons of slow, steady growth.
In this sense, writing a blog – unlike say, a short story or a magazine article – can be about cultivating something of value over the long-term; each new post a growth ring in the developing tree of knowledge and experience. And there’s a hope that, in time, others may find shelter, nourishment and inspiration among its many branches.
Enough about logs. What of webs?
Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave…
The word “web” comes to us from the Old English, by way of the Nordic and Teutonic languages, and has always signified something woven, such as a tapestry or fabric; several threads entwined together to form a whole. Its use regarding the gossamer handiwork of spiders is more recent, dating back to the early 13th century. In a poetic sense, it has long been a metaphor for connectivity, of several lines or threads which link in nodes and form a harmonious whole.
It’s in this metaphoric sense it was applied in the 90s to the communicative interlinking of many computers in the “World Wide Web.”
Thinking of the web idea, I can add the following to my reasons for writing a blog:
To connect my experiences, ideas, and ambitions as a writer in communication with others I might never meet.
And I’m happy with that, too.
Why Write a Blog? My Personal Answer
I am committed to keeping my writing here honest and open, but it need not be over-personal, and isn’t a diary of the everyday aspects of my life. I don’t wish to monetize it with advertisements and so on, as I don’t want to leave my integrity open to question, and I’m happy to make my money elsewhere. There’s more to life than gold, and I need not squeeze every possible penny out of everything I do!
I’m deeply gratified when a reader buys me a coffee and/or takes the trouble to leave a comment. The coffee helps, and when comments turn into conversations and exchanges of ideas, I know I’ve shared and communicated at a level that matters; that I’ve informed, inspired, encouraged, or just plain entertained someone else.
That’s a beautiful thing for me. It can turn a sour day into a joyful one.
Now there may be many answers others could give to the question of why write a blog. I can think of a few: to make money, to publish a personal newsletter, to keep in touch with family and friends, to advertise services, to share an interest or hobby, to build a platform, and so on.
But for me, the answer is this:
To keep a record of my progress as a writer in a way useful, interesting, informative, or entertaining, to others. To offer value to others which can only come through long seasons of slow, steady growth. To connect my experiences, ideas, and ambitions as a writer in communication with others I might never meet.
And there you have it.
How about you?
Are you a blogger? Thinking of blogging? Started and gave up? I would love to hear from you in the comments if you have anything at all to say and share about why you blog.
And thank you for reading this far!
If you’ve enjoyed this post or if you haven’t, I would love to read your insights, experiences, thoughts, critiques, or reflections in the comments below. Please share this post on your social media. That would be a lovely thing to do.
Image credits: all images (apart from the book covers of my novels and the photo of me) are in the Public Domain and were sourced via the Creative Commons. Click on the image to reveal the name of the artist and the work in the address bar.