My friend Michelle sent me an e-mail last week with a question.
[Husband] suggested I start blogging everyday, and honestly the reason I don't is because half the time I can't figure out *what* to write about. How the heck do you figure out your topics?
Hey, you know that sounds like a blog topic in itself. Clearly, Michelle was correct to ask me, as I'm now an authority on this subject. I've already taught a course on blogging and I was just asked to repeat it this October. People want to know my secrets. Go fetch yourself a drink, sit back, and I'll tell you the story of how and why I write my blog.
Why Bother Blogging?
Now that I've appropriately inflated my ego and reputation, I can answer this question with ease. David Winer gets credit for starting a weblog in 1997 and the underlying syndication technology. From there, hipster doofuses mispronounced and misspelled it as “blog” and we're now stuck with that phrase in our lexicon. I blame Californians, most of whom would be surprised to learn that their state has more than two syllables in it.
If you go back and look at the root – web log – you'll see that it's just a journal posted on the web. I write my blog for myself. It's my journal of experiences, interests and desires. After all, the domain name is my name – William Beem. It's all about me and whatever I want to make of it. I've decided to narrow things down to my interest in photography here, and I post Monday through Friday at the same time.
I try to avoid jumping on the topic-of-the-moment or passing along someone else's announcements. There are some rare exceptions, but it's usually due to some interest I have in the matter. For example, I see a lot of blogs posting today about Matt Kloskowski's new compositing book. They're helping him spread the word and market a product. I wrote about the book last week, but my approach was different. To be honest, it was selfish. I want this book because I believe it will help me expand my knowledge and experience, so my intent was more personal, perhaps even more selfish, than what I've read today.
Having a blog is a podium to make a statement. Do you want that statement to be yours, or an echo of someone else's statement? If I write about a product or service, it's because of how I'm affected by it. It's important to have something to say. If you're just passing along announcements, what have you accomplished? When I read 20 articles saying the same thing about a new product, I simply have the same information about the product reinforced. I know nothing about the people who passed along the promotion because they didn't say anything unique, personal or interesting.
How to Choose a Topic
My problem is just coming up with ideas of what to write about.
Most of the time, I have no clue what I'm going to write about until the moment I sit down to write it. Every once in a while, I'll come across something that gives me a bundle of topics that I can spread out for a week. My e-mail exchange with Michelle spurred this topic and a few more that I can post this week. So how did I respond to Michelle's problem of coming up with a topic?
Oh, horseshit! You have more opportunities for topics than I do because you're out shooting more than I am.
- Talk about concert photography.
- Talk about motocross.
- Talk about getting into those places.
- Talk about the people you meet.
- Talk about photographers who show up with a Flash to shoot a rock concert.
- Talk about your experiences with Examiner.com and why you decided to sign up with them.
- Talk about what a pain in the ass it is to lug your gear around all day in hot weather.
- Talk about trying to juggle your photography time and your family time.
- Talk about anything you bring up on Twitter, but just shape it into an article.
We're inundated with information from news articles, other blogs, product announcements, social media and our experiences in photography. If any of these things has an impact upon you, then you have a topic to explore for a blog post.
Yesterday, I wrote about my experience at a local Meet & Greet. However, I didn't tell the whole story. Almost every person there was wonderful, but there was one exception. I've run into this guy before at a workshop and he pulled the same behavior on me as he did at this recent event. He interrupted other photographers working with models, put his hands all over the models, ignored everyone else's efforts and selfishly did as he damn well pleased at the expense of others. For all I know, tomorrow's post may be on how not to be an asshole. I wanted to go kick the old fart in the shins, but then that would make me a bigger asshole. Better to just write about it.
On one photography message forum, I've read numerous debates between natural light and artificial light. Some people are almost raging mad to make sure their opinion is the winner, despite the fact that they're all wrong. That's a blog post, too!
How to Write
When the average person sits down to write an article, they suddenly change their voice. The prose gets filled with adjectives they never use in casual conversation. They make grandiose introductions to their topic. Basically, most people write like shit and it's boring to read.
Write with your own voice. You're telling a story – your story. Use the same words that you would use in conversation if you were explaining it to someone sitting next to you. Don't try to be clever. People who think they're clever are very annoying to those of us who are, and are just confusing to everyone else.
It's important that your words flow naturally, which is why you want to use your own voice. You have a lifetime of experiences that helped you decide which words you use, how and when you use them, and that is as much of your voice as the sounds you make. Take those words and put them down in print.
People reading your posts don't really care if you're clever with words. They just want the content, so get to the meat of your message. That doesn't mean you can't write a long post, or even a long sentence. It just means that the purpose of those words is to deliver a message, not to demonstrate your wit or skill as a writer. If you're trying to be clever with words, chances are that you're not succeeding. Just deliver your message in a clear, natural voice.
Over time, your voice will gradually change. The essence will remain consistent, but your vocabulary will grow. Your ability to express your ideas will sharpen. You'll think more about what you write. It's a natural evolution, so don't force yourself in the beginning. Work with the basic elements of your voice and then decide how you want to tweak it. Writing, like all artistic endeavors, works best with subtle changes.
When to Write
Since I'm writing for myself, you would think I could just post anytime I wished without relying upon a daily schedule. Actually, I can write any time I want. I choose to publish on a schedule rather than on impulse, though. That gives others who may have an interest in following my blog some consistency – they know when to expect a post from me. Over time, I've watched my stats build and realized that consistency helps retain readers who have an interest in my niche topic of photography. An audience is slow to build and quick to leave. Go on vacation for a week without a post and people may think you've abandoned your blog, and therefore they abandon you.
Does that matter? In some sense, yes. As much as I'm writing this journal of experiences for myself, there's also a desire to share with others. I find I receive greater satisfaction as more people check out my images or posts.
You don't have to write every day, but you do need to be consistent. I decided to write every day for two reasons. First, writing is a creative outlet for me. Second, it's a bit of quality time that forces me to analyze things happening around me. On occasion, I've started writing from one perspective on a topic and found that digging deeper changed how I view an issue. That wouldn't happen if I didn't take the time to write on a regular basis.
Instead, I'd just write down my preconceived notions in the spur of a moment and put out something without any value. We all have preconceived notions; it's a shortcut to make decisions. Sadly, many of those decisions are wrong because we didn't take the time to understand an issue, to scratch deeper than the surface. Thought provoking posts require thought, and that takes time. Since I prefer to think about what I post, I make time every day I need to create a post. Even on Friday, when I simply post a photo, there's thought about what I want to show, what message I want to communicate. It was the reason I experimented with my Photo Concepts on Wednesdays. The blog forces me to think, analyze and investigate my world, and then learn from it.
It's Up to You
People have different needs for their blogs. Some use it to promote their business. Some just want to show their photos. The important thing is that you have a purpose. You're the publisher, so all of the decisions depend upon you. Consider what you want to get out of your blog, and that should help you decide what to put into it.