Fall 2005 -- Yes, I do blog in my bathrobe.
Of course, I also blog in my pajamas. Or in jeans and a sweater. Sometimes after a business lunch, I blog in a suit. I’ve blogged in London, and I’ve blogged in the mountains, and once—just once—I oh-so-very-briefly considered blogging on a beach in Mexico.
You could blog, too.
The sound you’re hearing somewhere in your mind is that of brakes screeching. “Whoa there, pardner—back up. Why would I ever want to blog?”
That’s a fine question, and one I’m glad I asked for you.
Blogging is perhaps the finest outlet for the frustrated individualist. Need a global soapbox to shout from? Blogspot.com can give you one for free—in less than five minutes. Want to network with like-minded people from around the world? Unlike Orkut.com (who?), everyone has heard of blogs. Want the opportunity to receive poorly written death threats through your e-mail, just like a real Washington pundit? Are you looking for a hobby so simple you’ll never have to leave your home office? Do you enjoy a dress code as lax as the ones on beaches on the French Riviera?
Then get on your butt and blog, already.
Blogs are searchable, findable, and nowadays, unavoidable. As nice as all that sounds, you’re still left with a problem: How are you ever going to stand out in a crowd of millions? What can your brand-new blog accomplish when hundreds of other new blogs are coming along every hour?
To help you in your quest, Mr. or Ms. Individualist, let’s go to the unwashed masses for advice. I’m sure you know some well-meaning fool with a certain sign on their cubicle, or maybe a bumper sticker. You know the one I mean. It reads: “Dance like no one is watching. Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt.”
Yeah, yeah—I know what you’re thinking. That and four bucks will get you “whirled peas” and a non-fat latte at Starbucks. But when it comes to starting a blog, the guy with all those stickers on the back of his Volvo probably has some good advice for you. Let’s take it one cliché at a time.
Be current, be timely, be hip.
Popular blog-tracker Technorati.com keeps tabs on over sixteen million blogs right now. By the time you get this magazine in the mail (you do subscribe, don’t you?)that number might be up to seventeen or eighteen million. On those millions of sites, Technorati follows 1.6 billion links. That’s billion with a b. To paraphrase Roy Scheider in Jaws, “You’re gonna need a bigger blog.”
So here are a few don’ts to help you disembark from the Orca and get you on board the USS Missouri.
Don’t write the 18,871st article explaining Ayn Rand ’s metaphysics to the masses. They don’t care, and neither do most of Rand’s most hardcore devotees. Ditto for parroting Alan Greenspan’s anti-anti-trust articles, and gold standard diatribes, and long-winded rants about other “old” issues.
Don’t blog about not blogging or about not having anything to say. Nobody cares. What people do care about is a strong and timely opinion, well and briefly (and maybe even humorously) put.
Don’t check your hit meter every few minutes. It’s depressing.
Lastly, don’t blog about your cat until after you’ve grown an audience large enough to care. And when I say “large enough to care,” I mean “large enough that you can get away with cat-blogging from time to time.”
Be current. Be timely. Be hip, if you’re able. Scan the headlines and run with them. That’s what I’ve done most days for almost four years now. Those first couple months were painful—maybe twenty visits a day for the first couple of weeks. But my best day saw over a hundred thousand unique visits, and I’ve built up a big enough audience that a few thousand people come take a peek even when I haven’t posted anything new.
Mostly, though, just have some fun. We’re talking about a hobby.
(Because there isn’t any.)
I exaggerate, of course. There is money to be made from blogging—just not much. There are maybe twenty people out of sixteen million who could pay for the mortgage and the groceries just from blog revenue. (Note: Not one of those twenty has a VodkaPundit.com-size bar tab. I dare any of them to give up their day jobs and buy as much Absolut as I do.) If you blog hard and well, you’ll hit that magic number, somewhere north of a thousand unique visits each day. At that point, you can earn enough advertising revenue for a couple nice dinners out each month.
Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But look at it this way: Not many hobbies amount to much more than a weekend in the woods, where you’re kept warm by the glow of burning dollar bills. Blogging won’t cost you anything but time, with the possible upside of making a little something extra for your efforts.
The big secret—and it’s hardly a secret—is to pick your theme and blog it well. Every successful site has just that: a theme, not a subject. Single-subject blogs may “spike” when the news tends their way for a day or a week, but they tend to struggle the rest of the time. But a blog with a theme can find endless variations to play.
Let’s take a quick look at a few of the most popular blogs.
You’ll experience pain--but so does a chef, the first time he tries to flambé.
Instapundit.com looks at everything—and I do mean everything—with quick links, quick commentary, and quick wit. AndrewSullivan.com covers politics and culture from the perspective of a gay conservative. DailyKos.com is your one-stop shop for left-wing (and I do mean left-wing) anger (and I do mean anger). Lileks.com features family-friendly fun with the best in pop culture and a clever turn of phrase or three.
Each of these blogs has a distinctive voice. Each of these blogs makes money. Each gets far more traffic than my blog, whose theme is best described as “that guy at the end of the bar who keeps talking back to the TV news.”
Getting there—even to my meager moneymaking level—will take time, and it will take effort. I’ve blogged purely for fun for more than three years, but finally have decided to take on advertisers. The money won’t be great, but I can assure you that my wife has already spent every penny of it.
(Because you will be.)
Blogging pain comes in many forms. There’s the birthing pain of not getting any traffic. There’s the constant pain I call “having to feed the monster,” but what most people simply call “blogging.” There’s unexpected pain when you write something you feel is especially clever, but it fails to resonate with readers. There’s the sharp and sudden pain when something does resonate, but badly.
But hobbies aren’t about pain—or are they? Amateur chefs suffer burns and kitchen fires the first time they try to flambé. Amateur car racers blow out engines, or worse. Amateur woodworkers are sometimes known as “Lefty.” Amateur drinkers (as I recall) suffer the next morning.
But hobbies really aren’t about pain—they’re about the joy we get from pursuing them. For every bit of risk, for every dollar of expense, we do the things we like because—follow me closely here—we like to do them. That’s what blogging is for me.
I love the feedback I get from readers. I love the free-for-all spirit in the “Comments” section. I love the fact that I can travel most anywhere in the English-speaking world and hook up with a good friend I’ve never met before in real life. I love the fact that my very cranky self gets to shout at a crazy, messed-up world—and be heard. Even more, I love it when the world shouts back.
If you’ve got a few spare minutes each day…if you’re aching to sharpen those writing and thinking skills…if you’re looking for a way to be heard…if you’re a real individualist with a real voice…then it’s time for you to blog.
Just please don’t tell us what you’re wearing. Or describe that cute thing your cat just did with the hairball. We really don’t want to know.
Trust me on this.
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