Say you're a journalist or a copywriter. Or you write novels or screenplays. Or you're an expert in your field who's working on a book. You've got deadlines to meet and bills to pay. So why would you add to your to-do list a blog -- an online journal no one pays you to write? For some very good reasons.
I put the question -- "Why blog?" -- to a number of writers whose blogs I admire. And I did some private soul-searching as well. After all, I'm the one who once refused to set fingers to keyboard without a signed contract and a first-installment check. Yet in June 2006 I launched my blog, Away With Words, and to my surprise I've kept at it, posting almost daily ever since. Obviously blogging yields rewards beyond material profit.
In part, blogging is rewarding because it's easy -- so easy that, according to Technorati, the influential blog-tracking service, about 174,000 new blogs are created every day. Powerful blogging tools such as Blogger, Squarespace, and Typepad allow you to choose a design, start typing, and publish -- no programming knowledge required. If you want to restrict your readership to people you know, a service called Vox lets you keep it private. (And it's free).
But writing in a ruled notebook is easy and almost free, too. So: back to my original question. Why blog? Here's why:
To connect. Writing is lonely work, but blogging is inherently social. Through word of mouth and the magic of search engines like Google, your blog can reach hundreds -- even thousands -- of readers around the world. "I'm interested in connecting with people who want to create a new vision for the next part of life," says Sara Davidson, a television writer (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) who recently published a nonfiction book, Leap!: What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives? "And it's true -- the blog gets more hits than any other page on my web site." Mike Wagner, who runs a branding company in Des Moines, Iowa, puts it this way: "Maybe we blog -- as C.S. Lewis said about reading -- in order to know we are not alone. That we are not the only person in the world who sees or thinks a certain way. Blogging is a great way to meet new people who will let you know that you're onto something real." If you choose to allow your readers to leave comments on your blog (Mike does, Sara doesn't), your blog can become an active conversation. Caveat: Some commenters can be harsh; if you're thin-skinned, blogging may not work for you.
To practice. Television writer and novelist Lee Goldberg blogs primarily to promote his books. But, he adds, "it's also a handy warm-up and procrastination device. When the book or script writing isn't going well, I write on the blog to keep myself at the keyboard." Former newspaper columnist Nancy Nall blogs "for the same reason a musician plays scales, a dancer takes daily class, a baseball player does batting practice. It's a way of keeping the muscles supple." I'd add that practice also implies discipline. I see my daily blog posts as exercises that force my "writing brain" to perform whether it wants to or not -- a useful preventive for writer's block.
To write in a different voice. Are you a speechwriter with a secret enthusiasm for poetry? Do you write technical manuals by day and dream about cookbooks at night? Blogging allows you to spread your wings. "I started to blog when I decided I had things I wanted to say that wouldn't fit into an article or book," says Frances Dinkelspiel, a former newspaper reporter who recently completed a biography of her great-great-grandfather, a pioneering California financier. "My blog focuses on books and the literary life in the Bay Area. A lot happens that isn't weighty enough for a magazine piece. Also, blogging gave me an opportunity to continue writing while I was doing research."
To stay motivated. "Just when I feel discouraged, or that what I'm writing doesn't matter, someone leaves me a wonderful comment," says freelance marketing writer and editor Lisa Vella. "Those comments are fuel for my fire." Freelance columnist and aspiring book author Shanna Thompson says, "There is no denying that being a writer is hard. Rejection. Unconstructive criticism. No response at all... I blog to provide an open forum for myself and other writers to discuss the things that challenge, help and inspire us." I associate a second kind of motivation with blogging: the incentive to stay informed about events and trends in my areas of interest -- words, names, and brands. Blogging keeps me educated -- and on my toes.
To establish your authority. Mary Sullivan, a sales and marketing consultant, is writing a book, but she knows that never-published writers have a tough time selling their manuscripts. So she started her blog, Way to Grow, as a way to share "news and resources for new entrepreneurs" -- and to demonstrate her credentials to agents and publishers. The blog caught the attention of small-business web site AllBusiness.com, which invited Mary to start a second blog, The First Year. So now Mary has two blogs to show to publishers when she starts marketing that book manuscript.
To promote your work. Lynne Reeves Griffin, a registered nurse and educator, contributes to The Writers Group "to practice writing essays." But she writes a parenting blog mostly to publicize her new book, "Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority without Punishment!," which will be published in Fall 2007.
For the fun of it. For me, that's what it really comes down to. I'm a writer because I love to write. And blogging gives me the freedom to play with my writing -- to be as sarcastic or serious or whimsical as I please, to mount a soapbox or share a joke, to get something off my chest or delve deeply into a subject I care about. The icing on the cake is that I'm attracting new clients through my blog -- people I'd never have reached through my normal networks.
Are you a blogger? Leave a comment and tell us why you blog. Tried it and didn't like it? Let us know about that, too!