Writing for Bloggers: Introductory Course

People like this guy who tried to get paid for blogging give me the ennui. Blogging is writing done by postliterate geeks. These people are used to being paid for their hobbies, because an obsession with computer programming or its equivalent often accidentally results in a nice paycheck. This will not happen with your blog. Since none of you have met a writer before or read an entire book, some review is going to be necessary here. Writing is not like computer programming. Here are some things about writing:

  • People write because they have to and get paid if and when they can. Writers do not expect to make a living by writing and very few of them get paid more than lunch money. This is true for bad, mediocre, and even very good writers.
  • Writing is done for an audience. If you write entirely for yourself, and do not stop to consider your readers and what they may find interesting or pleasant, do not be surprised if you are not read.
  • “Content” is not generic. If you do not have anything to say, do not write. If you have something to say that is said frequently by others, you will not be read. A new person writing “My occasional rants on the world of PC Gaming with particular emphasis on multiplayer online games” or “A daily set of links to Slashdot and three or four well-known political websites with my unique and irreverent perspective” will not be noticed, much less read.
  • Writing is harder than talking. It is, in fact, a craft. (See Podcasting, below). The only people who are read by many others are people who take care to put words together properly, and these people usually have to go over their writing several times and edit it for repetition, clichés, dumb catchphrases, and ugly turns of phrase. If you are not willing to do this you will not be read.
  • Podcasting is not writing. Podcasting is talking into a microphone and then having people listen. If you are not a speaker of professional quality you will sound like a complete fucking tool on your podcast. The number of people willing to listen to a mouth-breathing, sniffling amateur drone about technology or politics is small. For example, it’s smaller than the number of people who are willing to listen to the BBC or National Public Radio. Much smaller. Do not podcast.
  • Even if you have exciting things to say, even if you write with careful attention to your audience, even if you spend years improving your skills, you will not get paid. If you build a better mousetrap, it’s said the world will beat a path to your door. If you write a better paragraph, you then have to beat a path to your job.

If you stripped out all the personal yawps, pictures, and linksmanship from my own blog and then pulled out the bits that could have theoretically been sold to a newspaper or magazine as reviews or op ed, and then assumed that I sold them all and got paid for them all, I’d make maybe $250-$300 a month unless I’d really hit the bigtime. And you would have made an ass out of U and me in the process, because not even very good writers sell all their stuff.

I hope this is helpful. If you still want to write things on the internet despite never being paid and rarely being read, you are a writer. If you work very hard at it, someday you may get $15,000 for two or three years’ work and be distributed in tiny quantities to libraries and bookstores. It will be the happiest day of your life.

I mean it about podcasting, though. Don’t do it.

27 thoughts on “Writing for Bloggers: Introductory Course

  1. I noticed recently that an old college enemy had put an Adsense banner on her blog. Hats off to anyone who decides to do a little e-commerce after reading about so-and-so’s creepy roommate and OMG so many hot guys at the Death Cab for Cutie show last night.

  2. I write because if I don’t, I explode. School is so I can ask for a bigger paycheck when I get a “real job”. Whatsername who does Harry Potter is personally responsible for the wanton destruction of trees, because even fuckin’ 7-11 tried to cash in on the whole “opening day” craze and you know most of that shit’s gonna be remaindered.
    I’m Bob Dole, and I approve this message. Now kick me down some Viagra, bitch. 😉
    L.

  3. Thanks for the advice about podcasting. As a life long mouth breather I probably wouldn’t have ventured into it, but when both Time and Newsweek call something “cool” I have a hard time resisting.
    I’ve tried everything to make my blog into a moneymaker; extortion, selling drugs through entries, bookmaking, banner ads, amateur videos… you name it. The closest I came to any real cashish was an NEA grant for my series called “500 posts about my testicles”. Just when I thought I was about to score, some Republican congressman got involved and 86’d my application because I mentioned that “I don’t think my testicles are as evolved as the those of a ram… because even a small ram has a huge set of balls”.

  4. It’s hell out there. Everyone’s a journalist. Everyone’s a keen wit. It’s tough when you figure out that you don’t have an audience, just a few kind souls with exclamation points and emoticons. Not everyone can be a PROBLOGGER. Where’s my 15KB/s of fame? Show me the Googlemoney!

  5. “Maybe I’m reading it wrong but there is a sense of ‘whoa is me about it all’ – and a something about the way he writes that makes me wonder if Jack thinks he deserves to be raking in the cash.”
    “Whoa is me” is a great term. It should mean either “I’m really stoned” or “I need to relax.” Also, both these people are maroons.

      1. Re: oh shit
        You’re probably got more chance of making with a rock band than with a blog anyway. Come to think of it, I pissed off a few people back in the day when I suggested they were being silly in trying to charge for something – i.e. unresearched, biased opinions – that many people were giving away for free. Given that these were ostensibly fans of the “free market”, it seemed weird to me that they’d missed this fatal flaw in their business plan.
        Though I admit I did send some cash Kottke‘s way when he had his drive, because I felt his writing was worth it and kind of admired his cojones in quitting his job to for a year to blog full-time, as silly as that sounds.
        Ah well. After having shelved my blog a couple of weeks back, I can honestly say I was never in it for the money. I started it because it seemed like a neat idea. I ended it because it wasn’t really that much fun anymore – for me or the readers. (Maybe a few dozen, I’m guessing.)

      2. Re: oh shit
        Yeah — but I also meant that if you’re telling people to give up hopes of stardom, don’t hold your breath. 😉 Luckily there will always be predators like Mr. ProBlogger.com to complete the circle of life.
        But also, I don’t see the reason for all the outrage. You’re policing the title of ‘writer’, denying it to people who aren’t professional, or who haven’t suffered greatly for their art.
        I don’t see why. It’s not like the suffering ones are any better. Most of them are terrible too. And all the polish of a lifetime of professional writing is nothing compared to one guy who happens to know the truth a little bit better. I’d rather read Tell Me a Secret than Judith Miller, any day of the week.

      3. Re: oh shit
        I’m sick of geeks who think they can do anything better than anyone because they used a computer to do it, and then insist on getting paid for it. Everything is quite simple, you see, because Moore’s Law and Creative Commons! Where’s my check?
        I reserve the right to laugh the bitter laugh of someone who lived on Top Ramen and spite for a few years trying to do the real thing.

      4. Re: oh shit
        And then you have Bertrand Russell, a mathematician, who wrote scads of luminous prose every day of his life. And then you have George Orwell a not-very-bright colonial administrator, hobo and broadcaster who did the most interesting stuff and wrote fascinating things about it. And then you have Umberto Eco, a productive academic all his working life. There’s not, and there shouldn’t be, anything magical about writing and getting paid for it without devoting yourself exclusively to it.

      5. Re: oh shit
        George Orwell was not very bright?
        Umberto Eco isn’t a professional writer?
        My point was not that writers need to wear a writer hat and go to a writer office where all they do is write. That’s a straw man.
        Writing is craft. It’s difficult to do well. And it doesn’t pay. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done well by someone who also does other things. It does mean that aimlessly blogging is not a route to fortune and hardly one to fame.

      6. Re: oh shit
        George Orwell was not very bright?
        His proposal of marriage to his last wife has survived—it was retarded. He picked which of the left-wing sides he would fight for in a shooting war by chance. There are several points early in Down and Out in Paris and London where I shouted “you stupid fucker” at him, but I don’t have the book to hand to cite them. But he’s notably one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century; is that not praise enough for him?
        Umberto Eco isn’t a professional writer?
        I didn’t say that; becoming well-known as a writer in the 20th century without getting paid for it would have been almost impossible, I suspect. He made his name in Italian in the sixties as a columnist, while working full-time as an academic, he did most of his research for The Name of the Rose in academia, and he’s still teaching. His writing is informed by a wider life, and is the better for it.
        It does mean that aimlessly blogging is not a route to fortune and hardly one to fame.
        Oh, absolutely. But living on Top Ramen doesn’t guarantee you a whole lot either.

      7. Re: oh shit
        I still can’t find your point. Orwell made judgment errors. What does that have to do with why or why not he shouldn’t have been a good writer? Eco’s writing is “informed by a wider life”; what writer doesn’t have a wider life?
        And what do either of those things say about my point, which is that writing is both difficult and not remunerative? And that writing is harder than talking, and isn’t necessarily done well by everyone who is good at something else?
        There is no dichotomy between being a writer and doing other things, nor is there some exalted status of writerdom. It is a craft and for some a calling. What someone does for money may or may not require writing as a skill.
        There’s a joke about an old bluesman who won the state lottery. On being asked what he would do with the money, he said “I’m just fixin’ to play the blues until I’m poor again.” Almost anyone who has the writing bug would love to do it full-time. Only those who are both talented and fortunate get that chance.

      8. Re: oh shit
        Okay, so your disgust is with the “geeks” in particular, and if someone from another field manages to make money from writing without living on noodles for years, you’re be fine with that. Excuse my pre-emptively positive interpretation that it wasn’t my field in particular that you hate.

      9. Re: oh shit
        I am not sure where you got the idea that I didn’t want someone to make money writing, or to enjoy writing, or to be good at it. What I said was that writing is craft and that experience and talent matter, and that payment for writing is rare and unexpected.
        I frequently hear geeks complain that their bosses undervalue computer programming as a craft and consider any technical task that’s beyond their understanding to be easy and quick. They have a good point. The same thing is true for writing.
        One difference is that being a good writer rather than a good carpenter or vascular surgeon or embedded systems programmer will not in itself bring in money.
        Being able to write well on a blog or elsewhere is a joy and an accomplishment. As I said in my original post, rather than this side thread, it’s neither something everyone should expect to excel at naturally or something for which one should expect to be paid.
        I honestly think you’re disagreeing with something I never even said!

      10. Re: oh shit
        Flipzagging said, of you:
        But also, I don’t see the reason for all the outrage. You’re policing the title of ‘writer’, denying it to people who aren’t professional, or who haven’t suffered greatly for their art.
        And your answer left Flipzagging, and everyone else reading, with exactly that understanding. So, yes, in point of technicality, I’m disagreeing with something you never said. But this is conversation, not monologue, if someone says something of you that’s wrong, speak up.

      11. Re: oh shit
        And your answer left Flipzagging, and everyone else reading, with exactly that understanding.
        Well, no. It left you with that understanding, which I have tried and failed to correct. I hope you’ll allow Neil and the other 7 billion people on the planet their own interpretations.
        I don’t think we’re getting any closer to a mutual understanding here. Probably best to drop it.
        Mazel tov!

  6. Maybe I came late to the party, but I always saw “blogging” as “keeping an online journal which maybe some friends read and then you had a laugh with them about it over an [e-]beer”. This then jumped, very quickly and without much preamble, to being “important online literature and/or political expression for which I will become rich and/or famous”, and I was left kind of standing around thinking “what the fuck is wrong with you people?”.
    I just hope this whole thing will pass, people will continue to write about how some guy cut them off in traffic and then their friends will say “hell yeah” and the edgy news shows will move on to discussing the latest trend, like urethral USB connectors or something.

      1. Of course the downside of urethral USB connectors is that back end integration is a pain in the ass.
        Thank you, thank you. Don’t forget to tip the waitresses.

  7. “Seems like a guy with a copmputer could make money with it somehow.” – some idiot, apocryphal
    I enjoyed reading this, but you’re not getting any fuckcing cash from me. And I wouldn’t have paid for suck.com either, and that had drawings sometimes.

  8. I could podcast. I have an amazing voice for that sort of thing and I’ve taught myself not to speak through my nose (NOT easy). Unfortunately, I’m not angry enough to have anything listenable to say. (=

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