A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me to ask a series of questions about my blogging. I replied with some detailed answers, and it seems to me that other people might have similar questions. Here, then, are the 8 questions I was asked and the answers I gave below in case anyone else was curious. If you have other questions about my blogging that aren’t answered below, ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.
1. What was your intention when you first began blogging?
I first started blogging back in late 2005. I had kept a diary since 1996 and I think the blog became a public extension of that in order to keep up with friends and family spread all across the country. I had no real intentions beyond that.
2. When you initially started the blog, did you have any idea it would become so successful?
I think it depends on what you define as successful. As I said, my intention was to have a way of better keeping up with friends and family, and it seemed to work pretty well, so in that sense, I think it was successful. As for popular success, it wasn’t even on my radar when I started. Indeed, I was always surprised to discover that people other than friends or family read the blog.
3. Do you feel as if you’ve changed as a result of your blog, if so, how?
I think that the blog has changed me in small ways. It taught me how to think better on my feet. I’ve written over 5,500 posts in nearly 10 years, and almost all of them are written on the fly. Over time, I learned a compactness of expression1 , and developed a comfortable style. These made it much easier for me to sell nonfiction articles when those opportunities arose. It’s also helped with speaking that I do, whether its on panels or giving talks. But like I said, these are pretty small things.
4. Have the goals of your life changed since the success of your blog?
Success for a blog is always relative. As my blog became more focused on things like going paperless, writing, and automation, I think it started to become more successful. I would only use the term “successful blog” for the last 3 years. In that time the goals for my life haven’t changed much. Habits have changed, but the goals that I work toward have remained more or less the same.
5. What do you think the key ingredient is that has allowed your blog to become so successful?
Blogging is like any other kind of writing. Success is usually based on three main ingredients: hard work, some talent, and a helping of luck. I think the fact that I post regular content helps. It certainly doesn’t hurt that there is an audience that wants to read what I write. Over the last few years, I’ve narrowed the focus of what I write about and that has helped as well. Luck has also played a role. I was in the right place at the right time when it came to writing about going paperless. Evernote, for example, invited me into the founding class of their ambassador program in large part because of what I was writing about. It could just as easily have been someone else.
6. Do you ever feel like the person you are as blogging is different from who you are in your private life?
I think most successful bloggers establish an online persona that is different from the real person in subtle ways. John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton, Jenny Lawson, and Chuck Wendig have all spoken about this phenomenon. It’s not an entirely conscious process, but it’s not different from what columnists did before blogs existed. Isaac Asimov had a persona that came across in his essays that differed in some ways from the person behind them. I imagine the same is true for a great columnist like Al Martinez. But the differences are subtle and often meaningless to the audience who reads the blog. One example: I write about my writing process quite a bit on the blog. Outside of the blog and an occasional panel at a science fiction convention, however, I almost never talk about it. If you met me on the street, I’d talk about baseball or the weather or my kids. But not writing.
7. Do you feel your blogging has changed over the years as your blog has become more successful?
I think blogging was a little different when I started than it is today. I started off on LiveJournal and transitioned to WordPress in 2008, I think. LiveJournal was much less focused and more posts on random thoughts and had a very diary-like feel to it. Over time, my blog has become more focused to the point when I write primarily about paperless, writing and technology, although from time-to-time, I’ll squeeze in other topics. One big difference is the size of the audience. I don’t know what my audience was back in 2005, maybe a dozen people a day. Today, it bounces between 3,000 – 4,000 page views per day. I find that when I say things in front of an audience of that size, I’m a little more cautious. But, I’ve been really lucky. My audience is wonderful, and the comment threads are filled with helpful tips and advice from people all over the world.
8. What is the one thing you hope to have accomplished with your blog?
Probably more than anything else, I write the blog for me, as a way of clarifying my thoughts and processes. It’s been that way from the start. What it has done is provided a kind of window into my thinking that might prove to be interesting to my kids when they are old enough to read it. Having a place my kids can go to learn something about me that might not otherwise have known–just because it never came up–is a pretty cool thing. They can see my successes and my failures spilled out in front of them and know it is okay to mess up sometimes. I think it is really important for kids to know that. You learn by making mistakes.
Any questions about my blogging that I didn’t answer above? Ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
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