Blogging

So I’m going to be polishing off the rest of the Dancing Monkey topics over the next week or so, ’cause I have partially completed costs about most of them and ’cause people asked for interesting topics that I actually enjoy blogging. With that in mind, I’m hitting up the next topic on the list, which came from the inimitable Steve D.

What about a locum or an apprentice? On that topic, you could blog about what being a professional blogger is like, as a job, and where it leads, and who should consider it.

Let’s set aside the first part of the question, since I’m assuming it was largely a suggestion based on the impetus of the Dancing Monkey posts – wanting to keep the blog active while I was travelling. In hindsight I can look at this and say, well, yes, that would have been a smart idea, but on the whole I rather like the idea of my blog staying my blog, and the idea of taking on an apprentice/guest poster just seems weird.

At the dayjob, I have no such compunctions. Part of my dayjob is providing content for the Australian Writer’s Marketplace Speakeasy blog (in addition to facebook and twitter content), and it’s one of those hungry beasts that can never be satiated. When it was suggested I take on an editorial intern, I nodded and figured out what could be handed over and celebrated like it was Christmas. My current intern is a godsend, is far too good to be interning, and really should be snapped up and given a job by someone sensible before too long.

Despite all this, I’m not really a professional blogger. Pro-Blogger, like Indie Publisher, is one of those words that has a very specific kind of interpretation when you spend too much time around the internet, and it’s not a title that really fits what I do for the QWC. When I started in my current role, we kinda bandied around titles until we came up with Digital Content and Community Manager.

Mostly this means I get to spend a lot of time thinking about blogging, rather than blogging, as the actual writing of blogs is a small-but-important part of my job rather than the focus of it. It is, no doubt, a kick-ass part of my job – if nothing else, curating a list of interesting publishing, editing, and writing advice is a natural progression of the reasons I go on the internet. Getting to follow momentary obsessions (such as crowdsourcing) to do posts about them is similarly cool, as is being able to email editors and ask them a bunch of questions about their publications. The Speakeasy mandate largely coincides with things I’m naturally interested in, so it’s a pretty sweet gig.

The fact that I don’t have to be generating content continuously does separate me from most pro-bloggers though. Speakeasy has a bare-bones kind of routine – at least once a week, there will be a round-up post that rounds up news, links, and writing advice from around the internet – and it has other regular features that are being added on as time, contacts, and experience allow. Being primarily curatorial in approach, the blogging part of my job largely involves assimilating the RSS feed of doom every week, finding some interesting stuff, and putting some context around it.  On particularly busy weeks, the context is a bit…well, sparse…but it’s always there.

Long term, it’s probably going to get more involved than it current is, but there’s a series of steps and conversations that need to happen before that happens.

Also, ’cause blogging is a small-but-important part of my job, I get a paycheque whether there’s new blog content up or not. This is huge in blogging terms, since it means that I’m not really living and dying by blog metrics and user interaction. Nor do we need to figure out ways to leverage blog readers and transform them into profit. All things going well, it should eventually become important enough to justify doing both those things, but for the moment Speakeasy can be a relatively low-key thing with one or two regular features and my boss is relatively happy, because it means I can maintain the pace of new content and balance it against the parts of my job that are all about organising conventions and providing feedback for aspiring writers and teaching the occasional class (fortunately, none ’til 2013 at this point).

I predict, should you ask me this question again next year, I’ll have a very different answer. A lot of what’s happening with Speakeasy now is really set-up for stuff we’d like to do down the road, and the period between October and December this year is where I really figure out what’s feasible and what’s not ( its also when I figure out if my QWC contract will get renewed, and whether Speakeasy will still be part of it).

If there’s anyone seriously interested in blogging, I usually do three things.

First, I direct them towards Chris Guillebeau’s free ebook 279 Days to Overnight Success.It introduces the principles of blogging pretty well, has some of the best starting advice I’ve ever (aka generally three months worth of content to have in reserve; man, if only I’d learnt that lesson earlier), and generally breaks things down util they seen achievable.  As introductory texts go is’s kinda awesome, and it’s hard to go past free as a price.

Secondly, I send them to go check out sights like Brain Pickings (an example of a curatorial blog done brilliantly well), Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (an example of a community-driven blog done right – one of my dreams is to recruit a half-dozen SF/nerdcore types and do something similar for Genre Fiction and RPGS), and Chuck Wendig’s site (which is, at present, my default example of “writer-type leveraging the internet in the smartest fucking way possible” when I give workshops on this kind of thing).

Thirdly, I suggest spending a month or three following a site like pro-blogger, which is chock-full of advice for…well, pro-bloggers. Too long there will do something weird for your brain, since pro-bloggers largely look at the internet that I find enormously complicated and difficult to maintain an interest in, but a few months of seeing the kind content that appears regularly on the feed will introduce you to all sorts of basics about structuring post content, planning ahead, and other day-to-day minutia of running a successful blog. It’s the kind of stuff I like to think of as “absorb and ignore” – you learn it, you make it part of your process, then you set it aside and just do your thing without really thinking about it unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Sort of like three-act story structure, really.

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