When I first started blogging, one of my closest friends gave me some brutally honest feedback – my posts were way too dry and boring. I felt discouraged, but fortunately I was game enough to keep trying. That was probably my first taste of how difficult it can be to write for an audience, and to put my thoughts and words out there for dissection.
Nearly 15 years on, my personal blog remains a significant part of my writing life and a record of the evolution of my voice and style. But more importantly, I believe that it was because of my blog that I kept writing. Practice, practice, practice. Even though personal blogs now seem more or less passé, here's why I believe every aspiring writer should have one.
A blog helps you...
1. FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY
Many of us know that we enjoy writing, but not necessarily what we enjoy writing about. Writing about different aspects of your life throws up a range of themes and moods, and is a great way to help find your voice. After a few months of blogging, a pattern will emerge, and you'll notice that you gravitate toward certain things – perhaps you really enjoy telling stories about the food you encounter or cook, or critiquing books or television shows, or perhaps you just really get a kick out of narrating the daily goings-on of your life with a dash of humour.
2. CULTIVATE CONSISTENCY
You know when you're obliged to do something? A blog can make you feel that way, because by its very nature, it's meant to accumulate content over time. This can be a positive thing, because a lot of writers struggle with consistency. The good news is that you're in charge, and you get to write when you want. While it's common to have lots of partially written drafts sitting around, it can be a useful exercise in content planning and accountability, based on your time, goals, the relevance of what you want to write about, and so on. In addition to my drafts, I use a basic writing planner to log upcoming posts, plan for time (accounting for my other writing commitments), and keep track of ideas.
3. WRITE WITHOUT INTERFERENCE
You don't need to pitch articles, get approval, stick to a word limit, or restrict yourself to a tone or style. No one is going to give you a deadline, or chop chunks off of your carefully crafted paragraphs. Having an editor is definitely important, but so is the opportunity to write uninhibitedly, to see what works and what doesn't, what feels right for you. Experimenting with different styles of writing, diverse subjects and varying lengths can help you grow as a writer, and a personal blog provides room to play.
4. EXPLORE STORYTELLING
Can you write a tale of your plants being destroyed mysteriously as a murder mystery? Or tell the story of a palace you visited through the perspective of a fellow tourist unknown to you? You won't know until you try. Sometimes you'll narrate events as they happened, or be tempted to follow a traditional structure, with a beginning, middle and end. At other times, you might be more creative and leave your readers guessing. And more often than not, you'll rant, but even your rants will start to find a form.
5. START STRONG
Often, writing a good title and engaging introduction are the hardest parts of writing. A blog compels you to try this over and over again. Sure, a few posts will end up being titled "Blah" or "Random Thoughts", but how often are you going to do that? Once you start experimenting, being creative and teasing with these elements, you might call a post about Hanoi "The Red Bridge", or title a post about your favourite book "Growing up with Anne Shirley", and even use more click-friendly headings like "My 5 favourite podcasts this holiday season".
6. WRITE FOR AN AUDIENCE
For many, writing a blog post might be the first brush with writing for an audience. You might want to ramble – which is fine because it's your blog – but you're also very aware that strangers will be reading your rambling, if you're lucky. This perception feels different and influences what you choose to share, compared to, say, pouring your heart out onto pages that go back into a drawer. It also, gradually, makes you more confident.
One of the best skills you can develop as a writer is an intuition for editing your own work. This is not to undermine the role of an editor – it's always good, and often necessary, to have a fresh pair of eyes look at your work. Self-editing, however, ensures that the draft you present for further polishing and feedback is already in pretty good shape, so that it doesn't confuse or distract from what you're trying to say. With a blog, you'll most likely look over each piece of writing a couple of times before you publish it.
8. COMPLETE AND PUBLISH A PIECE OF WRITING, OR TWENTY
Most of us have bits and pieces of writing lying around in assorted notebooks, a novel or two ambitiously begun but never finished, a list of ideas that could someday become something. And that's fine. As writers, it's often impossible to keep up with ideas, or to give volume to wisps of thought. With a blog, however, you get to actually complete and publish something that you've deemed good enough to go out into the world. Sure, it might not be your best or most professional work, but it's something that you actually completed.
Every published post is an accomplishment.
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