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Why bother to blog? July 21, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was blindsided this morning to receive my weekly e-mail newsletter from a normally rational source and discover that he was recommending that everyone create their own blog on WordPress, whether they actually had anything to say for themselves or not. Mind you, Poor Richard’s Almanac is hosted by WordPress, and we love WordPress. My reaction wasn’t triggered by WordPress, but by the concept of filling cyberspace with yet more pointless verbiage. He suggested that, if you couldn’t think of anything else to say, you should write book reviews. 

What the bleep?!! Those of us, like myself and Silence Dogood, who are actual authors would prefer to think that people are reviewing our books because they find them interesting, engrossing or relevant, not because they’ve been told they must have a blog and come up with some kind of content to post on it. Why should anybody bother to blog in the age of YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, anyway? You can just slap up some photos or a video and get thousands of likes within seconds. Book reviews? Please.

Of course, wordsmiths like us were born to blog. Blogging may have begun as a way for people to reach out to their families and friends, a function that Facebook now fills. But for folks who actually have something to say for themselves, blogging remains a vital, relevant means of communication. You put it out there, and people react, and you learn and grow as a result. And for professional writers like me and Silence, the discipline of daily blogging is invaluable. It’s a wonderful way to start the day, warming us up for the bread-and-butter writing we do for a living the way a warmup session preps professional athletes for the field or court.

We love blogging, we love hearing from our readers and interacting with them, and we love WordPress. We think blogging has made us stronger writers, more creative, more able to rise to the challenge of our profession. Having to come up with something to say every day that you hope someone else will want to read is an ongoing challenge to us to keep on top of our game. Every morning, we try to rise to that challenge. We try to give Poor Richard’s Almanac readers something thought-provoking or practical to take away in thanks for their taking the time to read our posts, though sometimes we just can’t resist posting about something we think is fun or funny.

Our friend Ben just doesn’t get blogging because you “ought” to be blogging, not because you have something to say. Why? What’s the point? Fellow bloggers, why do you blog?


Crunching blog numbers. December 11, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Bloggers, have you ever felt like a voice crying in the wilderness? If so, there’s a good reason for that: The numbers are against you. Our friend Ben was reminded of this again today when I saw a news headline on our blog host, WordPress’s, home page announcing the launch of WordAds. Yeeikes!

Mind you, our friend Ben has no objection to using our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, as a springboard to generating some desperately needed income. If our content and style garnered us a grant, award, or book deal, or an offer to write a magazine or newspaper column or be a regular on a radio show, I’d be delighted.

But I’ve seen plenty of blogs with ads, and they’re not ads I’d want on my blog. I’m always horrified by the ads that pop up on my Yahoo e-mail page. And I’ve been shocked by the purple-faced woman cropping up regularly with the “she’s 80 but looks 20!” promo on, of all places, The New York Times online. If The New York Times can’t keep vulgar, trashy ads off their site, what hope do we bloggers have? Fortunately, checking out the post about WordAds, I saw that they were optional. But I digress.

Point being, that same post carried some pretty stupefying statistics. “There are more than 50,000 WordPress-powered blogs coming online every day,” for example. So far, 5,320,347 people have signed up to receive WordPress’s e-mail updates.

Heading to Google to try to unearth data about how many blogs currently exist, I found 2011 data for 450 million active blogs in English and over 1 billion worldwide, which translates to 1 in 6 people worldwide with their own blog. And these are just the active blogs, not the dead or defunct blogs that litter cyberspace, the sad husks of abandoned dreams. 

Does knowing this make you feel better or worse? Certainly, the chances of catapulting your blog into bestsellerdom and film fame were way higher in the early days of blogging. It’s much harder to be a Julie Powell of “Julie & Julia” fame today, or Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos, given the competition.

But it’s far from impossible. Look at Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. She has successfully leveraged her blog into bestselling books, a Food Network show, and a forthcoming movie based on her life. And, as Silence Dogood pointed out in our earlier post, “The pizza zombies are coming” (check it out in our search bar at upper right), a waiter at a diner just scored front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal because of his pizza blog.  

So, is it even worth starting a blog or carrying on with your blog in the face of such massive competition, to continue to be a voice crying in the wilderness? Of course, that depends on why you started your blog to begin with. If you enjoy writing it, if you enjoy sharing things you’ve learned, if you feel you have something to say that others might want to hear, I’d say absolutely. Keep on keeping on. Eventually, people will hear you.

Take us, for example. Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, with no promotion, no platform, no famous names, no visuals, and no advertising, we get an average of 500 views a day. And that’s 500-plus views a day for writing about whatever the heck we want to write about on any given day.

True, it’s not 5,000 or 50,000 or 500,000 views a day. Nobody’s beating down our door to offer us awards or book deals. Nobody’s begging us to put their ads on our site. But wow, when we started, we never thought we’d arrive here. We’re so grateful for the people who want to read what we have to say. Thank you, everyone! And thank you, WordPress, for making Poor Richard’s Almanac possible.


How do you find the time to get this stuff out? October 24, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben encountered this comment this morning on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. Unfortunately, WordPress’s Akismet filter had filed it as spam, doubtless due to an odd return address, so the following sentence, “I struggle to be productive these days but you’re going from strength to strength!” is probably some strange sort of form comment making the rounds in spam these days rather than legitimate praise. (We encountered the ultimate example of this type of form comment, also this morning, and are sure you’ll love it as much as we did when we post about it tomorrow.)

Spam or legitimate comment, our friend Ben thought that “How do you find the time to get this stuff out?” was a perfectly reasonable question. I suspect many of you must wonder the same thing. “How on earth do OFB, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders ever find the time to write all this ****?! Where do they come up with these post ideas?”

Well, it would be obvious to a stone that we—well, at least Silence and OFB—love to talk, and in our opinion, writing is simply talking in two dimensions. But writing as frequently as we do (this is our 1,527th post) requires a bit more than just the gift of gab. And, like all of you, we do have actual lives, so we can’t spend hours on end thinking up and composing blog posts, much as we love them. So here’s what we do:

Silence and I aren’t exactly what you’d call morning people. In fact, the aforementioned stone probably has more mental activity in the morning than we can muster. But between our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our work schedules, there is truly no rest for the wicked, or even us, most mornings.

So we try to rise with the dawn (or a bit earlier, these days, since it’s dark here ’til almost 7). I take the dog out while Silence fires up the teakettle and coffeemaker, and then we go online, read the news, check our mail, and then head on over to Poor Richard’s Almanac. After viewing our stats and responding to any comments, whoever has chosen to write the day’s post gets going while the other prepares the tea and coffee, gets the paper, and etc. If it’s Richard’s turn to post, he’ll typically e-mail us a file the night before, so all we have to do that morning is cut, paste and publish.

If we’re not morning people, why don’t we just write the post the night before, save it to draft, and publish it in the morning? Well, sometimes we do. But generally, we find that beginning our day with a post is a soothing and pleasant way to ease into the rest of the day. It gives our brains a chance to warm up in a fun, low-stress way. By the time we’ve finished writing, we’re (comparatively) functional and alert, ready to tackle our chores and prepare ourselves for the day ahead. Okay, that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t really love to crawl back in bed. But at least we’re up, thinking, and communicating, and somehow we manage to resist the urge to collapse and instead keep on going. (Silence’s trick of making the bed the second we’re out of it really helps here.)

But why do we try to post at least once a day, and how do we manage to find enough things to talk about? Well. We try to post once a day (and more if more than one of us has something they really want to say, or something unexpected comes up after we’ve written the first post) because we find it good discipline.

We’re all writers, and writing a post is basically writing an essay every day. The discipline of writing an essay every morning that people will actually want to read—er, hopefully want to read—puts us in the mood to write on our own projects the rest of the day. Creating and polishing those little post-essays helps us hone our writing and thinking. Whatever we give to our readers, we get back a hundredfold by keeping our skills (and brains) sharp. 

Finally, how do we think up all that stuff to post about? Well, we try to keep a sharp eye and a sharp wit about us at all times. We’re lucky since our blog is an almanac, allowing us to post about anything that takes our fancy, be it Silence’s latest recipe or our neighbors’ bizarre lawn art misadventures or new research in the health field or, of course, anything about nature, pets, gardening, and history, especially if said history relates in any way to our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin.

Sometimes a conversation will yield a blog post topic, or an overheard remark, or an ad on a billboard, or a book or movie or song. Sometimes it’s a news item, sometimes an insight, sometimes simply a useful tip we’d like to pass along. Sometimes it’s just plain silly, but we can’t resist. If something appeals to us, it may or may not appeal to you. Sometimes our very favorite posts go virtually unread; sometimes our least-favorite posts get 10,000 views. But fortunately, because we post so often, you like enough of the posts we like to keep us going strong.

So, if you have your own blog and are trying to find the time to “get this stuff out,” not to mention come up with enough “stuff” to get out in the first place, we’d say this: A regular routine is a lifesaver. Like folks who write in their journals daily or record their dreams first thing every morning, getting in the mindset that you will write a post every day at a certain time will help you do it.

Second, keep your eyes open. Anything at all can turn into a great blog post. You just have to recognize it. A sense of perspective and a strong sense of humor, not to mention serendipity, often come to our rescue here.

Finally, if you’re going to do it, love it. Unless you’re trying to blog for your business or are hoping to strike it rich through blogging*, there’s no other reason to “find the time” in the first place. We love blogging because it’s interactive. We write, people tell us things—so often, things we don’t expect—and that gives us even more chances to think and interact. It’s stimulating and fun. And it’s always fascinating to us to see what people read and respond to. (Thank you, WordPress!)

Well, that’s what keeps us going. What keeps you blogging?

* If you’ve found the secret to this, please let us know. We’d really love to turn our thermostat up to 62 this winter!