Why blog?

My friend Garrett Robinson asked me on Twitter, “What do you see as the advantages of blogging?”. Naturally I had to reply with a blog post.

I see two main advantages of blogging, both with secondary advantages:

  1. Having your own place on the web to keep a log of your thoughts, musings, opinions, trials, and happenings.
  2. Engaging with and increasing the knowledge of the world.

Carve out a place of your own

Platforms come and go. Buy a domain and set up a permanent space on the web where others can find and link back to you. I have no idea what I put on Myspace back in the day, but everything I’ve published on this site since 2008 is still accessible and the links still work.

A personal website is a digital homestead that you can improve, tinker with, and live in for years to come. It is a home for your thoughts, musings, opinions, trials, and happenings, built in a way that suits you.

From Frank Chimero’s post on digital homesteading:

Have you ever visited an architect’s house, one they designed themselves? It’s fun to walk through it with them. They have so many things, arranged so thoughtfully, and share the space with such pride because of the personal reflection the house required to design (not to mention the effort it took to build). It’s really quite special. I think there’s a pleasure to having everything under one roof. You feel together, all of you at once. In a way, building your own house is the ultimate project for a creative person: you’re making a home for what you think is important, done in the way you think is best.

That is what the IndieWeb is all about.

But why go through the effort of blogging at all? If you like to engage with the world of ideas, blogging is one of the best ways to do so. Writing and publishing forces you to solidify and clarify your thoughts.

Other smart bloggers on the subject:

One of the most interesting aspects to blogging is discourse – the idea that in order to write something you must think about it with a critical eye and that this process actually helps you clarify your thinking around it.

Blogging is my way of pulling together into a coherent form all the stray thoughts rolling around in my mind. Writing helps me sift the good thoughts from all the bad and fit them all together in a logical pattern.

Even if nobody reads them, you should write them. It’s become pretty clear to me that blogging is a source of both innovation and clarity. I have many of my best ideas and insights while blogging. Struggling to express things that you’re thinking or feeling helps you understand them better.

And don’t concern yourself with whether or not you “write.” Don’t leave writing to writers. Don’t delegate your area of interest and knowledge to people with stronger rhetorical resources. You’ll find your voice as you make your way. There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.

Why public? There is something about making your posts available to the rest of the world that holds your feet to the fire and makes you commit. I’ve tried dozens of times to keep a private ongoing digital notebook in Evernote, Devonthink, Roam, and Obsidian, but they never stick. But making my notes available to the world in my digital garden keeps me coming back and updating it daily.

Why a blog and not just Twitter? On a blog you have more space to make your arguments in your own words, away from the stream of noise. You can persuade instead altercate. Twitter is for shitposting, blogs are for thinking.

One of the things I have learned: mostly, use your own words, your own stories, if you want to influence people on your worldview.

Once you’ve been blogging for a while, having that searchable record allows you to follow your journey, connect the dots, and pick up stray threads years later. You can do that in a handwritten journal too, but things are much easier to surface on the web.

Sharing with the world

you radically underestimate both a) how much you know that other people do not and b) the instrumental benefits to you of publishing it.

I’ve learned so much on the internet and enjoy giving back when I can. I often blog about my projects and problems I’ve solved, and these tend to be the posts with the highest traffic. I get comments and emails about them multiple times a month. If I had to look them up, chances are someone else does, too. Examples:

And from my cooking blog:

And this isn’t just for other people! I often refer back to my own posts. And multiple times a year I get texts or emails from friends who tell me they searched for something and found one of my my blog posts in the top search result. These kinds of posts have a long tail.

Because of this long tail, blog posts have more impact than newsletters or presentations, too:

I’ve noticed that people at Amazon have a lot of important things to say, but those things are rarely recorded. If you give a brown-bag presentation, or send a thoughtful email to some internal mailing list, you’ll have an impact, but it won’t be anywhere near the impact you’ll have through blogging.

Blogging has more of an impact on careers than most people realize. One of our secret sauces at Praxis and Crash was getting our customers to show their work on a blog, which helped them land jobs. Blogging got me three of my four full time jobs post college. All three told me that my blog played a crucial role in their decision to send me an offer.

Showing your work in a place that is regularly updated is so much more powerful than a resume.

Keeping an intellectual journal is the main reason for writing my blog. My secondary reason is pure economics. Blogging is a loss-leader of sorts. Through this blog I market myself and my ideas to people who I hope to do business with eventually.

While the direct economic return to authoring a blog may not appear to justify the effort, the prospect of actively demonstrating one’s skillset for an interested public, many members of which work in talent-hungry organisations that pay real salaries, is an attractive one. Why waste time submitting CVs, when you could cultivate an audience of potential employers intimately familiar with your talents?

Here is blogger Tom Critchlow in 2015 on what blogging did for him:

I’ve been writing blog posts for 8 years. That’s not to say I’m any good at it, but here’s a few of the things that blogging has done for me:

  • brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for Distilled
  • helped me build relationships with future employees
  • helped potential employees apply for jobs I was recruiting for
  • secured speaking slots at conferences
  • built lasting friendships and inspired healthy debates
  • helped me get hired at Google
  • took me to Staten Island for a family BBQ the first day I arrived in NYC with no friends

Similar to Tom’s list above, here is what blogging has done for me over the past 14 years:

  • Landed me 3 of my 4 full time jobs post college (all three told me that my blog played a crucial role in their decision to send me an offer)
  • Freelance work
  • Speaking/presentation gigs
  • Introduced me to people I otherwise wouldn’t have met, some of whom I now call friends
  • Interviews by journalists who found posts I’d written
  • Got my photography picked up in art shows and magazines
  • Helped old friends stay in touch

Beyond my own blog, I learn so much from other blogs! I follow ~200 blogs in my feed reader and regularly respond to many of them.

What can I blog about?

Anything! You don’t have to pick a certain subject or stay in a given lane. The site is yours—make it a reflection of your life, work, and interests in all of their facets.

The posts don’t need to be long. Short works, too! From Dave Winer, father of podcasting and RSS:

Think of creating a blog as you would think of writing on a page in a notepad. Or scribbling on the back of an envelope and handing it to someone. It takes two minutes at most to create a blog at wordpress.com. And from then on, you have a “place” to post emails you that are post-worthy

My own blogging has changed through the seasons of my life. For a while I blogged mostly photos, then longer thought pieces, then short Today I Learned posts and tutorials, and now 80% journaling-style updates with 10% woodworking and art posts and 10% miscellany.

What do you wish you had found via Google today but didn’t? Write that.

Setting up a site on WordPress.com is probably the easiest way to get started (full disclosure, I work there!), but you can also self-host WordPress, like I do. I use Pressable, another Automattic product. Or you can use some other service like Ghost, Jekyll, or Squarespace. Just make sure you purchase your own domain name and use that for the site so you stay in control of your content. Owning your domain makes it easy to switch blogging services without losing readers or breaking links. You just point your domain to the new service, import your work, and you are off to the races.

The world needs your creativity, insights, and knowledge. Your future self needs the catalogue of what you are thinking about and working on this week. Go set up a blog and get started.


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