Why isn’t Mine a Niche Blog? What Kind of Writer am I?
Like many writers in my generation, several years ago I began making my way as a writer by starting a blog. It seems to me that the advantage of a blog has always been that it bypasses the traditional barriers to publication. When you write and publish on a blog, you don’t need some other person to validate your work, to say you’re good enough for people to read your stuff. You get to decide that, and then if you’re lucky, the readers show up. There are, of course, some real disadvantages to blogs, and I don’t want to pretend that isn’t true, but those problems deserve to be pitted up against the good things about them.
At the time I started my blog, I suppose I fancied myself an intellectually-curious and politically-engaged person, and I wrote about everything: sports, presidents, religion, books, bars, place, and even myself. I pretty much wrote whenever and whatever I wanted to.
This breaks about every rule one can find about blogs. Pick a topic, people say. Focus. Be disciplined. Publish something every day or at least a few times a week. And to be fair, I do seem to be a writer by inclination, so I do it somewhat regularly whether I’m publishing or not. I suppose that’s been an important component for me, to learn over and over again that I am, in fact, a writer of some kind. But frankly if I picked only one topic and wrote about it every day I would be bored out of my mind. Maybe that’s why I tend to juggle a few different projects rather than become a traditional journalist. That kind of work would feel so constraining to me, and it would pretty quickly lose its appeal. For now at least, my way works for me.
Based on the analytics from my early blog, by some kind of grace I developed a small audience. Probably mostly friends and family, but given that some statistics showed that I had visitors from all over the world somewhat regularly, I know that at least some of the people who were landing on my blog were people I didn’t know. Why in the world did these people give a shit what I have to say? I have no idea. They have a lot of time on their hands, I guess. Anyway, developing a small audience was an accomplishment in and of itself.
I don’t want to be misleading, though: most of my posts got very little traffic. Every once in a while, my traffic would shoot up for reasons I didn’t expect. One example that comes to mind is when I wrote a post about how I’d grown up watching the guy Princeton had just hired as their basketball coach when he was a high school player in my hometown. The university somehow picked up and reposted what I had written, and suddenly people were reading my blog. It felt exciting. There were other examples like that, too, of situations outside of my control that drove people to one of my blog posts. I suspect I’ll get better at keeping my audience as I get older, and I have gotten more strategic, but quite frankly, I’m not in that big of a rush. Why? Because I don’t want to be predictable and boring. I trust that life will show me what my “expertises” are as they come.
Another component of this process has been wading into the exhilarating and terrifying world of freelance writing. At some point, it occurred to me to try getting my stuff published in other places as a way to increase my credibility. In English graduate school, we might call that developing my “ethos.” Well, I got lucky a few times early on, and that probably helped me to continue to believe that I was and could be a writer. I’ve since received more than enough rejections to make up for some of that early success, but now I can see that for what it is: “part of the process.”
On this new website and blog, I’ve done my best to upgrade the quality, to make the design and content more professional. It’s set up almost like a business website. Whenever I can, I’ll publish my work elsewhere, and then I’ll tell you about it on my blog. Or other times, I’ll want to say anything that no one else wants to publish at the moment, so I’ll use my blog as the platform to say it.
You’ll probably notice, though, that at this point even my publications are kind of all over the place. I’ve covered professional sporting events as a freelance journalist. I’ve been paid decently to write marketing content for companies. I’ve published a few of my creative pieces in literary journals. I’ve written blog posts for nonprofit organizations. I’ve written opinion pieces about politics and culture for various websites. Some of that is about taking what I can get as a young writer. But is also begs the question again: what kind of writer am I? It’s a valid question, and one I’ll continue to ask. But again, I won’t be in a hurry to answer it.
I’ve always been a liberal arts kind of person. By that, I mean that all kinds of topics and disciplines seem important and interesting to to me for a day or a season or a few years. That’s how I stay a writer, by honoring that part of myself. As I say on my profile for this website, when the spirit leads (or when the pay check is offered), I will continue to write, to try my best to say whatever is inside me wanting to be said. For me, connecting those seemingly disconnected events or subjects is half the fun. Come along for the ride if you’d like.