Joy of Blogging: Part One

Captain’s Log, Stardate 43125.8. We have entered a spectacular binary star system in the Kavis Alpha sector on a most critical mission of astrophysical research. Our eminent guest, Dr. Paul Stubbs, will attempt to study the decay of neutronium expelled at relativistic speeds from a massive stellar explosion, which will happen in a number of hours.—Star Trek: The Next Generation

During the pandemic of 2020, I volunteered to make a Zoom presentation about how I manage my blog to clients of Senior Planet, an organization that aims to use technology to improve the way people age.  

Even when people read memoirs, they’re looking for insights into their own lives and I surmised that the reason people would listen to the story of my blog was so they could see how it applies to their own communications. So, I decided to approach this not just to tell my story but also to indicate in places how it may apply to others. I also decided to write a series of blog posts to go along with the presentation.

As I worked on the presentation and posts, I realized they focus almost exclusively on writing, editing, and publication. That’s what interests me about blogging, whether I’m approaching the topic as a reader or a writer.

For other people, blogging has little to do with writing. Instead blogging may be about providing content to fill a space within a website, or a place to take a breather in the site’s navigation, or a form of click bait, or means of search engine optimization.

So, if this is where you interests lie, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong Zoom room. 

It may be helpful to think of a blog a a series of open letters.

Like An Open Letter

A blog is short form for web log. It’s a log that’s posted on the World Wide Web. 

Merriam Webster defines a log in this sense as “a record of performance, events, or day-to-day activities.” And we all have some notion of what the web is. Obviously, this is a wide-open definition and it reflects the fact that a blog can be whatever its publisher wishes.

I’ve always liked to think of my blog as being a little like the Captain’s Log on the Star Trek television series and movie franchise. But, the USS Enterprise was on an imaginary journey speeding through THE universe, whereas I’m writing about my earth-bound universe. So, to get going, it helped me to think about my blog in other terms, too.

I worked for many years for the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, the federal government’s agency involved with disasters. And a friend of mine there said he thought of his blog as a series of letters, ways to keep his wife and others informed of what he was doing while he was away helping communities recover from tornadoes, floods, and other disasters. That made sense to me and, since a blog is on the web, the most open of forums, I began to think in terms of an open letter.

Identifying My Audience

I came across a similar idea when the Merriam Webster word of the day was epistolary, which was formed from the noun epistle and refers to a “composition written in the form of a letter to a particular person or group,” such as the 21 epistles in the New Testament.

The epistolary form is an enduring one. Thomas More used it in Utopia, written in 1518, and a more recent example is the trilogy where novelist Nick Bantock presents the fanciful correspondence between his characters Griffin and Sabine.

An important phrase above is “to a particular person or group.” For any writing, it’s good to know who your target audience is. It could be your grandkids, your friends, or anyone who will listen, but it’s good for writers to know whom they want to reach with their messages. In the blog on my portfolio website, I write primarily for prospective employers, and secondarily for friends, family, and anyone who may be curious.

Finding Purpose

Besides knowing my audience, I found it’s a good idea to know why I blog.

Even before I left FEMA in 2015, I had begun looking for my next job. I started out thinking that I had to get find a full-time job where I’d be earning a living wage doing the same sort of things I did for FEMA: writing, editing, and managing writers and editors, and possibly talking to media.

In retrospect, I found that I was operating on some premises that were crazy for me. 

  • One was the prospect of my competing with digital natives for great jobs. If I managed to get on the short list for an interesting job paying a living wage, at least five people would be on that list and at least three of them would be younger than me, maybe even younger than my children.
  • With the changes in the communications landscape, jobs in this sector involve lots of social media. Deep down inside, I didn’t want a potentially soul-crushing job where I would be overseeing or executing social media campaigns. 

I wasn’t on the right track and I didn’t maintain the site or the blog.

Then, in early 2019, I applied for an editing gig. Of course, I wanted to link my cover letter to my website so the prospective employer could see how well I could research, write, report, manage others, and so on—even though almost everything was at least a few years old. 

When I checked on my website to make sure everything was in order, it was gone! It had been hacked! Not only that, but the hijacker was using MY site to distribute copyrighted material, specifically movies, and I could be in big trouble if I didn’t correct the situation quickly.

I had no idea how to correct the situation. So, in a panic I called my user experience designer, Caitlin Geier. Luckily, not only could she rectify the problem with misuse of the site, but she also had kept backup files and together we were able to rebuild the site.

This episode reminded me of a situation I faced years earlier. When my younger son was 2 years old, I was freelancing from home and every time the phone rang, he seemed to interpret it as a cue that I should give all of my attention to him. I knew if I wanted anyone else to treat me as a serious professional, I’d need to take myself seriously. I needed to pause my work or get an office. I got an office.

In this situation, I needed to decide whether I wanted to close down my website or start keeping it up to date. I chose the latter.

By this time, I had read Designing Your Life, which had helped me realize the folly of my seeking a full-time, career-type position. I not only updated by website, but I also committed to posting on my blog every month. 

These are the main purposes of my blog:

  • To show prospective employers who I am and what I can do for them.  I’m actively writing, sometimes about current events. I’m up to date in my field and fluid with many topics. Instead of being a full-time writer, I do other work, too, and some may even call it immersive journalism when I write about that. 
  • To experience the joy of researching, reporting, writing, and editing. These activities have not only been my profession; they’re also been the way I relate to the world and my journey through life. I like staying engaged and up to date in these areas and my blog helps me do that. 
  • To continue to work among the company of writers and editors. Experience has taught me I enjoy engaging with other creative people, including writers and editors. My blog helps with this, partly because I ask colleagues to edit my posts.
  • To grow my platform. While social media mavens are usually the ones most interested expanding their audiences, it can be a good idea for any author. Even though I established my website as a portfolio for potential clients, it can also serve as a place where any interested reader can find my writing. If lots of readers follow my blog then I will have an eager audience for my work. 
  • To leave a legacy. I don’t mean to sound morose, but I suspect many seniors may want to blog so they can establish their legacy and I admit that I sometimes think of that, too. Just as employers can get to know me through my blog, friends and family can have the blog as a way to remember me when I enter the next dimension.

Part Two of Joy of Blogging will start with a look at how I found my voice.