Every now and then, students and aspiring journalists write to me for advice about entering the field. Here’s an email I sent recently, published with permission.
I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about how you became a journalist and blogger. I often write my thoughts and little journal entries, but I want to make the transition from something personal that would only be of interest to me, something that is more appealing to people that are not me. Any pointers you may want to offer me would be greatly appreciated!
I really like the phrasing of this question. I am often asked how I became a writer, but I think today just about everyone is a writer. We tweet and text and update Facebook all the time. We write a novel’s worth of email every year. We’re all writers now.
It’s not enough to have a blog, either. As of 2013, there are 152 million blogs online. Just because you’ve started a blog doesn’t mean anyone has to listen to you.
So in a world where everyone’s a writer and a blogger already, what can you do to stand out?
In my experience, the answer is persistence. Making a habit of updating your blog on a regular schedule. I became a journalist and blogger by yelling loudly about how much I wanted to do it day after day and year after year.
For nearly five years, I’ve more or less stuck to a strict Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting regimen. I’ve always thought of my blog as a job. I honestly think my blog has gone downhill now that I write professionally elsewhere. In 2010 and 2011 when this blog was my only writing outlet, I did more interviews, nuanced opinions based on current events, and even mini-documentaries.
Think of a blog as a hub to showcase your writing. Nobody cares where you got your degree when they see expertly reported articles on your blog right in front of them. And don’t forget to write about the potential career skills you’re picking up, whether you’re sharing an interesting anecdote while teaching college or learning a new language.
Your blog isn’t the end goal. Instead, it’s to broadcast loudly what it is you want to do for a living to anyone that will listen. It’s not to grow your blog to thousands of readers or make money off of it (though after half a decade that’s been a pretty neat side effect), but to show off your best work while also showing how prolific you can be.
Longtime readers already know that I’ve gotten every writing job I’ve ever had because of my blog. I referenced articles on my blog when I entered a contest for female journalists under 25 on Forbes—and I won. That’s how Owen Thomas found out about me and offered me a job at the Daily Dot, and later at ReadWrite where we both work now. Don’t forget that I just started reviewing at Anime News Network because I submitted a blog post as a writing sample.
In fact, last week I just signed my first solo book deal. I’ll be working with Carlton Publishing to write a book about cosplay. Why’d they ask me? They liked my articles on cosplay, which they’d seen on the Daily Dot, my portfolio, and of course, my blog. That’s worth stating again: if I had never started a blog, I would never have gotten a book deal.
You mentioned that you’re concerned about branching out your topic space from stuff you care about to stuff that appeals to other people. However, I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. A successful blogger isn’t you thinking, “What will make other people like my blog?” They’re writing about what they care about. If you don’t care about your blog, nobody will. I’ve written before about being a niche writer and how it’s your biggest asset.
“But nobody cares about what I like!” you’re thinking. Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. People who like anime are not a global majority, and people who like anime and want to be writers are an even smaller group. When I came up with the name Otaku Journalist, a lot of well-meaning friends urged me to go with something more general. But here I am, and here you are, and you’re asking me this question instead of another blogger for a reason.
If action points are more your style, here’s a checklist:
√ Start a blog
√ Pick a few days a week to update
√ Blog about what you want to be paid to write about
√ Share it with your friends and family
√ Share it on social media
√ Share it with people you admire
√ Enter contests and apply for jobs and use your posts as a portfolio
I am not guaranteeing overnight results. And if you find yourself giving up, maybe that’s a sign you weren’t that enamoured with writing as a career in the first place. I blogged through a retail job, an office job, and now several writing jobs. I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back, but to demonstrate how important I think blogging continues to be to any writing career.
I know, I know, I’ve been harping on this for years. I hope this inspires you to just go for it. Don’t wait until the “perfect” moment. Your writing style will improve and change and that’s the point. My only regret is that I didn’t start my blog sooner.
Do you have a question you’d like to ask? Drop me an email or visit my Tumblr Ask box.