I was desperate to start a blog but terrified of falling on my face in the process.
Could I write original posts that people might actually want to read?
After about 30 years of churning out NPR pieces, cable and public TV programs, newspaper and magazine articles and even children's books -- covering everything from Art to the Zuni -- I was desperate for a creative outlet just my own. Nearly my entire writing career had been dictated by the needs of editors, publishers, producers and project managers.
I had rarely used the first person pronoun, and penned little that put my own life and perspective on the line. I wrote what people paid me to write.
I can't say that I had always felt an overwhelming need to express myself personally -- sometimes it can be safe to hide behind others -- but it was becoming clear over the years that my creative voice had done gone and disappeared.
Finally, last spring, I quit my last freelance gig, a longtime and lucrative contract with a multinational corporation. I couldn't hack being a corporate hack any longer and even if it meant losing those big bucks, I was desperate to recover some semblance of pleasure and even pride in my work.
I spent months working on a memoir on marriage and motherhood but found the requisite loneliness of writing a book -- with no agent or editor waiting breathlessly for its completion -- unbearable.
No longer a writer-for-hire, but not yet a published author on my own terms, I slipped into a deep creative funk.
By early January, shortly after this New Year, I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself. Was I washed up? I wondered. Should I just hang up my laptop and divest myself of any illusion that I can do more with my life?
In my despair, I started looking more closely at blogs and wondering if there might be room in the blogosphere for me. I was attracted to the immediacy of this branch of the Internet -- it looked like one could think up a topic, write it and publish it all in the same day. I wouldn't have to write a query letter and wait for a response, or submit my material for editorial review.
And maybe people would read my posts and even comment, providing instant feedback, for better or for worse, which one rarely gets as a freelance writer.
But I was also terrified. How was it done? It looked complicated. What would I write about? Most of my topics over the years had come from those who had paid me. What, me, a blogger?
And worst of all, with the plethora of topnotch and seasoned bloggers already out there, why would anyone bother to read mine? What if nobody but nobody cared?
I could at least do some research while I struggled with my angst, so I picked up Blogging For Dummies and within hours found myself signing up with blogger.com. It was that fast. (And no, this is not a paid plug for blogger.com.) Before I could stop myself, I had planted the seed of a blog.
The first challenge was to find a catchy name. A lengthy search confirmed that all of the best free blog names had been snatched up eons ago and so -- because I was now gung-ho to start publishing right then and there -- I chose to stick with the names birth and marriage had given me, even if my privacy might be slightly compromised.
Like other Web hosts, blogger.com, aka blogspot, provides users with a choice of templates that allow for photos, video and hyperlinks, without us dummies needing to know HTML code. I picked my template -- one with a blue sky, whiff of clouds and elegant architecture -- which had most of the necessary widgets and gadgets, including the profile, archive and comment sections, already in place.
Blogging for Dummies recommends that novices start with blogger.com to get their fingertips wet -- it's free and very easy to use. I may move onto another Web host in the future but for now blogger.com fits my basic needs; that is, to provide a venue for my writing. Most Web hosts charge their users but provide additional services that can make the extra cost worthwhile.
Most basic blogging books also suggest, especially for those who want to make money from their blog, that bloggers keep track of who is reading their posts. I chose the tracking site statcounter.com, which shows me from where in the world my readers are clicking in -- no identities, just locales. While I have no interest in turning my blog into a business, this feature does add to the fun. And it's free.
My most oft-read post, perhaps not surprisingly, is on The Health Benefits of Whiskey. People googling "health benefits, whiskey" are given my blog as an option. How cool is that?
Early on, I sent my blog link to family and friends, and posted updates on Facebook, inviting people to check it out. Fortunately, their response served to egg me on -- more posts, more posts, I could hardly stop myself. I had never enjoyed writing so much.
Then a fellow blogger and friend, Sharon Riley, pointed me toward Open Salon, a free blogger site attached to Salon.com. I immediately started copying and pasting my blog there as well, expanding my audience and joining thousands of avid bloggers who welcomed me warmly -- apparently, there's plenty of room for everyone in the Great Vast and Bountiful Blogosphere.
I can never predict which topics my readers will be most attracted to. Some seem to have enjoyed adventure stories from the Soviet Union or Paris while others have preferred my political and economic commentary or confessional posts. I'm just grateful that friends and strangers take time from their busy day to glance at my work; hard for me to think of anything more satisfying.
Many blogs today have a clear focus and readers return to them regularly for the writers' next batch of thoughts on specific topics. For the non-writer, blogs can focus on art, crafts, cooking, music -- most likely any area known to man.
Blogs vary in length, of course, and often the shorter ones, for obvious reasons, can be the most popular. I try not to go too long but once a writer gets writing, it can be hard to stop her. That's one reason I post in short paragraphs, so the reader can quickly scan through the article.
Being a generalist and probably ADHD, I rarely know what I will write about from one day to the next -- that's what keeps the process interesting and challenging for me, and hopefully provocative and intriguing for readers as well.
Some weeks I write more often than others -- even six out of seven days -- while others I post less often. My ongoing work on the memoir, and life in general, do, sometimes thankfully, get in the way.
Blogging took me out of my creative funk and gave me an outlet for my writing on a near-daily basis. While working on the book -- which is still a lonely task -- I can take a break at any time to share thoughts, experiences and impressions with readers around the world. Thank you, Lord of the Blogs.
This is a quick primer on blogging that I hope will inspire those of you who have not yet plunged into the blogging pool. There may be a cold shiver at first but the water warms up as you learn to swim.
Many other bloggers have advised and guided me in the process -- please let me know if I can help you in any way. Not to diminish the mystique but I must assure you that the whole process is infinitely easier than it looks!