Recently a younger (very slightly younger. I mean really we’re practically the same age. She’s in her twenties and I’m more or less barely not in my twenties*) friend of mine came to me for advice in pursuing writing as a career.
After I quit laughing at the thought that I’m somehow somebody worth asking for advice about anything, I told her she needed to start a blog.
Pretty rich, considering I have two blogs and update neither of them, like, ever.
But I still think it was good advice. My first “real” blog, Near Normalcy, did all the things for me that I told her a blog would do for her: it taught me to write regularly, and more than that, to seek an audience.
You can probably be a writer even if nobody ever reads your work, but if you want to make a living as a writer, you need an audience. That’s tougher, and it’s a skill you find yourself honing when you start to pour yourself into a blog.
Some of us are born writers. I was. I’m guessing Alexia was, too. And when you’re a born writer, you can journal away for years, scribbling in your notebooks, and never think even once that you wish somebody was reading this stuff. That’s not the point.
But face it. The second you hit “publish” and throw that stuff out onto the internet, all you want in the world is some pageviews. Maybe a comment or two? A few subscribers. Some freaking readers.
It’s a weird neurotic thing, unappealing, really, if you look too closely, but that’s kind of what it takes to be a writer. A paid writer.
Once you’ve built a blog and you’re writing there, you need to be on Twitter. That’s where the audience lives. And you need to really be there. Meeting people. Engaging. Not just pushing out your blog posts, but following the people you admire and reaching out to them, putting on your most attractive, entertaining face and doing that thing where you dance at the edge of their consciousness and hope they’ll finally notice you enough to #FollowBack.
The first thing to do if you want to make a living on the internet, I told her, is to exist on the internet. Cultivate a presence and a brand and nurture that. That’s a prerequisite for anybody who wants to be a paid writer in this world.
When I started blogging and got myself on Twitter I didn’t really know what I wanted, but I knew once I hit publish that I wanted to be read. The first person I followed on Twitter was Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess. At some point I said something that made her laugh and she became my 11th Twitter follower. A single retweet from the Bloggess is worth dozens more followers. She got that Midas touch. A little later Ilana Wiles of Mommy Shorts took notice of me, and I found my tribe, for a time.
So I hope Alexia follows my advice and I hope she finds her Bloggess and Mommy Shorts, her tribe. She’s a great writer with a strong voice and I’m sure she’ll do fine. She’ll probably do more than fine and I’ll be vaguely jealous of her in the way that only a very slightly older friend can be.
But what about me? (This is all about me.) Do I still need a blog?
I’m definitely a writer. My coworkers tease me sometimes about my dead blogs, and call me a “9 to 5 writer.” Because I do write, 9 to 5. And I write for myself, too, outside of work. Journal pages, notebooks. I’m trying to reassemble the mostly-written novel I lost to cyberspace awhile back. I write, but I don’t publish.
I’m a writer. No doubt.
And I make a living as a writer.
I don’t necessarily feel the need for an outlet in the way I did when I started my first blog.
So do I still need a blog?
I feel like I do, somehow. I also feel like I’m in that “finding my tribe” place again, because the mommy/humor/lifestyle blogger thing isn’t necessarily where I live anymore. I’ve drifted away from most of the friends and followers I connected with in those days. So I’m not sure I have an audience anymore.
So I guess I’ll just write, and hit publish, and start the process of looking for readers again.
*I kind of remember my twenties.