Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.


Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

I admit to having fun with blogging, but it’s also a lot of work. I’ve decided to keep my blog very narrow in scope, without too much discussion of my hobbies or personal life, the books I’ve read, the movies I’ve seen, or the recordings that excite me, but that’s just the way editors are. We like to keep the scope narrow, maybe point to our tangents if we just can’t resist, but keep tangents out of the broader spectrum of each piece—the series of blogs—as a whole. Of course, what makes a good blog is entirely subjective. As an editor, I don’t have patience for slapped together, ranting, or written-while-drunk blogs. But I can certainly understand why someone would write those and feel perfectly happy sending them out into the universe. The only trouble with them is exactly that, though: When you send them out into the great blue nowhere, you can’t take them back. Twenty years from now, you might regret telling the whole world about your lurid affair or your sour attitude at work. I’m sure the motivation for blogging is varied, but we all have one thing in common: We all want to be visible via the Internet. Although I think it’s important to be cognizant of the future, I don’t want to take all the fun out of the more playful and personal types of blogs. In my view, there are three types of blogs: Personal Diary, Topical Blogs, and Blended Blogs.

Personal Diary

This type of blogging is for people who like the practice of journaling and are motivated by the fact that someone might read their words. There’s an interesting book called “A Book of One’s Own,” by Thomas Mallon, about what motivates people to keep a journal. For some, it’s the need to just write down thoughts, a creative gesture that is personal and creative. For others, there’s the sense that someone will read it, either a particular person now, or some future person nosing around in an attic. When you post your personal blog on the Internet, you plop yourself into that group that wants someone to read your words. I have a couple of friends who post regularly to such blogs, and their entries are a lot of fun to read. In both instances, they are aware that their comments might have an impact on the lives of others or on their own lives in the future. One blogger posts details of his day: playing with the kids, working in the yard, work-related events with details removed that might be taken poorly by his clients or prospective clients. The other blogger posts comments and reviews on books, movies, articles, and her philosophy of life, and occasionally on things that happen in her life. Both people have other journals for more personal stuff (not on the Internet) or more topically specific items (a listing of intellectual or artistic events in their hometown or peer community on the Internet). The blogger who talks about his work experiences has to be very careful. Sometimes, telling the truth about a project gone bad could be taken as slander by the client. So you need to leave out pretty much all the details, and say things like “attended a long, unproductive meeting,” or “spent too much time debugging today.” If you have a day job and you’re talking about it from a personal perspective, well, watch out! Your boss might be reading too. The blogger who talks about opinions on public events or topics just needs to be clear that she’s expressing opinions. After reading several posts, it’s easy enough to determine whether the opinions match yours, or whether she’s qualified to make her opinions public. The blogger who talks about the people in his personal life must be prepared to lose them.

Topical Blogs

I write a topical blog, and the majority of the blogs here in Office Zealot are topical. We declare ourselves experts or deeply immersed in a particular topic, and that’s all we write about. I’ve seen wonderful topical blogs on things technical, on genres of music, on public events in a metropolitan area, on self-help topics, and even on cooking. I really enjoy this kind of blog because the scope is narrow (I warned you, I’m an editor and we like that sort of thing), and because it’s up to me to figure out the personality of the writer. Unlike personal blogs, which can often say, in essence, “I’m so clever and smart and every one around me is stupid and bitter,” topical blogs just expose the interior of the subject at hand. That’s not to say that topical blogs don’t express opinions, or occasionally come off a little arrogant or know-it-all, but at least the author of such blogs establishes credibility by writing the blogs in the first place. And it’s certainly welcome to have a personality in a topical blog. Just stay focused on writing about the topic and your personality will present itself without effort. The important thing to keep in mind when you’re writing a topical blog is your topic. Try to stick narrowly to it, and if you must stray, make sure there’s a least a tenuous link.

Blended Blogs

A blended blog mixes personal with topical. There are a few blogs here on Office Zealot like that—mostly coverage of a technical topic or business practices, and a little coverage of things that just plain interest the writer. Blends are fun to read, as long as they are carefully crafted. The trick here is to keep each entry on an isolated topic. I read some fun “what I saw at the conference” blogs that managed to combine technical experiences with personal experiences. I’m not sure that they were informative in the same way as a topical blog, but they were fun to read, nonetheless. We’d already come to know these bloggers from their more narrowly crafted blogs and enjoyed palling around with them. A good general rule of thumb for blended bloggers: keep each entry to a specific topic, whether personal or professions. If you’re going to launch into a tirade about the local cable service, don’t try to put it in a blog with what you discovered when rooting around in the code for Purple People Plotters.

Good Blogging Habits

Please, oh please, read your blog at least once before posting. We all make silly typing mistakes, and there’s really no point in looking silly unless that’s your goal. I don’t know whether my blogging habits are good or not, but I can tell you how I make sure that my entries are reasonably clean, relatively timely, and posted regularly. I have a habit of writing three or four blogs ahead of the one I am about to post. On any given day, I have four or five blogs waiting. I number each (this is number 57), name them with the number and topic, and store them in Word documents in a folder called My Blog Entries. I like to write ahead so I can edit myself (much harder to do than editing someone else), so I can get some distance from the work and see if it needs anything, and to take advantage of Word’s lovely cheating devices, like spelling checks. It’s easy enough to cut and paste into my webblog template, apply the occasional HTML, and push the Publish button. Once I’ve posted to Office Zealot and my Web site, I move the file to a Published folder. This way, I can see what I’ve written about already, what’s in the queue to be published, and whether I need to crack the whip and write a few more blogs to stay ahead. I also have a Word document of potential blog topics. If I have writer’s block, I can use the list as a cheat. I don’t necessarily write about the topics I find on my list, but I often get inspired by it to write something else. I usually have between 30 and 40 items on that list. I have no excuse to avoid writing. I spend plenty of time cleaning each entry up and making it as pristine as possible before I post. Oh, there might still be something, but at least I know that I gave each post more attention than my readers will. That’s a great benefit to writing ahead. I started writing ahead because I was skeptical that I could write more than a couple of entries, but it turned into good habit for keeping huge gaps out of my posting schedule, and for making sure I’m truly happy with my posts. What really irks me about other people’s blogs isn’t so much that they’ve gone too personal or strayed off topic—it’s that their entry is full of spelling or grammar mistakes that they would have caught if they’d just read the darned thing once. If you can’t read it again, why would anyone else read it through once?