Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.

I admit to having fun with blogging, but itís also a lot of work. Iíve decided to keep my blog very narrow in scope, without too much discussion of my hobbies or personal life, the books Iíve read, the movies Iíve seen, or the recordings that excite me, but thatís just the way editors are. We like to keep the scope narrow, maybe point to our tangents if we just canít resist, but keep tangents out of the broader spectrum of each pieceóthe series of blogsóas a whole.


Of course, what makes a good blog is entirely subjective. As an editor, I donít 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 canít take them back. Twenty years from now, you might regret telling the whole world about your lurid affair or your sour attitude at work.


Iím 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 is important to be cognizant of the future, I donít 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: the 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. Thereís an interesting book called ďA Book of Oneís Own,Ē by Thomas Mallon, about what motivates people to keep a journal. For some, itís the need to write down thoughts, a creative gesture that is personal and creative. For others, thereís 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 ďattended a long, unproductive meeting,Ē or ďspent too much time debugging today.Ē If you have a day job and youíre 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 sheís expressing opinions. After reading several posts, itís easy enough to determine whether the opinions match yours, or whether sheís 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 thatís all we write about.


Iíve 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, Iím an editor and we like that sort of thing), and because itís up to me to figure out the personality of the writer. Unlike Personal blogs, which can often say, in essence, ďIím so clever and smart and every one around me is stupid and bitter,Ē Topical blogs expose the interior of the subject at hand.


Thatís not to say that Topical blogs donít 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 itís certainly welcome to have a personality in a Topical blog. If you stay focused on writing about the topic, your personality will present itself without effort.


The important thing to keep in mind when youíre writing a Topical blog is your topic. Try to stick narrowly to it, and if you must stray, make sure thereís a least a tenuous link.


Blended Blogs

A Blended blog mixes Personal with Topical. There are a few blogs here on Office Zealot like thatómostly 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 ďwhat I saw at the conferenceĒ blogs that managed to combine technical experiences with personal experiences. Iím not sure that they were informative in the same way as a Topical blog, but they were fun to read, nonetheless. Weíd 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 youíre going to launch into a tirade about the local cable service, donít 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 thereís really no point in looking silly unless thatís your goal.


I donít 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 Wordís lovely cheating devices, like spelling checks. Itís easy enough to cut and paste into my webblog template, apply the occasional HTML, and push the Publish button.


Once Iíve posted to Office Zealot and my Web site, I move the file to a Published folder. This way, I can see what Iíve written about already, what is 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 writerís block, I can use the list as a cheat. I donít 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. Thatís 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 Iím truly happy with my posts.


What really irks me about other peopleís blogs isnít so much that theyíve gone too personal or strayed off topicóitís that their entry is full of spelling or grammar mistakes that they would have caught if theyíd just read the darned thing once. If you canít read it again, why would anyone else read it through once?