Recently I had a conversation with a “high-ranking official” about writing.
As a successful business-minded person, the question posed to me was simple and using these exact words: “Why do you write a blog?”
To this person, my blog is an “extra” in my life. It isn’t necessary. It’s an addition to the writing I do for money. Since the query was triggered by my statement that my blog actually requires twice as much thought as the writing I do for cash, this person probably thought I was nuts for “working” for free.
Here’s why I think it’s important for EVERYONE to write a blog (or at least something like it):
1.) Freedom. There are no restrictions, limits or requirements when it comes to writing. Sure, there are some things you shouldn’t share if they might offend your readership and you’re concerned about offending your readership, but that’s your choice. My blog is loaded with entires marked “private” that will likely never be released to the world at large. I also keep a leather-bound journal, but that can be tough to maintain since I don’t always have something to write with.
2.) Release. Keeping in tune with the first point, since you can write whatever you want, you can say whatever you want. One of the greatest stressors in my life (and I’m pretty sure it’s in everyone’s life) is society’s rule that some things cannot be said under certain circumstances. You can write (I recommend this in a private journal) the bad stuff you have to say about your boss, for instance, but saying it – even if you do so outside of work – may lead to you no longer having a boss because you no longer have a job. Writing allows you to “let it out” when you technically shouldn’t.
3.) Thought exploration. Fact: I am the smartest person I know. Also fact: I am the smartest person I know because I write about practically everything I don’t know and eventually come up with reasonable explanations and data discovered through a Google search. (This point also goes along with numbers 1 and 2 because I shouldn’t tell folks I’m the smartest person I know and wouldn’t write it in a blog post if were concerned about offending my readership.) For instance, recently I considered a post about Chick-Fil-A appreciation day and my disappointment regarding the turnout considering the fast food’s president stated publicly, in a roundabout way, he had a problem with gay marriage. As I began writing the post, though, my stance changed as I realized folks who ate Chick-Fil-A regularly were, for the most part, overweight Republicans who hate gay people and will always hate gay people, even if Chick-Fil-A goes out of business. Similarly, most of the folks who don’t have a problem with gay marriage don’t eat fried chicken sandwiches regularly, so there’s really no point in them boycotting Chick-Fil-A. Through drafting the blog, I discovered the entire controversy ended as a brilliant marketing scheme for the popular Southern fast food chain – and there’s nothing wrong with that in our capitalistic society.
4.) You learn to think. If you’re exploring your thoughts, you’re actually thinking to begin with. We don’t always do that before speaking. When writing a blog, I’ll often change what I “said” several times before I’m finished with it (I changed what I originally stated several times in the previous point, for instance). If you do this enough, you eventually – internally – learn to think before you write, which saves a lot of time. If you do that enough, you’ll eventually learn to think before you speak, which saves a lot of trouble.
5.) It’s a record. Ah – the No. 1 reason I’ve blogged since my sophomore year of college. Unless Google crashes or is deemed ungodly by the folks who showed up for Chick-Fil-A appreciation day, my daughter, family members and the world as a whole will have access to what I was thinking at that particular point in my life until the end of time. The world as a whole may not always care, but I’m almost certain my daughter will. One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received was the journal (there were actually several) in which my dad wrote every day when I was in high school. I love knowing his thoughts at that time and how he handled some of the crap my sister, mother and I threw his way. I still read these journals.
6.) It’s good practice. It’s true that if you don’t use it, you lose it. I know there are teachers who could use some serious work when it comes to grammar, punctuation, spelling and general writing practices. Fact is, everyone could – even my “high-ranking official” friend. Here’s why I singled out the teachers: I know damn well they have the knowledge in their heads to do this stuff correctly. But it’s similar to a muscle in that if you don’t use it, you lose it … and no one wants to be a weakling.
7.) You meet yourself. Because I write, I know the topics that can set me off. Because I write, I know the topics that don’t matter to me. Also because I write, I know I have a tendency to end sentences with prepositions when I speak, the parts of my character that need major work and which conversations to avoid when meeting new persons or I’ll end up saying something inappropriate. I am convinced – certain, actually – that I learned the majority of what I know about myself through writing. This knowledge has improved my ability to effectively communicate, which is a gigantic part of my livelihood as well as my ability (and inability) to win friends and influence people.
8.) You can fool people. One of the inadequacies of text messaging is it doesn’t include body language, tone and accurate emphasis. For instance, the text message “that’s cool” could mean a million different things, especially if it’s a text sent by a woman. In person or even over the phone, though, the underlying meaning is rarely unclear because these methods of communication include tone, emphasis and possibly body language. Writers, however, can use this to their advantage. By not appearing in person to deliver a message, he or she can sound much more intelligent, articulate and sincere than if he or she had shown up with tobacco-stained teeth, bumbling speech patterns and inconsistent eye contact. You can also shape others’ perceptions of you if they only ever read what you write. I was once invited to join some hippie environmentalist group in college after another student came across some blog posts I’d written about land development and recycling. Apparently, members of the group thought I was their kind of moron. Idiots. I’m sure they work for chambers of commerce somewhere now.
9.) Teach someone. Everyone is learning something every other second of every other minute of his or her life. We learn all of the time. Less than a year after I graduated from college, I began writing a column on bicycling for a daily newspaper. While the writing didn’t scare me, the thought of folks reading it did. I felt I did not know enough about cycling to write a column pertaining to the topic – all I did was ride my bike everywhere I went. But it turned out that was enough. That job and me were a perfect match because all I knew about cycling was what I had experienced. That was the voice that made the column attractive to folks who didn’t even own a bike. Since then, I’ve noticed I am learning from what I read. Others are learning from other things I write. No, you don’t have to know everything about something, but sometimes just sharing what you do know is plenty. My latest example: parenting. As if I know a darn thing about it. Still, I’m never surprised when complete strangers e-mail questions about a parenting dilemma I’ve endured. Everyone is learning, whether they know it or not.
10.) It’s fun. I truly believe the world would be better if everyone wrote. Something. Anything. Share it; don’t share it. Just write it down. It will make you much happier.