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By: Zdenko Kahlina
How I became a prolific blogger and learned to get beyond school essays
Some people think I am a journalist. My friends ask ME how I can possibly write as much as I do (on my blog), given all the responsibilities that I have. That’s because I have published (so far) more than 1,000 blogs on my web site. My REAL day job is as computer programmer for a big insurance company in Edmonton and blogging is just my hobby, which I discovered very late in my life…
I get so much feedback from my writing (blogs) that I know it is making an impact and is well worth the effort I put into it. It is the best way of sharing ideas and stories. That’s why I do it and why I encourage others to write. And that is why I thought I should share some secrets about how a guy like me got into writing. It may motivate others to find their own path.
I don’t have any journalism degrees, and have never taken writing classes. Frankly, I barely passed English in grade school, because I hated grammar and because I was involved in sport too much. If you look at my education and background, you’ll see that I started my career as a sportsman – a cyclist. Only after my career in sport I become nerdy computer programmer, who happened to have interest in mainframe computers that led to the life long career in this industry. This affinity towards mainframe computers from the very beginning, allowed me to spend most of my life working with the latest computer technology and reading technical books written in English. This definitely helped me to learn second language, but only when I moved to Canada I realized that without having written skills in English it will be difficult for me to make any progress. So, I began writing as much as I could, to practice and gain some English writing skills. I got involved in work projects and started learning business language. I wrote many project charters, business cases and other project documents, and along the way my writing skills improved drastically.
Much later in my life, I became a blogger, thanks to discovery of personal computers and internet. I got this crazy idea (at the time) of having my own web site. The original idea was to write about my own travels and describe our group vacations in Croatia. I thought my friends would find these stories interesting and love to read about the adventures we all shared together. Still, I could never figure out what an adverb was, or the difference between a noun and a pronoun. So I had to learn by doing, and all of my writing experience was confined into the blog writing. Therefore my first blogs were really bad, but I improved my writing skills through time.
Needless to say, I began to write down my thoughts as though I were telling a story to a friend: forget all I had learned about structuring high-school essays; and be brief, hard-hitting, and to the point. It did help that I was at first writing my stories in Microsoft Word and then copy them into the blog. It was really, really hard to do this. The school essays that we are taught to write start with a boring preface, ramble on forever, and save the best part for last. In blogs, if you don’t capture readers’ attention in the first or second paragraph, the readers lose interest and move on. And you have to say all you can in the fewest words possible. I also added lots of pictures into the equation to make my blogs more interesting and visual. School teachers reward you for verbosity and essay length. They don’t read every word; they just skim to see whether you have understood key concepts. Readers of my articles, however, want to learn something, and to gain the most knowledge by the least reading. Stories combined with pictures help to create complete visual impression of the blog.
It took me more than long time to write my first blog piece. Then it got progressively easier. It took less and less time for every following blog, 4 hours on average for the next few, then two hours; and now it takes me less than two hours per piece, depending on how much research it necessitates. When I know my stuff, I can sometimes knock single blog in less than an hour. These days I spend more times searching for appropriate pictures that will go along the text. During every trip I take hundreds of pictures and upon return home I have to select the ones I need for the blogs.
I’ll share a secret. I almost always have my wife look over what I write, checking it for spelling errors, grammar, and sensibility. I am really lucky to have her for many other reasons. She always supports me and this is very important for me. She sometimes drives me crazy with her demands that I add commas and semicolons. Just as the editors do she questions everything that I write. Good editors make you fact-check and validate every statement. I can learn a lot from her criticism…
These really are the keys to writing blog posts, to speak fearlessly from the heart, get to the point immediately, keep the message simple and focused, and use the fewest words you can.
START A BLOG, AND MAINTAIN IT
So writing is a skill that you can learn, just like I did. It gets easier as you go and will help you make an impact. But a lot of people do seem to think that it magically happens overnight when it totally doesn’t at all. In fact, it took me the best part of two and a half years to build a readers base. You need to keep plugging content into your blog to attract the readers, and when they’re coming in you need to keep them coming in so even if it’s only one blog a week, keep it regular and make sure the readers know it’s coming on that day at that time.
I think this is a bit nerdy but quite important, if you put Google Analytics into your blog you can track the amount of people that visit it each day, and if you look at this over a monthly period it’ll give you such a good indication of how your blog is growing, where you might need to improve, where your readers are coming from and at what time and from here you can set realistic goals. My service provider HostGator is using Webalizer and AwStats tools to provide web stats for my site. Webalizer is a complex stats program that produces a variety of charts and graphs about who has visited my site and Awstats produces visual statistics about visitors of the site. Don’t go mad and think you have to set huge goals because you have to – set goals that work for your blog.
So there you go. Think every day about how you come across online. If you have an interesting story, just write a blog like I do on your own website, or comment on discussion sites such as many existing forum sites, LinkedIn, or countless others. Your voice is as important as any other. This is your life. Find a passion and pursue it! Remember that. Luckily I found my passion…
Have a good and healthy season.
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