Lately I've come to a conclusion about blog posts. Bloggers write at least two kinds of posts: knowledge posts and creative posts.
Knowledge posts involve documenting what you already know. For example, the last two posts I wrote on my blog -- methods for recording presentations and software demos -- were knowledge posts. I personally didn't learn anything writing about them. It was merely an act of documenting a specific knowledge for future remembrance. These kinds of posts bore me. But they are valuable as a way to remember knowledge and share it with others.
Other posts that fit into this category are knowledge-sharing posts. For example, hey, so and so wrote an awesome post on wikis, etc. Or, there's an upcoming midnight blogger dinner this Thursday, or something. Nothing new, just letting others know something they may have missed. The writing process for knowledge posts lacks the spark of discovery. The posts are a chore to write.
The second category of blog posts is the creative post. I'm hesitant to use the word "creative" because it has become a euphemism to describe someone who doodles impressively on napkins and flunks out of math. But the root of the word, to create, is critical.
Posts that are creative contribute new, uncharted knowledge into the world. When you create knowledge, you tell others something new. You posit ideas that have never been explored (or at least ideas that aren't hackneyed). You synthesize, analyze, reflect -- always moving toward new conclusions. You hypothesize and experiment. You create something out of nothing.
If I learned anything from my creative nonfiction writing program at Columbia, it's the meaning of the word create. You start with a blank screen, and you create a new idea. It's the ability to create something worthwhile from nothing that makes someone a creative writer. I also gained the confidence that I could do this, time and time again. Start a day with nothing, end it with a new idea buzzing in my head.
The ability to create something from nothing is different from the ability to document knowledge. Some bloggers are knowledge documenters, and others are knowledge creators.
A lot of people who contemplate starting a blog usually hesitate because they feel they don't have much to say. If I started a blog, what would I write about? Sometimes their first dozen posts are merely knowledge posts, writing what they know. They don't use writing as a tool for learning. Somehow the technical writer in them takes over, and they see the blog as a tool for documentation.
Knowledge blogs are somewhat boring, although I guess having a boring blog is better than not having a blog. Creative posts are much harder to write, especially on a daily basis. A creative post may take 3-5 hours of thought and organization, whereas a knowledge post may take just twenty minutes.
Although I've been denigrating the knowledge posts, it's good to alternate your creative posts with knowledge posts. You want to keep your writing rhythm going, and just posting a few paragraphs about something you read, or a technique you used that worked well, etc., is good for your writing rhythm. But don't let that be the only type of posts on your blog. If so, yawn yawn yawn. The thought is boring me already.
Before people post a million comments telling me how ridiculously polar my thinking is, of course many posts include both knowledge and creative aspects. For example, I was initially only going to write 2 paragraphs documenting this small observation, and now this post has grown into 8 paragraphs. The words that started out documenting knowledge have spawned greater reflection and analysis -- essentially knowledge creation.
That's a good movement, and a natural one, because writing is a tool for learning. The act of writing words inspires reflection, and reflection moves you into creativity. "I never know what I think until I see what I say," says E.M. Forster. Writing allows you to know what you think, and this new knowledge expands your thinking.
In my writing routine, I pick an idea that intrigues me (for example, "speaking up"), and I'll play with that idea for several days like my seven-year old plays with play dough. Roll it around, form various shapes with it. See what you can make of it. In the end you create a scene that no one has created before.
There's play dough all around us, every day. As long as you can think and reflect and ask questions, you'll never run out of ideas to write about.
So how would you classify the posts on your blog? Are you a creative writer or a knowledge documenter?
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.