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The Most Important Stories ... Aren't the Ones I'm Writing

by Tom Johnson on Jun 25, 2011
categories: blogging technical-writing

Writing the real storiesI was talking with a colleague the other day about how to increase the number of hits per article on our organization's technology website. We get about 800 hits per article, which isn't much given the potential audience.

To increase hits, I said we need to send these articles to all users via a newsletter. Email is the only way to reach a lot of people. People aren't subscribing to RSS anymore. On my own blog, I can't seem to go beyond 3,500 subscribers on my site. I feel I've hit the ceiling. Probably because RSS subscriptions just end up being a bunch of random noise after a while.

My colleague said, yeah, and blogging is dead.

This caught me a little by surprise, since he knows I'm a blogger. Why do you think so? I asked.

He quickly distinguished between professional blogs and personal blogs, and said he was referring to personal blogs. Very few personal bloggers can command large audiences, he said. Dooce is one of them. We couldn't think of many more.

I didn't think much of this conversation until later in the evening, talking with my kids. For some reason I started telling my six-year-old some stories about different experiences I've had in life. Then we started talking about the past, and how her older sister was eight months old when 9/11 happened (we were in New York). I told her the story of how I got my job in Egypt, after waiting two and a half months after the interview. I told her the story of drug dealers shooting into our house in Florida, and why we came to Utah. I told her the story of how I miraculously fixed the lawnmower last week, and how I unscrewed an impossible drain. She looked at me with both curiosity and seriousness. She hadn't heard many of these stories before.

And then it hit me. I haven't written the most important stories of my life. This blog, this professional blog, only tells one kind of story. It tells the story of my professional life, of my thoughts surrounding my career and all the issues involved in it.

As long as you have the same career, you share some commonality with me and may find the content relevant. But there's a certain sadness about this blog and all professional blogs, as they distract from the time we might spend telling stories that matter more in our lives.

I do have a personal blog, but it doesn't receive the attention and care of my professional blog. My writing is sloppy and unstructured, almost stream of conscious. It's hard to find motivation, for some reason, to write the real stories of my life.

Partly, I see so many tangible rewards for a professional blog. Immediate praise and engagement, career leverage, networking, career advancement, professional reputation -- all of this increases with each good post on my professional blog.

With the personal blog, there isn't the same reward. A reward exists for sure, but it's a different kind of reward. It's the same reward you receive for keeping a personal journal.

For now, I am resigned in having two blogs. One is my more historical, unadvertised blog where I write the personal stories of my life. The other, this blog, is where I explore topics related to technical writing.

Regardless of the blog, I will always try to write the real stories.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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