How to succeed in blogging without really trying (which is, coincidentally, the ONLY way to succeed)


Man, it’s tougher than ever out there for writers. Or is it? It may seem like the only jobs available are the journalistic equivalent of waxing Tom Cruise’s motorcycle for $50/week — but it ain’t true. Those are the only jobs advertised. There are much better ones hidden in the foliage, available only to those who take out their machetes and start a-choppin’. Which is to say: same as it ever was.

I’ll put a finer point on it. Editors are desperate for blogging talent. Two really good ones — with non-slave wages to offer — recently emailed me, literally saying: I’ve got money I need to spend, tell me who to hire — please. So it’s not just us writers who feel like we’re stuck in a forbidding economic jungle, fighting over scraps — it’s the editors, too! How do these two camps manage to stay so damned invisible to each other? Who knows. But I do know (or, at least, have some anecdotal personal experience to relate) about how to nip it in the bud from the writer’s side of things.

Basically, you just have to not give a shit. (While totally, passionately giving a shit.) Wait, what?

Well, think about it: isn’t that a pretty darn good (if a bit profane) definition of what good blogging is? You do it not to satisfy quotas or word counts or contracts, but because you kind of can’t not do it. Sometimes you don’t even know (or much care) if anyone’s even out there reading, but you can’t keep yourself from typing anyway. In short: you don’t give a shit, but also totally do.

That’s what editors want to spend their money on. Not because they’re stingy, malignant sociopaths who are just looking for rubes to take advantage of (well, okay, some are like that, but none that I’ve worked for) — but because fundamentally, that’s the only kind of  blogger that’s any damn good. And they’re hard to find, because that kind of writerly attitude can’t be faked, taught, or bribed into existence — at least not without a short expiration date, which in the end is just a waste of the editor’s time and money. It’s paradoxical but it makes a sick kind of sense: the writers who’d probably work for free or cheap are the ones that editors are most keen to pay.

The flip side is that it’s the only way blogging makes financial sense for the writer, too. The top end of compensation for daily blogging seems to be between $40 and $50 per post, although some rare outlets will pay higher. If you’re being paid that little to find, sometimes research, and write stories longer than tweet-length, the behind the scenes work of every post has to be stuff that “doesn’t count” — stuff that you don’t give a shit about while you’re doing it. Or rather, stuff that you do give a shit about so much that it feels like you don’t. Stuff you’d be doing anyway, stuff that just happens without really trying.

Whatever stuff you find yourself paying attention to while you procrastinate your “real work”, and bore your friends with at bars, and (ideally) write/read/tweet/etc. about already, is what you can be paid to write/read/tweet/etc. about. In fact, it’s the only stuff. Because otherwise the economics don’t make sense and you’ll just burn out, get canned, or go postal. But if you’re blogging “without really trying”, then you’re already generating good, authentic material and probably quite efficiently too — at which point the economics do start to make sense!

OK, so how do you make your supposedly valuable-ass self visible to these editors who are supposedly dying to hire you? Obviously it helps to already be doing the job you want to be hired for on your own blog or whatever (and be an above-average writer, of course). But even more, it helps to, like, ask for it. Here’s the sequence I went through to get my current blogging job without knowing a damn soul at the place beforehand:

  1. Pick my favorite blog, which was that one.
  2. Email the editor to introduce myself as a fan and say I want to blog for him if he’s got any need for more people.
  3. ….
  4. Profit!!1

I left #3 out because that’s the unpredictable part that you can’t control anyway. But everything else you can control. And you beat out 90% of the competition for these jobs (as well as find 100% of them in the first place) simply by showing up.

In my case (if you care about the boring details), #3 consisted of the editor ignoring me, then responding to a follow-up email, then saying he wanted to see some tryout posts, which I did (because it took almost no effort), then ignoring me again, while another editor at the site contacted me about trying out for him, which I didn’t really want to do (because it seemed like too much effort), but while I was back-and-forthing with him, the original editor did get back to me and asked if I could fill in for another writer temporarily, which I did, and then a few days after I started he asked me to come on permanently/full-time, which I didn’t really want to do, so I negotiated a rate/schedule, and then renegotiated it again a few months later, and now I have a nice chunk of income every month that doesn’t feel like it requires too much work to earn (even though it actually does).

If that hadn’t all worked out, I’d have picked my 2nd favorite blog and done the same thing, and then my 3rd, until something clicked or I ran out of blogs. But in fact, this approach led to me fielding offers from a few sites at once and then getting to decide which one fit me best. How often does that happen in this economy? Who knows. Luck did play a big role in how it all came together… but maybe luck is precisely what tends to happen when you’re “not really trying.”

Postscript, later:

It occurs to me that my belabored attempt at cleverness may obscure my point or just come off as insensitive or arrogant when there are plenty of good writers struggling to pay the bills out there. So, just in case: people who can’t find writing work are not lazy or dumb or untalented. And because I did find a decent blogging gig doesn’t make me a genius, or more hardworking, or better than anyone else as a person.  My point was just that I know for a fact there are decent-paying blogging gigs out there to be gotten because a) I managed to get one without losing my mind or dignity, and b) I happened to hear about a couple more recently that could perhaps be gotten in the same way. Where those specific ones are doesn’t matter — that’s not the point, and those editors aren’t openly advertising them for precisely the reasons I tried to explain above — the point is, if I can “succeed without really trying” (ie, try hard, but in a way that doesn’t feel like trying hard), anyone can; and in fact that particular, peculiar attitude might be a necessary condition for finding and getting and succeeding in those blogging gigs, given the way that market functions these days.


5 Responses to “How to succeed in blogging without really trying (which is, coincidentally, the ONLY way to succeed)”

  1. Not to get all esoteric here (Ok, I’m going to) but what you’re referring to is what the Taoists call Wu Wei As with most Taoism it sounds completely paradoxical.


  2. An important subtext (barely sub): If you want the work, go get it. You want in? Knock on the door, then knock again, then push, politely but persistently. If you get to No, take No. But get an answer.

  3. To quote Kyle Cooper: “You could not be more spot on.”

  4. 4 Julie Coombes

    Great post, John. After 15 years helping other people’s dreams come true with my writing, I’m trying to find my own writer-voice so I can do exactly what you are saying.

    The way I’ve heard this idea phrased lately is to become so good at whatever you (uniquely) do that you cannot be ignored.

    Aside: clearly my brother has excellent taste in business partners….

  5. You’re hired.

%d bloggers like this: