My answer to today’s Zero to Hero prompt is a bit complicated. I didn’t have a particular post in mind to write when I started this blog; I had a plan to build an audience and I wanted to see if it would work.
I did political blogging for years, and I loved it, but I also found it discouraging in many ways. What I found, with everyday political blogging, was that the subject matter limited my audience to people who already agree with me, and people who disagree so strongly they just want to argue. Since I am so far to the left of even the most liberal mainstream politicians that I am often mistaken for a socialist, and since I live in South Mississippi, the political blogging really didn’t provide many opportunities to share my work with people I actually know.
That meant my audience was limited to people I could meet online, and that turned out to be a problem, from a long-term audience-building point of view. It also meant I was constantly struggling to come up with relevant, well-written content to update my blog with — a difficult task for one person who also has to work and take care of a family. A blog is a hungry beast.
Eventually, I got so discouraged I just walked away. But, I really missed it. I decided that, this time around, I would think very carefully about the focus of my blogs and set them up so that I could publish things that might interest my friends and family.
In 2011, I lost a good technical writing job due to budget cuts, but I was fortunate enough to get a part time job as a writing tutor. This allowed me to get to know a lot of very smart aspiring writers. Back during the summer, we started talking about blogging and came up with the idea of starting a collaborative blog that would focus on the things we all like to talk about — movies, classic and genre literature, humor, pop culture, etc.
By the time we fleshed our idea out enough to start working on it, and chose a platform, it was October. Late fall is the worst possible time for professional academic people to start a writing-intensive project just for fun, because that is when papers and grades are due. We realized at that point that it would probably be after the New Year before we could really get a collaborative project going, but Diana kicked off Part Time Monster as a personal blog, anyway. Sam started Universal Half Truths a few days later, and that convinced me to go ahead and start building a couple of blogs.
I spent a couple of weeks building a blog for myself and one to use as a collaborative site once other people started coming on board. I didn’t like the result, deleted them, and started over. At some point during all that, I realized that I really wanted a blog that focuses on writing as a craft; but I see writing about writing as a niche topic. It’s great for building an engaged audience, but it’s too narrow a topic for building a large audience.
I need to blog about movies, music, culture, and politics a bit, and those aren’t really appropriate subjects for the Writing Catalog. I also wanted to be able to re-blog a wide variety of content; so I created Sourcerer. It was only after I got Sourcerer up and running that we realized it would make a perfect geek collaboration platform; and that is what I hope it will turn into over the next few months.
Before I committed to maintaining these blogs, I did my best to solve two problems that plagued me for years as a political blogger.
1. The content problem. It is nearly impossible for one person to generate enough good work to build an audience on the basis of content quality and update frequency alone. It is my hope that we can solve this problem by encouraging contributors from among our personal friends who are writers. It’s working well for Part Time Monster, and I don’t see why it won’t work for Sourcerer, too.
2. The single-platform problem. Building an audience for a blog is difficult, and if you only have a single blog, it limits your growth possibilities. If you have a lot of collaborators, it is easy to end up with a blog that updates too frequently or has no focus. Since good original content is finite, you don’t want to waste it. Plus, you don’t want to spam your followers’ feeds with too much stuff from a single site. Your growth is also limited until you can make a few friends who like your work enough to link to it. By setting up four blogs, each with a different focus and independent audience potential, I’ve put us in a position to link to one another when it’s appropriate to do so, and to make friends more quickly than we could with a single blog. I laid all this out in detail at Part Time Monster in November, and I am eager to see how well it works over the next year.
One thing that is interesting to note: Part Time Monster consistently has more visitors and page views than Sourcerer and The Writing Catalog. This is to be expected, because so far, that’s where we’ve consistently posted our best stuff. But, all three of those blogs hit 100 WordPress followers in the same 24-hour period, and I think participating in Zero to Hero is what allowed us to meet that milestone when we did.