When Mario Batali comes home from a long day at the kitchen, does he cook for himself? If you’ve read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, you’ll know that professional cooks often end up at the same diners and dives that we like to haunt at 1am.
That’s the dilemma whenever I talk to a writer about whether they blog.
On a day when I’ve spent 3-4 hours cranking out 2,000 or more words for my clients, do I have any gas left in the tank for my personal blog? (And that’s the work I do before heading off to my “day job” at 9 or 10 in the morning.) It’s not always consistent, but it’s important. Most of the best client projects I’ve ever landed have started because a prospect found one of my pieces on a search engine, and traced it all the way back through to my contact page.
Every pitch meeting I’ve been in over the past five years has included a conversation about how I could support the gig by driving traffic, subscriptions, or clicks from my own audience into my clients’ world. Sometimes, the demand is so ludicrous that I have to just walk away from the deal. But, more often than not, I’ve been in such alignment with a project that it totally makes sense to steer some of my own audience toward a new project or collaboration.
Larry Brooks’ article on ProBlogger got me thinking about this again this morning. I recently spent some time overhauling my own website into more of a portal that collects my very best stuff, while still giving some column space to a personal blog and to some articles that don’t neatly fit into any of the projects I’m actively managing.
Blogging, to me, is about customer service. My prospects should be able to scan a portfolio of my clips to understand what they’re getting when they hire me. My readers should have a resource to let them know what I’m working on, even if I’m not working on exactly the thing that they wish I was. (Yes, I am still working on that GYBA ’11 manuscript!)
Of course, blogging holds even more challenges for a professional writer. We don’t forgive typos as easily. Despite blogging’s reputation for being freewheeling, a client’s not going to make a distinction between something you dashed out on your personal site and something destined for print. Blogging and Twitter both take on added dimensions when clients are watching.
I’ve certainly seen some e-mail over the years that say things like: “WTF are you doing on Twitter when you should be working on the article I hired you to do?” (I tend to filter out those kinds of clients.) Writing like crazy means you’re going to write what’s in your head that moment. I’m lucky enough to have a stable of clients and projects that can keep me engaged with something at any given time. It’s a great way to avoid writers’ block, even if it means that I miss the occasional deadline.
Right now, my biggest challenge is to reconcile the “tight niche” of vertical blogs with my public and personal personae. When I write my ass off, there’s no telling whether I might be writing about the music industry, the mortgage industry, the credit card industry, or something else that strikes me as important that week. Making the crossover work can get a little hairy. Some days, it’s like arguing that Lady Gaga should totally make a country record.
But if all of this transition and conflict is recorded on my own blog, it makes so much more sense to the editors and entrepreneurs trying to figure out why I don’t fit so neatly into a silo. Businesses demand transparency. Readers demand engagement. And while I agree with Larry that you need to split your site into “portfolio” and “blog,” I find it’s so important to connect with clients and audiences in whatever way works for them.