The Secret of Law Blogging: It’s A Pie-Eating Contest
Yesterday Adrian Dayton commented on the three most common reasons why people fail at blogging:
In dozens of conversations with busy professional I hear time and time again similar excuses to the ones I made to my Father as a kid.
“I’m too busy.”
“I barely have time to respond to all my emails.”
“I don’t want to commit to something I can’t stick with.”
Most people who try to blog fail for three major reasons. 1. They aren’t sufficiently motivated to blog. 2. They aren’t organized enough to blog. 3. They don’t know what to say.
I’m no fan of blogging about blogging — and rarely do it here — but I’ve been asked a couple times lately about my thoughts on blogging, and I suppose I have been around long enough to have learned some valuable lessons. (For those of you who wrongly view traffic as an indicator of a blog’s worth, my Alexa traffic ranking would put me around ~115th on Avvo’s list of Top Legal Blogs, to which I have been too lazy to add myself.)
Yesterday I also came across a post on Lionel Messi, generally considered to be the greatest soccer player in the world, which I think sets up a useful framework:
I knew most of this Lionel Messi stuff before I got here. I read stories about him. I watched some highlights of him playing. I understood, on that surface level, just how good a player he is.
But then … I saw him play. Not highlights. Not a few of his greatest shots. Full games. And I saw him in context, with the World Cup buzzing, with vuvuzelas blowing, against the background of other players, excellent players, good players, OK players, who are trying to do the very same things he is doing.
Only they cannot. Messi simply does things — little things and big things — that other players here cannot do. He gets a ball in traffic, is surrounded by two or three defenders, and he somehow keeps the ball close even as they jostle him and kick at the ball. He takes long and hard passes up around his eyes and somehow makes the ball drop softly to his feet, like Keanu Reeves making the bullets fall in “The Matrix.” He cuts in and out of traffic — Barry Sanders only with a soccer ball moving with him — sprints through openings that seem only theoretical, races around and between defenders who really are running even if it only looks like they are standing still. He really does seem to make the ball disappear and reappear, like it’s a Vegas act.
Going back to Adrian, his four points — motivation, organization, figuring out what to say, and overcoming fear — can be consolidated into two main points: have the right mindset (motivation and overcoming fear) and adopt good habits (organization and figuring out what to say). The former is the “big thing” and the latter is the “little thing.” To persist in writing a blog, and to write a blog that’s worth reading, you need to be good at both. Some are great at both. Many can’t do either, so their blogs fail.
A blogger’s mindset is the most important determinant of success. Why do you want to blog? To bring in clients? If so, give up now, scrounge together some cash, and buy yourself an ad on the side of a bus or in a business magazine or where ever else your potential clients are. There’s nothing wrong with advertising; the vast majority of people don’t know any lawyers or don’t like the lawyers they do know, and so might think to turn to you when they need one. An advertisement is a simple and easy way to get people to know your name and, maybe, give you a call.
Blogging, however, is not so simple. Remember back in high school or college when you had to write an essay or exam in a class you were only taking because you had to? That’s what blogging-as-advertising is like, and you will quickly either learn to accept mediocrity in your posts or will burn out trying to force yourself to write something worth reading.
Put another way, you need to feel the need to blog, and you need to enjoy doing it. There is no substitute for that mindset.
Moving on to habits, even if you like to blog, it’s still easy to end up either hating blogging or producing mediocre content if you don’t develop good blogging habits.
First, figure out what kind of blog you want to write. Sure, everyone can imagine an idealized blog in their head, the blog that’s always funny or always outraged or is always on top of news right when it hits, but don’t too much stock in that. Put stock in experimentation. Consider what author David Mitchell — who knows a thing about writing and self-promotion, since he was recently the subject of a fawning portrait in The New York Times — said about his first book after an agent told him it was “god-awful” and had to be scrapped:
“I had doubts about its quality,” Mitchell told me. “But it had taught me the doubts. What writing it had taught me was that it’s not that great a novel after all.” And it taught him something more: “I had been trying to prove to myself that I could get over this incredible obstacle, this unscalable cliff face of—am I the sort of person who can get a novel written or not? Until you’ve written one, it’s just . . . wow. A feat that humans not like you achieve.”
Start a private blog that only you read so you can test out various ways of blogging. People like to tell themselves what kind of writer they want to be, but they have just as much control over that as they do over the types of foods they like: some things work and others don’t. You will never know if you are a comedian or a stemwinder or a scholar until you’ve put in your hours actually writing. Start writing and keep writing.
Once you start writing and keep writing, get into the habit of it. You should not have to force yourself to put together a blog post. It should be just as much an ordinary habit as checking your voicemail, reading the paper, responding to client emails, or whatever else it is you do on a daily, weekly, or maybe monthly basis. Until writing becomes a habit, it will be a hard slog.
Finally, figure out your sources. As fascinating as I’m sure your daily legal practice is, odds are good that you won’t be able to write about the most interesting parts of it. In the past week I’ve seen several amazing developments in a few of my cases, but, alas, I can’t tell you a word about them. You thus will need a continuous source of new information and inspiration which you can report or upon which you can opine. Do you want to read your local newspaper and comment on local news? What about recent court opinions? How about other bloggers, and, if so, who?
Blogging is a pie eating contest in which the prize is: more pie. If you write well, you will get readers who will want you to write more. You will be contacted by those who run blogs, publish magazines and books, host radio shows, or organize CLEs with offers for you to contribute to those forums with your thoughts. Does that interest you, even though most of those pay nothing at all? If so, great! Blogging may be for you. I find contributions to other forums one of the more rewarding parts of my practice, but don’t kid yourself that such is the path to fame and riches. It’s just more pie, so you better like pie to start with.