How to pick a topic for a blog?
July 18, 2015 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm hoping to someday change careers into a more writing-focused field. The advice for this is always "start a blog and join Twitter." I would like to do both of these things, but I have so many interests, and such difficulty thinking about how any of them would translate into a blog, that I'm stuck at the screening phase. How to pick one?

I'll just list off the topics I have at least a passing interest in: crafting, comics, animals, the environment, healthy eating, gardening, frugal living, and bizarre topics such as the paranormal and unsolved mysteries (I'm a huge fan of Mysterious Universe).

The problem is, although I have an interest in all of these topics, I'm far from being an expert in any of them. For instance, although I like healthy eating, I'm a disaster in the kitchen and a blog on that subject would be a joke. I'm a frugality nut whose actions seldom match her aspirations. I like gardening but have not had the time or energy this year to plant one. I love art, comics and crafts but am definitely not part of the arts scene in my city or even online.

I'm sure that with a little research I could write convincingly about animal or environmental issues, but how on earth would I focus such a blog? These subject areas are so vast, and no one area of them stands out as being my one true passion that I could focus on over the long haul. Plus, I have absolutely no credentials or authority in either of these fields, other than just being someone who cares about them.

The paranormal/spooky stuff: I really dig this because I think it's fun. However, I don't know that it's the most professional thing to be blogging about if my goal is to impress potential employers.

Which leads to my next question: I should be avoiding controversy with any of these, right? My dream job would be to work or write for an environmental or animal org, but there are precious few of those in my city and they're mostly staffed by volunteers. So if I were to blog stridently about either of these issues, might that turn off potential employers in other fields? (Of course, there's the argument that I wouldn't want to work for someone whose views differed so much from mine.)

I see that many writers blog about either writing itself, or marketing and branding oneself or one's business. Is that the route to go? I fear that I would be mainly recycling the stuff that I read about on others' blogs.

I'm feeling pretty naive at this point. Am I missing something? Would I be better served by just trying to publish one-off articles on these subjects in existing publications?
posted by whistle pig to Work & Money (18 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
First, you will become an expert on your chosen topic by writing about it. It will take months, even years, but that's okay, it's part of the process. A blog can be like a learning experience in public. Readers will appreciate your honesty. A blog is easy to start. Just create a quick one and start writing. Don't have so many hesitations. Later down the road you can self-edit, reshape it, redesign it. Once you get a little bit of respect from your topic community then begin inviting other experts for interviews and whatnot. Think of it journalistically and it will naturally build your network. Second, of the topics you've listed, it's the lifestyle stuff that will likely, eventually, get you paid. You can sprinkle environmentalism into the lifestyle mix. Whatever topic you choose, have a clear point of view. If you don't know what yours is yet, study other blogs you like, i.e., the pov of Real Simple is xyz.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:21 AM on July 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

If it were me, I'd start a personal blog and just start writing. You can start writing a personal log and then add particular pages of interest later, or if you don't want several pages on your blog, you can just narrow your focus as your inspiration comes to you.

On preview, what Jason and Lazio said.
posted by MildredMakenpace at 9:22 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

OK, I think it's hard to have a gardening blog if without being able to add pictures of your plants as they grow.

I suggest getting eight pieces of paper and writing the eight interests that you listed on top. Then try to rapidly write down ten thoughts you have on each topic. After brainstorming, are you interested in writing something about some of those bullet points? Are there questions you want to find answers to? Then turn the paper over and do ten minutes of googling (each) to find out what the top existing blogs are on those topics. Are the topics already thoroughly covered so that you feel your blog would be in the shade? Is there one topic that you ended up spending extra time on? (That's a hint where your strongest interest lies.)
posted by puddledork at 9:25 AM on July 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

I would totally read that 'disaster in the kitchen' blog.
posted by tomboko at 9:38 AM on July 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

I was also thinking disaster in the kitchen could work pretty well. There's so many foodie/gourmet blogs out there, maybe a learning to cook blog could be a good area that's not overdone. I did a quick search of the phrase disaster in the kitchen and there's a fair number of stories on other sites about the topic but the specific name seems pretty unused (and googling "Kitchen Disaster" comes up with Kitchen Nightmares). There is one "Disaster Kitchen" blog but it doesn't seem to be about learning to cook and hasn't been used since 2013.

A humorous approach may be useful so long as the writing is really good. And you could incorporate subtle animal/environmental issues in it, learning about organic produce maybe or vegetarian cooking aspects or similar. Good luck!
posted by Beti at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pick a topic you *really* enjoy, that you can do DAILY, or at least 3-4 times a week.

And you can always blog under a pseudonym for now.
posted by kschang at 10:13 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you need to think about this as a more multilayered thing. Like: Okay, I want to talk about food but I want to do it to connect what we eat and how we live to our environmental footprint and social justice in the food business. Or: I want to talk about the paranormal in a way that is respectful of the people who experienced this stuff but also brings real science to the discussion, not to be dismissive and insulting but to try to explore possible explanations (which can be respectful if you genuinely allow for the possibility of ghosts and psychic phenomenon and so on).

There are always more facets to a well positioned and well written blog than "it's about food!" or "it's about the paranormal!"

Talking about controversial topics and expressing strong opinions or positions can be done without it being a shitshow. It has a lot to do with framing. So "People who blah (buy coffee from Starbucks, believe in ghosts) are all evil cretins who should be put death" is bad but something like "Doing blah has thus and such known negative consequences that add up to much more signifant impact on the world than you would think. Thus, I no longer do blah. Here are some alternatives for making blah less evil if you just cannot give up your blah:..." Can be perfectly fine.
posted by Michele in California at 10:19 AM on July 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I once considered trying a whole bunch of crafty things that were new to me, and blogging about the process. I started a list: tatting, basic embroidery stitches, rug hooking, weaving on a pin loom, netting, soap making, hand sewing - pretty much all the things they cover in the kind of early 1900s books that new brides were given so they could develop all the skills a housewife of that era would need.

It would basically be a blog of watching me suck at a whole succession of interesting things. I thought it would be fun and liberating if I didn't expect myself to be good at them all.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 10:38 AM on July 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I transitioned from a computer programming career I loathed to working as a full time writer/editor. I got my first writing/editing job (half-time, salaried, and for a non-profit) on the back of two thing:

1. Successfully launching an on-line science fiction magazine wherein I regularly wrote long-form book reviews
2. Solid references from previous employers in the programming field (referring me as a good employee, with no comment on my writing/editing abilities)

Assuming you have the latter tied up, blogging is absolutely a viable way to make this transition. I would probably avoid picking a controversial topic, but science fiction is (or, at least, was) a bit of a fringe topic and that didn't seem to make any real difference. What did matter was the substantial traffic numbers I was able to show and the quality of my writing samples.

I too like the disaster in the kitchen idea. A learning to cook blog with recipes, humorous descriptions of your cooking process (especially including screwups), and photos of the final product sounds like a blast. It would be a lot of fun to watch you slowly get better and to rejoice with you every time a complicated dish actually came out the way it was supposed to.
posted by 256 at 10:48 AM on July 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh and this: Would I be better served by just trying to publish one-off articles on these subjects in existing publications?

Publishing anything in an established venue, particularly one that pays its writers, is a big help (I had a couple of credits already when I made the transition). But I would look at it as an as-well-as rather than an instead-of with regards to the blog.
posted by 256 at 10:52 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

The disaster in the kitchen blog might be fun. You know what else would be fun and engaging? A nature and environmental blog with a hyper local focus.
posted by notyou at 10:59 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think notyou has the right idea: Whatever you write about, make it specific to you and your area, or an industry you're familiar with and have a new perspective on. Don't write in broad generalities about "best practices for ocean sustainability in fishing" if you don't have an ocean in your backyard or fish (unless you're a researcher and you have other ways to study it). That sort of thing. Local angles are always undercovered, so it gives you a good in, plus a way to build a name for yourself and get discovered by local publications, which are always looking for new stories and voices (though they're not always willing to pay to get them). I've seen a lot of writers get started and draw notice that way.
posted by limeonaire at 11:08 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like the philosophy of blogging and public speaking that prescribes picking something you want to learn about — but don't necessarily know about yet — and write about that.
posted by aestival at 11:23 AM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

One way to choose a blogging topic is to choose the topic among your interests that has the highest Google AdWords rates. In the distant past, I read about a blogger who made a living writing about asbestos lawsuits because advertising on that topic was especially lucrative.
posted by chrchr at 12:18 PM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wrote a blog for several years that was very well received and was eventually turned into a book. Here are my tips:

1) Don't write about your work, or anything related to your work. Someone will try and get you sacked, even if you do nothing wrong. Bitter experience. Use a pseudonym, but remember that if people really want to find out who you are, they will, so don't say anything that could get you in trouble.
2) Don't avoid controversy too much. I mean, obviously don't say anything that you know that will cause widespread offence, but you do want to get people talking, even if they're not all agreeing with you.
3) You don't have to be an expert on your chosen subject. If you were, you'd write a textbook, not a blog. Write about something you know a bit about and are learning more about. Let your readers learn with you.
4) Make it personal - not as in boring details like what you had for breakfast but bring in experiences from your own life. A blog is basically a diary.
5) Pick a topic that has legs and that you won't get bored of writing about.
6) Get publicity by linking to other bloggers and hoping they will return the favour, adding your blog address to your signature, pimping yourself everywhere you can, etc etc.
7) If it doesn't work out, shelve it and move on to another topic. Experiment with what you enjoy and what other people like to read.
posted by intensitymultiply at 12:53 PM on July 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Write some posts about crafting, some posts about comics, and then about animals and the environment, healthy eating, gardening, frugal living, and the paranormal. See where your interests take you. Find connections between them. Keep writing regularly, and your core topic will eventually emerge along with your readers. Let it happen organically as opposed to testing Google Ad Words or whatever, and you'll end up with a strong voice, topic and audience.
posted by Leontine at 2:39 PM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of these awesome suggestions. :)
posted by whistle pig at 7:17 PM on July 18, 2015

Someone actually once wanted to hire me to write for a blog specifically about not being able to cook, and then the process of learning. Memail if you want- they may still want someone, I'm not sure. I have a full time writing gig, so I couldn't take it on.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:19 PM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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