People ask me why I spend the time to write essays. What's the value I'm getting out of formulating and sharing my thoughts? I don't have advertisements, so it's not collecting a paycheck at the end of the month — so why do it? Why do I think you should do it? I think as entrepreneurs getting your thoughts down in words can help you think through your ideas, help promote yourself and your product and lead to good networking opportunities. But first a refute of this newsletter hubbub...
As Mathew Ingram of GigaOM writes in an article entitled "Is It Time to Stop Blogging and Start an Email Newsletter?" a group of folks — mainly in the NYC entrepreneur community — have moved away from blogging and into writing newsletters. Jason Calacanis was the first to do this back in 2008 in what he said was a way to combat abusive comments he was receiving. Through newsletters, people could comment directly to him, but not to everyone reading his posts. Problem solved.
Nobody followed his charge until recently when Sam Lessin shutdown his blog and launched Letter.ly as a newsletter service where you can charge for your content although at a modest price. "So, yes - the old is new again," Sam writes.
I just don't buy it.
Information is meant to be consumed. It's meant to be free. It's meant to reach as many people as humanly possible, shared, and discussed. A wall around content — paid or otherwise — is destined to crumble. You need look no further than Jason Calacanis who when he really wants to get his voice out there re-posts his newsletter to his blog.
This newsletter "movement" if you can really call it that — only a few folks are really doing it — and I'm guessing even fewer are subscribing, has all the makeup of a passing phase. I have lots of respect for Sam, Michael, David, Andrew, and others that have switched to writing newsletters — they're all friends — but I'd be surprised to see them stick to their guns on this. If they truly value what it means to write then they'll be back to publicly sharing their content once again.
Is Blogging Dead? Not Exactly
I think that in a way blogging is dead. I don't consider spencerfry.com to be a blog. It's a collection of essays. Blogging in the traditional sense — snippets of your thoughts on X, Y, and Z — has been replaced by Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Almost anything paragraph size can be squeezed down to 140 characters.
If people are going to sit down and read what you have to say then you have to formulate something worth reading. With so much content floating around these days, if you want your writing to be read then you've got to take up an interesting topic, thoughtfully formulate your thoughts, and back up your argument. All that takes more than 140 characters and, if done well, is worth reading.
Thinking Through Ideas
Most of the time when I sit down to write an essay, I don't have a clear picture in my mind of what I'm going to say. I've got a topic I want to talk about and a stance, but there's always wiggle room for me to formulate my thoughts. Writing everything down assists me through my thinking process and gets me to make strong calls on a topic. If it's in writing then when I click "submit," I have to be 100% behind it.
The process of thinking through my ideas usually starts with a basic outline of what I'm going to be writing about. It begins with a title (although this normally changes), headings for the various sections, and a few scribbled thoughts under each heading. I then begin with a basic introduction (what appears below the topic) and then flush out the paragraphs under each section.
By the time I'm done writing an essay, I've thoroughly looked at all angles of the topic, done my research, pulled in outside sources, and exhausted my Google search bar looking for relative material on the topic. This process helps cement my thinking and I think fleshing out your thoughts systematically like this will help you too.
Educating Your Readers
Not only does writing down your thoughts help you formulate your ideas, educating the readers of your writing is extremely worthwhile. 37signals in the chapter Promoting Through Education of their Getting Real book notes that "You can give something back to the community that supports you and score some nice promotional exposure at the same time."
Sharing is caring as the expression goes. And caring is rewarded through getting your product and your name out there, the comments that further the discussion of your piece, the emails you'll receive from readers, and the people you meet who have read your writing and just want to introduce themselves as readers. I blush every time.
An essay I wrote back in April, 2010 entitled "How to Network" gives some basic tips about how to successfully network yourself offline, but networking online is just as important for an entrepreneur looking to make a name for themselves and their product.
Writing well-thought out essays means that you have something to say outside of 140 characters, earns you respect, and puts you in contact with interesting people. A lot of fans of my writing have since become fans of Carbonmade. We've even been pitched partnerships, made friends and been written up because of it.
Tweeting, Facebooking, Tumblring, etc., are all well worth your time, but I've found that nothing garners quite a following like a well-thought out collection of essays. Just read Paul Graham if you don't believe me. If you want to stand out from the crowd you first have to set yourself apart by drawing a line in the sand about where you stand on what issues.