One of the traits I like best about the Webverse is its lack of gatekeepers and credentialing. It reminds me of the American frontier circa 1834. When Abraham Lincoln as a young man decided to make his living as a lawyer in a backwoods Illinois backwater that year, he didn’t go to law school and he didn’t apprentice himself to an experienced lawyer, a common practice of the time. No, according to John Stauffer’s Giants, Abe sat under a tree and started reading Blackstone’s Commentaries, a four-volume history of the laws of England.
That’s the way the Webverse works. DIY is huge. If you want to be a writer, or better yet a blogger who advises writers on how to be writers, there’s no need for an MFA – and don’t worry about having some published masterworks in your portfolio. You just set up your outpost and start blogging. Write it and – if your advice is good, so the theory goes – they will come.
But we all know the blogosphere is a vast forest of amorphous information and advice purveyed by a not necessarily wise crowd of self-appointed experts, hucksters, mountebanks, and even a few sincere souls (such as Kaze and I) who just want a few readers. How, then, is one to glean the good stuff?
These thoughts arise from my stumbling across a blog post titled “Top 10 Blogs for Writers,” the result of a crowd-sourcing exercise run by a blog called Write to Done. At first I was shocked to see that 317am was not on that Top 10 list, but after I studied the rules, I could understand why. This was the sixth year of this annual event, and clearly the Write to Done editors have worked hard to set up fair ways of measuring writers’ blogs. The criteria to make the Top 10:
- A blog must have been nominated by more than one person out there in the Webverse. Each person was allowed to nominate only a single blog.
- To qualify as a “writing blog,” a minimum of “5 out of the 10 posts written prior 22 November 2011 (when the call for nominations went out) needed to be about writing and not about freelancing, business, publishing, etc.”
- (Ah, an explanation for why 317am was overlooked. We began in 2009 with writing tips as our basic item, but have since branched out to books, social media, movies, music, videos, word usage, cat-authored poetry, and the state of Kaze’s internal organs. While we still publish some Advice for New Writers, I’m sure these days 317am does not meet the 5-of-10-writetips standard.)
- Other factors: frequency of posting = 15 percent of total score; comments per post = 15 percent; number of nominations = 15 percent.
- “Quality of posts” = 55 percent of score. Are the posts “educational, useful, engaging, and discussion-creating”? These types of posts “were rated higher than self-promotional posts.”
I salute the Write to Done editors for a nicely systematized approach. And here are the Top 10 survivors in this Darwinian competition:
- Jeff Goins Writer
- The Write Practice
- Jane Friedman
- The Creative Penn
- The Bookshelf Muse
- Romance University
- Courage 2 Create
- The Artist’s Road
- Word Play
As one much interested in writing, I was curious about these competition-vetted bloggers and so decided to take a look at each through two separate lenses. First, as a reader, I had a series of questions about each blog:
- Is the information useful? That is, does this blogger tell me things I don’t know, insightful bits I can use as a writer myself?
- Is this blogger an entertaining read? Remember a decent selection of the greatest writers in the history of the world are sitting on my bookshelf, and these bloggers are in competition with the greats for my time. So you be better be amusing if you want to keep me reading.
- Is this blog likely to be habit-forming? Do I want to come back? Will I sign up for the feed? Will I bookmark it?
The second lens I used was what I could learn from these bloggers as a blogger. Al Gore’s immortal Reinventing Government Web site in 1995 described “benchmarking” as:
When organizations want to improve their performance, they benchmark. That is, they compare and measure their policies, practices, philosophies, and performance measures against those of high-performing organizations anywhere in the world.
That’s what I plan to do with the Write to Done Top 10. How will studying this blog improve 317am as a blog for aspiring writers?
Over the next couple of months here at 317am, I’ll break down the Top 10, one by one, through these two measures. First, I’ll be a reader who aspires to write fiction and then a blogger who benchmarks.