June 12

Are blogs better than books?

    In school, especially during our undergraduate years and beyond, we’re immersed in what’s called “long-form writing.” Our professors and mentors assign readings from books, which rely on a similar structure: outline a primary thesis argument and provide logical points that, step-by-step, lead to the conclusion that the author’s thesis argument is correct, or at least plausible.

    We’ve gotten used to the idea that an author will pick a pretty large argument and just sort of write and write until he feels like he’s proven his point. And we don’t mind putting up with it. Oh, sure, the more rebellious reader may jot down vicious notes in the margins of the book (“What an outrageous assumption!”), but, really long-form writing gives the author a soap box to preach from until he’s proven his point, in his mind.

    How is writing a blog different than writing a book?

    But a blog, well, a blog is entirely different. As a blogger, you can publish a short post (500-1,500 words) about a very small snippet of an argument. You can test out an idea, a hunch, a thought that’s really just beginning. You don’t have to prove anything, just send it out into the blogosphere.

    And the best part? Readers can comment. The primary reason to have a blog about your writing and research is to build a community, a readership that’s also interested in your topic. You hope that a helpful reader will pose a thought-provoking question or point out a resource to you that you hadn’t noticed before. You can revise and reform your ideas, based on others' input.

    Building up blog content

    When you write consistently on a topic for a long period of time, you’ll find that your ideas have grown, changed, and collected over time. A blog allows you to slowly emerge in your expertise. After a year of posting weekly, you could easily have 50,000 words on a topic, or a variety of related topics, and when you go back to read through your posts, you’ll see the development of your own thought process.

    If it’s published as a blog, can I published it in an article or book?

    Yes, absolutely! In fact, it’s becoming a common model to blog your way to a book. I wouldn’t say that you should just copy and paste blog posts into a book and call it good (although, certainly, people are doing that and making money).

    I would say that your blog posts can provide drafts of chapters or parts of chapters. Most people find it really daunting to sit down and say, “Okay, now I’m going to write a chapter in my book.” Instead, blogging and even social media posts can provide avenues for you to build on your material incrementally so that you’re making progress in small steps.

    Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, describes how blogs and social media posts were involved in writing his book:

    “…[W]e can adopt a method of ‘minimal viable progress.’ We can ask ourselves, ‘What is the smallest amount of progress that will be useful and valuable to the essential task we’re trying to get done?’ I used this practice in writing this book. For example, when I was still in the exploratory mode of the book, before I’d even begun to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I would share a short idea (my minimal viable product) on Twitter. If it seemed to resonate with people there, I would write a blog piece on Harvard Business Review. Through this iterative process, which required very little effort, I was able to find where there seemed to be a connection between what I was thinking and what seemed to have the highest relevancy in other people’s lives.”

    Okay, not everyone gets to publish their blog posts in the Harvard Business Review, but we all have to start somewhere, right? I suggest blogging your way to a book, even if it’s only on your own wordpress.com blog at first. You never know where it might lead.

    Umm, so, are blogs better than books?

    Yeah, I went very quickly from, “Blogs are better than books!” to “Blog your way to a book!” didn’t I? Let's back up and talk about the difference in the author’s mindset and the availability of reader feedback in both situations.

    When an author sits down to write a book, she’s essentially thinking, “I’m either an expert on this topic or I intend to be an expert by the time this book is finished.” When a blogger sits down to draft a blog post, he’s more likely thinking, “I have some idea that is beginning to form, and I think I’ll go ahead and send a draft out to the public.” Over time, the blogger becomes more and more sure of his expertise and structure, before even really sitting down to write a book.

    The other critical difference is the reader feedback. Most books have very limited feedback from readers before going public. The editor, publishing house, and maybe some colleagues and family have provided input on drafts along the way, and I’m sure their influence is vital, but it’s limited. Most blogs have many readers who may comment throughout the writing process and provide a variety of sounding boards to the blogger.

    Blogs are entirely changing the way we approach books, and I say for the better.

    But does a blog really need to become a book?

    I'll admit, I do think readers still find comfort in the long form of a book. (I'm one of them.) We like to watch an author present and dissect an argument over several tens of thousands of words. So, I do think this model of blogging to a book will be around for a while.

    But, honestly, I also think the future of reading is changing. The next generation will be much more comfortable picking up strands of arguments from several sources and weaving them together on their own. They’ll be more interested in interacting with the author (blogger) and pushing back on the author’s reasoning than reading 80,000 words of uninterrupted reasoning.

    In short, for the immediate future, blogs are providing a highly interactive way for authors to interact with the readers as they write a book, but further on down the road, I wouldn’t be surprised if many blogs have vast quantities of highly respected posts that are never published in long form at all.

    How can I know whether I’m ready to start a blog?

    If you’re interested in any topic and if you want to share what you’re learning, then you, friend, are ready to start a blog. The wonderful thing about a blog is that you can simply write about what you’re learning as you’re learning it.

    A year or two into a blog, and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve learned about your topic, how much your thoughts have coalesced because you’ve written regular blog posts, and how much feedback you’ve received from others interested in your topic.

    So, when’s the best time to start a blog?

    10 years ago.

    When’s the second best time to start a blog?


    It’s super easy. Go to wordpress.com, sign up for a free account, and just start writing!

    What about you?

    What do you think of blogging to a book? Do you have a blog? Do you have ambitions of writing a book? Or experience blogging your way to a book? Leave a comment below!


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