Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Why I blog and why you should too

The toughest part of blogging is keeping up the urge to blog seven days a week. This post, inspired by Orwell, started out  as my quest to find out why I  blog, but it kinda evolved into an outline on why you should too.

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Trust me on this one: blogging’s tough to keep up with, there’s no clear end game but it’s totally worth it!

So blogging newbies, if you’re expecting a quick return on investment with your new hobby I’d say, don’t even start. You are likely to shed your blogging interest much like a New Year’s resolution:

“Avocational” bloggers are likely to drop off simply because it’s hard work to keep up the pace. Writing an insightful 700 word article several times a week, for no or little money, is far more taxing than snapping a photo or sending a 140 character tweet. That’s part of the reason a 2010 Pew study showed that the rate of blogging was declining among teens and young adults, who were instead spending their time on social networks.

But if you’re willing to stick with it, read on. Here’s why blogging matters to every single one of us (yes, every one reading this post):

1. Blogging gives you a voice

Blogs traffic in ideas and as a professional if you’ve ideas other than what your boss demands of you in a daily job, than a blog is the best way to share it widely. Quora or LinkedIn or Twitter sure help, but you’re playing in somebody else’s playground. I say build a blog yourself and it’s all you. You own your words, your ideas.

Get creative. You’re gonna feel the urge to do that someday soon. @dorieclark summed it best:

Writing is still the clearest and most definitive medium for demonstrating expertise on the web. But as thought leaders like Gary Vaynerchuk have shown with video blogging and fellow HBR blogger Mitch Joel with podcasting (i.e., audio blogging), as long as your content is rich and thoughtful, you can still build up a massive following and reputation regardless of your channel. In an information-hungry world, there will always be a need for expert content. And there will always be more readers and “retweeters” than there will be creators.

2. Use that voice with purpose

If you want to have an impact, you might as well be the one setting the agenda by leading with your ideas to influence the world. Reminded me (yes, I think of most things in life as a Steve Jobs quote) of something Steve Jobs said:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is to live your life inside this world; try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life.

Life can be much broader. Once you discover one simple fact and that is everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.

You can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

This thinking echoes one of Orwell’s motives for writing:

Political purpose: Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.

And, I think any good blog or book has a serious purpose. The rest of them blogs are boring as hell; kinda like some of the older posts I wrote in Act II of writing this blog. A mistake I don’t plan on making again.

3. Blogging sharpens your mind 

Nothing clarifies the mind better than the concerted effort to write a blog post. I learned this from @adamnash who, besides being a prolific blogger himself, also used to be a strong advocate of product managers on his team writing posts for the company blog as an exercise in thinking through product features from a user’s perspective.

What’s true for product managers is true for any professional across the board. Much like the iPhone’s limited mobile real estate forces designers to surface the most important features efficiently, a blank page on a blog forces you to channel your ideas on topics that mean something to your career.

Open an empty word document and try writing down the first thing that comes to mind about your “job” today.

Try it, it’s a liberating act.

4. Blogging helps you connect the dots

Facebook may connect you with people you already know, but knowledge networks like Twitter or Quora connect you with people you gotta know. A blog is the epitome of this dynamic.

I’m still good friends with the first group of bloggers I stumbled upon when I started this blog. Folks like Ann Handley, Jeremiah Owyang or Mack Collier among others. As time progresses, your thinking evolves, you focus on areas your mind leads you to (in my case – social networking) and you find other equally insightful bloggers to friend.

Fact is: blogging expands your circle of professional connections but more importantly guides you towards people who are more in line with your professional thinking.

So have I made a persuasive case for blogging? Frankly, this post is more a personal rallying cry to help me sustain my blogging, but rest assured blogging changed my life once and I’m betting on it doing the same again.

As Steve Jobs said:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.

So blog. Do it if you really love what you do. Heck, do it if you don’t love what you currently do.

And the dots will eventually connect.

Filed under: Best-of, Thoughts, Writing,

Find your Inner Blog.

“Don’t censor yourself. Don’t go along with the crowd. Don’t be greedy. Don’t be cheap.

Young as you are, play dead — so that your eyes will stay open.” – Nadine Gordimer

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Thus ends Jeffrey Eugenides’ advice to 10 Whiting Award winners this past year. Words that resonate strongly with me during this holiday season for one reason: it’s a swift kick-in-the-pants I need to get me back to writing.

But, more importantly, it’s a welcome thought reminding me of the real reason I started this blog: to find my passion, and to find my inner voice. Words that give me hope that it may not be too late to revive my writing after all.

Other points of wisdom in the article that bestirred my writer’s conscience:

1. “A serious person should try to write posthumously”

That was Nadine Gordimer to Christopher Hitchens. Mortality’s a theme revisited by many artists because “almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Or as Hitchens put it:

“By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints — of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion — did not operate.”

Either way, it can be a most liberating thought. And one that frees up a creative block and forces you to think straight – for the long term.

2. Write with purpose, find your calling

For a while there, I halted my blogging coming up with a flimsy excuse that I needed to find an audience before I shared my words. Every day was an excuse to skip putting my words down on WordPress, while I evaded the hard work of capturing those fleeting thoughts.

I still recall the first time my blog got recognized with a spike in traffic (hat tip to Jason Calacanis). It was one of those magical moments where my passion met an audience. It can’t be planned, it can’t be faked.

You write your first stuff pretty much for yourself, not thinking anybody will read, much less publish, it, not thinking it’ll earn money, therefore not worrying about pleasing anyone or falling in line with any agenda; not worrying about censoring yourself, either, because who’s going to see it? And, miraculously, it worked out.

But once you find the audience, your mind starts working in reverse trying to please that audience, grow that audience, so you repeat yourself with popular “Top 10″ posts, etc. And over time all you’re left with is drivel.

You might begin to forget the person you are in order to write and sound like someone else. Alternately, you might be tempted to repeat yourself. To follow the fashion of your own previous work, to stop exploring, learning and trying new things, for risk of failure.

If you try to write posthumously, however, fashion doesn’t apply.

As far as a blog is concerned all that’s within my control is to write with honesty and try to share that with a few good people who may appreciate it.

As Kurt Woolf, Kafka’s first publisher in Germany, wrote to him after Kafka’s book tanked, “You and we know that it is generally just the best and most valuable things that do not find their echo immediately.”

Fashion is the attempt to evade that principle: to be the echo of someone else’s success and, therefore, to create nothing that might create an echo of its own.

3. Remember when and why it all started

The fuel to keep going is simple yet elusive. My favorite passage in the entire article is Eugenides reminding the writers of why they started writing.

“When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn’t out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you’re receiving tonight.

It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive.

Remember? You were fifteen and standing beside a river in wintertime. Ice floes drifted slowly downstream. Your nose was running. Your wool hat smelled like a wet dog. Your dog, panting by your side, smelled like your hat. It was hard to distinguish.

As you stood there, watching the river, an imperative communicated itself to you. You were being told to pay attention. You, the designated witness, special little teen-age omniscient you, wearing tennis shoes out in the snow, against your mother’s orders. Just then the sun came out from behind the clouds, revealing that every twig on every tree was encased in ice. The entire world a crystal chandelier that might shatter if you made a sound, so you didn’t. Even your dog knew to keep quiet.

And the beauty of the world at that moment, the majestic advance of ice in the river, so like the progress of the thoughts inside your head, overwhelmed you, filling you with one desire and one desire only, which was to go home immediately and write about it.”

That’s it. Every blog post I’ve written that was ever worth reading was a response to that overwhelming desire to describe…

“The majestic advance of ice in the river.”

And somewhere along the way, somewhere in 2012, I completely lost that wonder. Circumstances and stress may have had something to do with it but I’m sure there will always be opportunities for stress. I feel like it’s about time I once again started reacting to the magic around me.

And over time, I bet, the rest will add up too.

The magic will happen. The dots will connect.

As a wise soul once reminded us:

“Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Thoughts

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