Ruining Your Writing by Cheap Blogging

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Ali recently gave us five reasons why blogging improves your writing, and I don’t disagree with any of them. What ruined my writing ability (temporarily, I hope) was not the chance to write regularly or to get instant feedback. So what ruined it?

Did I get worse the more I practiced? Can that even happen? Sports coaches and music teachers will tell you that it can – if you practice doing it wrong instead of doing it right. If you repeatedly practice bad habits, they will become ingrained habits. Email and instant messaging may have taught people how to type better, but I don’t think it’s teaching them to write better.

What ruined my writing ability was placing money and productivity higher than integrity and honor. I told myself, “This assignment pays half of what I need to earn per hour; therefore, I will only spend half an hour on it.” In retrospect, I realized that I was gaining income, but losing self-respect. I was quickly lowering my standards to meet my financial goals, but found that I couldn’t raise them back again so easily. In essence, I was training myself to write sloppily.

Disclaimer: Daily Writing Tips is a good example of a blog that attracts lovers of writing and pays them well. I’ve done some of my best work here. Perhaps I’ve done even better writing on my personal blog – for which I receive no money at all.

There is an economic aspect to writing professionally, of course, but I found that it also involves economics that are not monetary. The British economist E.F. Schumacher called this “meta-economics.” A job working with hazardous chemicals may earn you a higher salary, but may cost you in quality of life. Writing only for the money, even when my heart wasn’t in it, paid most of the bills. But meeting a word count without meeting my personal standards, in effect, lowered my personal standards. I almost forgot what they were.

I found out what had happened to me when I was offered a secure job in the marketing department at a local university. I took it and put my freelance writing career on hold. My freelance writing experience was one reason why I was hired. Yet when I began writing documentation for my new boss, he was unenthusiastic about using it. The problem wasn’t my style or grammar or punctuation. He only told me, “I’ve found that when you really understand something, you can explain it clearly.”

Professional blogging, for low pay and not for love, hadn’t taught me to explain things clearly. We expect bloggers to entertain us more than to inform us. When we expect them to inform us, we don’t expect complete information. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve found, however, that you advance by exceeding peoples’ expectations, not simply meeting them. And you won’t advance as a writer when you don’t meet your own expectations, especially when you tell yourself that you don’t need to.

To be fair, I was not a typical blogger. I was a professional blogger, trying to support my family and pay a mortgage in the US economy. When I complained mildly to one of my editors about my low pay scale, he wisely pointed out that my rate was typical for the industry. Even more wisely, he told me that most of my fellow writers were blogging because they loved their subject, not because they were depending on an extra few dollars to pay the mortgage.

The danger I’m warning against is not confined to the world of professional blogging. Everyone who writes for the money but doesn’t get much of it is tempted to cut corners. Writing keyword-rich SEO copy is perhaps even more dangerous for aspiring writers. At least blogs have to appeal to human beings. That isn’t a requirement for SEO copy.

Every time you tell yourself, “I can dash off this post; I don’t need to devote any time or thought to it,” you make it easier to do it the next time and the next time. It’s quite easy to lose your critical ear and lower your standards if you deliberately do it over and over.

You’re never writing only for others. You’re always writing for yourself too. You’re never dealing only with money. You’re also dealing with your ability and integrity. Your writing skills are like the assets of a bank account. You can add to your assets by doing your best work, all the time, and always raising the bar. You can lose assets as a writer when you don’t.

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10 thoughts on “Ruining Your Writing by Cheap Blogging”

  1. Very well sad. Thanks for sharing it with us so honestly. I believe every blogger experiences the same at some time. If you don’t meet your own expectations and live your values and focus on money instead, not only your writing, but your income will also suffer in the long term, because you can’t maintain that state for too long…

    It’s the best to always just follow your heart, and the money will take care of itself.

  2. So much to say.Is it wrong to blog for money? Is the goal that blogging shouldn’t strive to make money? No, but a mission, a goal is key. The mission has to drive your actions. Maybe as bloggers we need to decide what we’re all about first.

  3. Wow, this is a post that is worthy of printing and reading at least once per week. I started writing for a living three years ago. Initially I pored over low paid jobs because I cared what I put on the page. I tried to lower my standards for productivity but could not. I started turning away those jobs and charged what I was worth. I got fewer jobs but got paid more. As I watch the economy contract, yes I have been tempted to write SEO copy or articles. This post reminds me why I cannot. Thank you for your honesty and the word of caution to anyone who is self-employed. At the end of the day it is far better to have earned a little less but not have compromised on your own values and standards.

  4. Excellent post. I’m a paid blogger. You’re right, it isn’t worth much, and if I spend too much time on a post, I feel “cheated.” But, I do write what I know and love and like to write, and I don’t feel so cheated for that $5 payment. I wish I could get enough of them to pay some bills, but mostly it’s hobby money, a hundred or so a month, and that’s great but certainly not paying any bills!

  5. Thank you for your honesty and for unraveling, realistically, the difference between “Render unto Ceasar…” and “Follow your bliss.”
    I am definitely a blisser, and couldn’t find Ceasar even if I wanted to do so.


  6. Isn’t part of the problem is the reading level in countries like America, has dropped to 5th grade level? I wouldn’t necessarily call it “dumbing down” the writing. Rather, make it easier to scan and easily understood for regular readers.

    I’m also afraid this problem will only get worse. Blogging has now turned to micro-blogging (140 characters or less), and reduced even further to mere pictures (and photos) instead of words. More bite size. Requires less reading. The ultimate lazy blogging.

  7. Thanks for this, it may have saved me some heartache.

    Didn’t someone say “you are what you repeatedly do”? Certainly once you get into a habit it can be very hard to shift.

    That applies in every area. Even my tennis coach tells us to always take proper swings at the ball, even if it’s only practice, even if it’s only the warm up before our tennis leasson. Because what you get into the habit of doing is what you’ll automatically do when you’re playing for real.

  8. This article speaks my mind literally. Sometimes one tends to get tied within a framework, which starts hampering your thought process and kills the writing.

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