Always Be Composing

ImageYou started a blog, good for you. Now it is a year or two later, and you are running out of things to say to the Internet. Should you give it up? Not a chance.

Take a cue from the Alec Baldwin character in Glengary Glen Ross: Always Be Composing, ABC. That isn’t quite what he said, but it fits my message. In the movie, Baldwin’s acerbic speech is filled with cursing, abuse and venom in his attempt to get his lackluster group of real estate salesmen back on track. While the speech backfires, the message is on target.

I came to writing in my mid-20s, after a couple of jobs. This was also way after my college and graduate school education where I studiously avoided as many papers as I could by majoring in math.. I was fortunate enough to have a boss who did the equivalent of Baldwin’s motivational speech on me. But unlike the hapless salesmen in the movie, he actually took the time to mentor me. My boss nurtured my crappy drafts into semi-polished prose and through the process taught me how to write. I realized that I was good at it (writing, not creating crappy prose) and learned my ABCs: if you don’t write for a living, figure out a way you can incorporate regular writing into your workday.The more you write, the better you will be at it. Always be composing something.

I was thinking about this over the weekend when I happened upon an interesting public art project in my neighborhood. A poet had assembled a series of manual typewriters and invited passers-by to compose whatever they wished on them. Trying to pound out something made me realize how fortunate that we are today: those manuals took a lot of work to touch type on.

I also am so fortunate to be able to write professionally for the past 25 years and keep up my skills. And when young people ask me should they have a blog and keep posting, I try to encourage them to ABC.

Thinking ABC is a good maxim for a fading blogger. All of us run out of steam eventually, the trick is to find something to write about and keep ourselves stimulated.

Sometimes, you need to disrupt your regular workday for inspiration. Figure out what that is: attend oddball meetups, travel to a new place, chat online with friends you haven’t seen f2f in a long time, take up a hobby (does anyone even have hobbies anymore — I know I am dating myself) — just do something out of your ordinary routine. Inspiration lurks around every corner.

The other memorable moment in Baldwin’s speech is how he structures the prizes for his salesmen. First prize is a Cadillac. Second prize is a set of steak knives. There is no third prize: whoever comes in third is fired. Think of that when you are blogging to develop a particular niche and do it exclusively. There is only room for one blogger in a particular subject area. Have someone else in your niche? Your niche is too wide. You don’t want the steak knives. As I quoted car blogger Nick Saporito several years ago, “Have laser focus on your passion, find a niche that isn’t being filled, and keep at it.”

Does it matter that your blog is “only” seen by a few people? Not at all. Should you try to promote it using social media and email lists? Most certainly. But building your brand takes time. Should you move your blog to a bigger platform? Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn’t. But remember your ABCs.


2 thoughts on “Always Be Composing

  1. One of my readers writes: I’d argue that if there’s a niche you “really want” and someone is in it already (and they don’t have huge “mindshare” and recognition in it) that there’s no harm in plowing in – if the writer has a sincere desire and goal to “own” that niche. Make that other guy fight for that niche … plus having someone to go toe-to-toe with sharpens both and improves the niche itself. 🙂

  2. Always Be Composing Develops Every Future Great Habit. In just keeping laughable moments near our perimeter, quietly rendering sensory tomes, unknown valedictorians will xerox your zabaglione.

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