Thursday, February 17, 2011

Okay, some actual practical advice on soccer blogging*

Wow, did yesterday's post ever open a vein. Response was enthusiastic, although there was some notable dissent from my perspective on how to be a successful soccer writer on the web. The first criticism was I didn't define "success" in soccer blogging. The second was that I offered no "practical advice," and third, I seemed to be implying that making a living from writing isn't as important as caring about what you write (I should also say I didn't mean to rap any knuckles over the use of social media; I've been guilty of spamming this blog on twitter more than once). So to answer these criticisms, here is AMSL's definitive guide on how to be a successful soccer blogger.

What defines success in soccer blogging?
Before diving in and starting your own soccer blog, the first question you might sensibly ask yourself is why? If you love the game and have some unique perspectives on it, or if you love sportswriting, or you want to connect with other soccer-lovers, that's fine. If you want to make a bit of money on the side from a fun hobby, that's fine too. If you want to eventually get noticed by a newspaper or a magazine and be given a full-time salary and press credentials to go to FIFA World Cup games, finally achieving your dream of becoming a professional sportswriter, well, that's okay, but there's a quicker, if more laborious process to get that.

It's called freelance writing.

With freelancing, the sweet payoff of seeing your words in print comes a lot later as there's no "publish post" button to press, just editors to harass. You also have to work very hard at the start to "get clippings." But by sticking with it, you get paid real money, and ultimately will open more doors for you in freelancing if you're a talented writer. Defining "success" in freelancing is therefore very easy; if you're making money, you're successful.

Soccer blogging might get you real money some day, but it takes far, far more luck, perseverance, and a hell of a lot of writing for free, not to mention the vain hope the publishing industry will suddenly leap to the internet for salvation. This is the same reality lived by even the most talented soccer bloggers out there. So if getting swallowed up by a print pub or getting showered with living-wage-sized cash isn't a realistic goal, what is the soccer blogger's yardstick of success?

That's up to you, but my advice is to view any and all "success" as a pleasant side effect of doing the work. Those side effects might include getting reader comments, feeling really good about something you wrote, getting solicited for paid work, getting to write for magazines and newspapers and all the rest, and money. But while those things are important, they shouldn't ever interfere with your writing. That comes first, the rest is all secondary. I find if you stick to that outlook, some measure of what we conventionally define as "success" will naturally follow. So how do you be the best soccer writer you can be? To paraphrase Stephen King,

Write everyday, read everyday, watch a lot of soccer
That's it. All success in soccer blogging derives from these three rules. Any "practical advice" I could give you, like whether to choose Wordpress over blogger, whether to host your own site or buy your own domain, whether to use a blogging template or learn CSS and HTML to make your own, whether to write about MLS or Serie A, whatever, will be determined by practicing these rules, even if its with a paper and pen to start (if you really want to get going, just use Blogger for now. You can switch later). You will figure it out as you go along.

The fact is, soccer writing isn't a talent, if we take "talent" to mean some sort of in-grown facility for stringing words together or playing the piano or landing a 747.

You may have heard of the "10 000 hour rule," which basically is one of those non-rule rules that Malcolm Gladwell likes because it explains away our preconceived notions about how the world works with a mundane snap of the finger. Anyway, you can google it if you want, but the idea is behind it is that exceptional talent is merely the result of many, many hours of focused, hard work. Ten thousand hours of work, to be exact. And not just half-arsed work either. Focused, deliberate, work.

The good news with soccer blogging is that the work is fun. I love writing. I love reading. And like all of you, I adore watching football. If that describes you, jump in.

The bad news is that it will take a long time to see any measure of progress. Success and longevity go hand in hand, but remember, success is still a side effect of doing the work.  If you're worried about figuring out your style, what you want to write about, if you want to do a team blog or a generalist blog or a niche blog, whether you want to do more op-ed type stuff or do interviews, whether you want to include a podcast, etc., time will take care of all that. The most important thing is that you're writing and writing right this very minute. You don't need to do it for three hours every day either, but you do need to do it every, single, day.

As for reading, notice I didn't write "read things about soccer everyday," although you should definitely pack your RSS feeds with soccer blogs you like, soccer columnists you like, etc. Any and all reading, the more diverse the better, is good for you. It makes you a better writer even before you've sat down at a keyboard. Read everything; WSC, the Sun, the New Yorker, the fiction of Henry James, it doesn't matter. Just try and read something everyday not directly soccer-related. The only book I think you absolutely HAVE to read as a soccer blogger is Strunk and White's Elements of Style, but I'm conservative that way.

And as for watching soccer, well, that's the easy bit.

There you have it. Don't blog if you want money and success tomorrow. Blog if you want them in five years, maybe. But remember the trick: do the work first. That's your job. To sit there.

*sort of, not really.

Photo: bionicteaching.


Elliott said...

You forget to blog about soccer blogging. Duh!

Caleb Cousens said...

Richard your last two pieces have been really helpful. Especially your reminders about building and contributing to a community as the main focus. That is definitely why I started but I can get lost in the tracking site views and whoring my posts on social media. Back to the root of it all. Thank you sir!

farlieonfootie said...

Richard: Thanks so much for your article. It gave me the strength to keep on bloggin'. Your tips are helpful, and your thoughts constructive. I love to read -- fiction, non fiction, whatever -- and love to write. But most of all I love the game the world calls football. It's that passion that inspired me to begin with, and your column gave me all the validation I need to continue, at a time when I find myself questuioning why I'm doing it.... Thanks!

Russell said...

The point about enjoying what you do is well made.

A well written post can still bring pleasure to the writer even if the only comment is from somebody telling you where you can buy cheap shoes online.

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Gaz Hunt said...

I have really enjoyed reading these two articles and would love to see some more in the future.

I write because I like to write. I write about association football because I spend most of my free-time watching or reading about it. Though it would be nice, I don't expect to earn money from it.

I agree with the general idea but I think a pinch of realism has to be presented here.

Isn't increasing readership (not, as it often is confused with, generating money) still an important part of being involved in the community and also keeping you loving what you do?