Blogging for yourself vs. blogging for an audience
Obviously, this course is about making money from travel writing. Hence the advice in Chapter 4: “A great travel blog centers on the telling details of a place, people, or journey and shows the ways in which they are universally relevant.”
Here’s my question: Do you have to show how your experience is universally relevant? Or can you just write a story about something that happened to you on the road? Does your travel blog have to of “use” or “relevance” to the general population in order to cultivate a readership?
In essence, can you make money writing for yourself and not your readers?
This is a great question Hal. I’ll try to elucidate.
Part of Matador’s vision has always been to publish and promote work which we felt was ‘universally relevant.’
So what does this mean?
As an editor, when I’m reading submissions, I’m looking for stories in which the author has essentially ‘broken through’ toying with different styles and has found his or her original voice. Someone like Tom Gates comes to mind immediately.
When a writer is truly coming from his or her original voice then by default their work–regardless of what it’s about and where it takes place–will be universally relevant. He or she don’t need to show “how” an experience is relevant. Their experience simply ‘is’ relevant by virtue of its honest portrayal.
Take this story, Benares, for example. On one hand I would argue that this is essentially a story you described above as “something that happened to you on the road.” Robert wrote this very personally–just for himself. When submitting this to me he mentioned that this particular story “meant a lot to him”
And yet because of the original voice, the honesty, it became–at least in my opinion–universally relevant.
Does that make sense?
I think naturally it needs to be relevant to the general population to get a readership base, otherwise you’re just going to have friends and family interested in your blog (if that). Unless someone can take something away from any post you write, why would they bother reading? They have no connection to you. It’s about making that connection to your readers.
I mean, check out the My Husband Is Annoying blog (http://myhusbandisannoying.com/). She started this as a joke (with the blessing of her husband) and it’s huge now. She’s been featured on CBS Morning Show and I heard about it because they were on a morning show here in Melbourne. She obviously made that connection with a lot of people.
This is a really interesting question. I think finding one’s original voice, as David says, is important, but at the same time I think being too obsessed with that voice or with one’s own experiences can be pretty off-putting for a reader. I look at travel blogs whenever I move to or travel through a new country, and I’m immediately turned off by the ones that seemed to be centered around constant “I’s.” I did this, I went there, I thought this, I realized this. In this case the “I” is so dominant that the experience ceases to be interesting for a reader.
I think a piece becomes universally relevant when the author expresses some sort of feeling or experience or emotion that readers can relate to empathetically or directly in a really powerful way. Annie Dillard’s An Amazing Childhood does this in an incredible way.
I think the answer (or one of the answers) to this question also depends entirely on context.
Universal relevance on The Traveler’s Notebook (a blog that’s part narrative, part pragmatic tips for writing/photography/videography) is going to have different nuances than universal relevance for other blogs on the Matador Network. And universal relevance as it relates to a personal blog is another story entirely.
When I’m looking at a narrative, I’m not thinking about universal relevance in the sense of “Can everyone relate to the event being told in this story?” Instead, what I’m looking at is the feeling, experience, or process through which the author travels to arrive at a certain insight– can the reader relate to that process (or, in reading about it, yearn to have a similar process/experience)?
Universality also–as Sarah alludes–involves some serious narrative skill beyond “I’m going to tell you what I did on my summer vacation.” Do you want to just rattle on about your own experience, or do you want to bring the reader into that experience and share it with him or her so that he/she gets as close to that place and moment as possible without having been there?
Gotta add that for a lot of people (though not everyone), humor makes a piece. I can handle a lot of “I” when they make it funny. I think laughter is a connector.
Same thing goes for sadness or pain. It is the people that merely state, “I did this” or “I did that” that are, well, boring.