I started, really, out of a desire to educate. At the time we lived aboard in Annapolis, MD, and I caught a comment about liveaboards being similar to a homeless guy in a cardboard box parked on your lawn. And that reminded me of my original reticence to tell my new boss where and how I lived. At the same time, our local newspaper put out an invitation for community members to write lifestyle blogs for the paper. For my own protection against restrictive ordinances if nothing else, I thought it would be useful, in a town that billed itself as America's Sailing Capital, if people understood why someone would want to do this crazy thing of living on a sailboat and traveling, that we weren't all crazy dropouts and rebels and losers, but ordinary people with an extraordinary love of the sea. I wanted to share a tiny bit of this life with people who would otherwise never come close to it. I pitched the idea of the blog to the newspaper, which they accepted immediately, and Life Afloat was born.
I'm no longer in Annapolis, so no longer writing about Annapolis issues for the Annapolis paper, but I transitioned the articles I wrote for newspaper blog to my own site. In addition to helping me hone my writing skills, I've found that blogging has made our life afloat richer with the connections we've made. I've made some awesome friends through reading other cruisers' blogs; some of these have transitioned to friendships in the physical world as we've shared anchorages,or in one case I met some interesting people online only to discover that our boats were in the same marina! Other online friends are people we haven't met IRL (yet!! We've got plans to meet blog friend Ellen (The Cynical Sailor and his Salty Sidekick) later this month. She, and I, along with fellow boat-bloggers S.V. Cambria and The Larks of the Independence, are participating in this year's A to Z Challenge.)
I've had lots of opportunities for perks or sponsorships (getting free or reduced-cost items in exchange for reviews), everything from boat-related products, anchors, swimsuits, restaurants that are near to or pick you up from marinas, guidebooks, the list is endless. The blog has also been a steppingstone to other things because of the visibility; I’ve been invited to co-author a book and have gotten paid speaking engagements through people I met via blogging. And another funny small-world-type current example: one of those paid speaking engagements was a seminar on blogging for Cruiser's University (part of the Annapolis Sailboat Show.) I was chatting with friends Lisa and Alex here in St Augustine and it evolved through our conversation that she'd been in my class some years ago! (Her blog Tiki Trek is inactive now because they aren't cruising right now.)
My blog is also something of a journal record of our trips; and I can see how we've changed when I look back on my early writings. Of course there's also the practical matter of keeping family and friends up to date and not worried; yikes, my dentist and my insurance agent both read my blog too. Finally, blogging can help prepare you for senility. I'll get together with a friend for lunch when we are in the same town, and start to tell a story, and he/she will say, "Oh, you told that one already! I read it in your blog!"
Some how-to tips; some of these are boat-blog specific but they're mostly applicable to any blog:
- Use your own voice. Write the way you speak -- casual, informal, fresh.
- Figure out who your audience is: other boaters, your family, general public, and let that direct your content and context. Cruising is extraordinary and that most of the people who find your blog won’t ever get to experience it.
- Avoid making your posts into a trip log. Wind speed and direction, which sails you set or doused, or what you had for breakfast is only interesting if it’s part of a larger story you’re telling. People don't want to read what happened as much as they want to read about how you felt about what happened. Don't let your blog become a chronicle of "what we did." Next thing you know, you will be blogging that today I went to the mall, and walked the dog -- bor-ing! It's all too easy, especially with sailing/travel blogs, to fall into the trap about writing about the chronology of the trip, but what is really interesting is the stories, the people, along the way.
- Get to the point or focus quickly so people know where you're going. Although sometimes there are long stories to tell, and that’s okay, in general brevity is key.
- Pictures! Use photos whenever you can; in fact sometimes you may only have some photos and no words other than photo captions. Try to get at least one photo with each post. Note: this point is do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do, as this post is pictureless! I'm generally not a very good photographer, and often struggle to find the right image to focus my piece.
- Take the time to respond to reader comments. If there are too many to reply to, acknowledge in a post that you read them all and that you appreciate people taking the time to share their thoughts.
- Think links. You can send readers to a relevant article, to another post, or to more information about a topic. This could be a process similar to a footnote, offering more info without interrupting the flow of your main point. It also solves copyright issues: don't copy and paste something from another author into your own blog, just send readers to the source.
- Reach out to other bloggers, it’s a lovely way to create community and make friends before you find them in an anchorage somewhere.
- Don’t let posting to your blog become a chore. Do it when you’re inspired and leave it alone when you’re not in the mood or too busy. The last thing you want is to be chained to a glowing screen while anchored in paradise.
- At the same time, it’s much easier if you post regularly. Waiting too long between posts becomes daunting because you have so much “catching up” do to.
- Safety and security: If your blog is public, be discreet about giving details. (Common sense: Don’t post, “We are leaving our lovely boat sitting at anchor unattended while we go ashore to explore for a few days; sure hope she’s okay.” Save that story for after you get back.)
- If you really want to practice your writing style, two books I found great: Roy Peter Clark, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer," or Paul Spencer Sochaczewski "Share Your Journey: Mastering Personal Writing: The (Surprisingly Easy) Techniques Professional Writers Use to Write Personal Memoirs and Travel Stories That Connect with Editors and Readers."