Chavignol Sancerre Thomas-Labaille 2006 "Les Monts Damnés"
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Learning how to Blog: a few year-end reflections on two years of blogging

Although I started this blog about two years ago, it's really only in the past year that I've felt I've found my voice.  The major benefit of blogging, for me, is that I get a chance to clarify my own thoughts on issues I'm mulling over, and hear from other people interested enough (and generous enough with their time) to comment.  I come away from my first two years of experience profoundly grateful that so many people I respect have taken the time to read my thoughts.

I'm sure that blogging came more naturally to some other people than it did to me.  I'm not a writer by trade, so I'm learning as I go along.  I don't spend as much time writing as I'd like, given my responsibilities managing Tablas Creek, not to mention juggling a four-month-old and a toddler.  But, the largest hurdle has been that writing for a blog is not like writing copy for a Web site, and not like writing for a brochure or a newsletter.  I've had to learn how to write again.

Now that the Tablas Creek blog is two years old, I find myself starting to get asked, more and more, how to do it.  There isn't any one answer.  But, it occurs to me that it might be helpful for others considering a similar undertaking to put down some of my conclusions about what makes a blog work.

  1. Have a voice.  This seems obvious, but it's actually been the most difficult thing for me.  I'm accustomed, in my experience as a business and technical writer, to writing impersonally: the information is the key, and the person writing the information is supposed to be invisible.  In a blog environment, you connect to the person writing the articles, and if you're not making it clear who you are in what you write, you're likely to miss engaging with your audience.
  2. Write in first person.  See the above point.  If you're writing in passive voice, or in abstract terms, you're not going to be able to inject your personality into the writing.
  3. Write about what you're worried about.  In a blog environment, the core of writing something interesting is picking a topic that can arouse emotions.  In general, the pieces that I've found most fulfilling to write (and which have received the most comments, a sure sign that they've engaged their readers) are the things that are keeping me up at night, like my frustrations over organic labeling requirements or my reaction to a writer calling all Tablas Creek's wines "conspicuously expensive".
  4. Answer the questions you get asked all the time.  I see lots of people, in the trade and outside it, at the winery and at events we do around the country.  There are questions that I hear again and again, and these indicate either that some larger debate is going on (and so people are hearing conflicting answers) or that an issue is so inherently confusing that it's hard for people to know what to think.  I tend to have opinions on controversial topics, so debates like these have been the genesis of some of my better pieces.  A couple of examples would be the debate between cork and screwcap, or the question of the future of AVAs under the TTB's proposed new rules.
  5. Write for other writers.  Many observers on the world of wine have been surprised that blogs, for all their proliferation, still haven't touched that many consumers directly.  Sure, I know that we have consumers following the Tablas blog (thank you!) but the more significant audience has been other writers.  Writers, whether other bloggers or more traditional writers with columns in magazines or newspapers, are the audience most likely to care that you're formulating coherent thoughts on controversial subjects.  The ability to build credibility with other writers (and develop an ongoing relationship with them) has been a wonderful and unexpected benefit of blogging.
  6. Read and comment on other wine blogs.  There are lots of reasons to get involved in the wine blogging community.  First, there's lots of great information and even more interesting ideas out there.  Second, being committed enough to follow what other writers are writing gives them incentive to do the same with you.  And finally, each time you comment, a blog links back to your own blog, which helps you enormously in establishing your own search engine rankings.
  7. Lead with a hook.  I remember a political science class in college where we were asked to write, rather than a standard research essay, a newspaper editorial.  You think differently when you're writing editorial copy.  You're more concise.  You take a position.  And you begin with your strongest, most thought-provoking conclusion (rather than burying it at the end after you've presented lots of supporting evidence).  Blogging, with its first-person perspective, its assumption of a mobile readership, and its title- and summary-driven aggregators, has a lot in common with editorial writing.

So, thank you to all the bloggers out there who've helped light the way.  I'll be mentioning some of the blogs that I have found the most inspiring (for various reasons) in a piece early in 2008 [Ed note 3/9/08: This post is now live; click here].  And most of all, thank you to all the readers who've stuck with me through these first two years.