Why do we do it?
Some weeks ago now, at the METM14 meeting in El Escorial, I went to dinner with a group of bloggers and would-be bloggers. This blog being a relatively new one, still only a few months old, I went with the intention of learning, but I quickly realised I only half the people attending were actual bloggers and that I was going to find myself answering, rather than asking questions most of the time, although it was also interesting listening to what the experienced Emma Goldsmith and Rob Lunn had to say. The rather unexpected situation I found myself in meant I had to take a good, hard and very rapid look at exactly how and why I decided to write this blog in order to sound as if I knew what I was talking about, and it occurred to me that it would also be worth setting down some of those thoughts here.
That idea was reinforced last week, when one of my comments on a colleague’s blog pulled me into an online battle between warring translators; when I was asked for advice about another colleague’s blog title, and when I was also asked if I would publish someone else’s material on my own blog. In a matter of months, the world of blogging seems to have become quite an important part of my life and working out how that happened seems like a useful exercise.
Only Human Translators really came about because I decided to get my own website, a project that really got going at the beginning of this year. In fact, if you want to explore it all you need to do is click on my logo in the top left-hand corner. I was always determined to include a blog here, although, having never blogged before, I’m not quite sure why. But having had the space created I was determined not to let it go to waste. At very least, I had read, if you keep updating your website with a blog it appears more dynamic and is more likely to appear in Internet searches. The original motivation was as vague as that.
In fact, before I started writing, I read a great deal about blogs and blogging – almost enough to put me off ever starting. There was so much conflicting advice out there. Write a blog for SEO. Be useful. Be informative. Be original. Blog regularly. Write in your own language. Write in your customers’ language(s). Don’t write a blog if you can’t do any or all of the above. Don’t write a blog at all. In the end, I decided to ignore almost all of those well-intentioned tips. I resolved to write exactly what I wanted to write, when I wanted to do it, just because I could. And that’s what I’ve done ever since, although I’ve fallen into a rhythm of posting once a week, usually on Tuesdays.
There are blogs I admire a great deal which collate all kinds of useful information. There are blogs that give very interesting direct advice about what we should and should not do as freelance translators. Neither of those things is my style. I don’t have time and am not meticulous enough to provide the first kind of blog and I don’t feel qualified to write the second. But, as I thought about it, I realised I did have all kinds of experiences that might interest people and just might give them with something to think about. It didn’t matter whether I was setting an example: the thoughts I provoked might just as easily be that I’d got things wrong as that I’d been right. That would be for the reader to decide.
I tried to signal the human touch in the blog title, while at the same time having a gentle dig at machine translation. That’s how the Only Human Translators style developed, and is still developing. I talk, usually, about something that’s happened to me. Although sometimes I spell out the conclusions I’ve drawn from that experience, often I leave them to the reader. As a former journalist I ought at least know how to write, and I try to make things as clear and straightforward as I can. Above all, I try not to preach or patronise. And, in a modest way, it seems that some people are starting to like my contributions to the crowded world of translation blogs, which makes me proud and grateful.
It’s not about being the best or the cleverest or the most knowledgeable. The freedom of the Internet is all about saying what you want to say, in the way you want to say it, and putting it out there. At the blogging dinner, a non- or would-be blogger told me she felt uncomfortable with the self-promotional aspects of blogging and then flagging posts up on social media so that people would read them. And I could see what she was getting at. Of course there’s an element of ego involved; it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. There are even would-be gurus out there who are keen to collect disciples or acolytes or sycophants on their blog pages or on Facebook or Twitter. I can say in all sincerity that I have no ambitions in that direction. I enjoy comments. I’m even happier if people tell me they’ve liked something I’ve written or if it’s helped them with a problem they’ve been wrestling with. But if no-one says anything I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. Saying what I want to say without having to answer to anyone, in a way I never could as a journalist answerable to an editor and a newspaper’s line, is its own satisfaction.
How much time does blogging take up? In my case, as I’m writing off the top of my head, without the need to provide the rigorous documentation and extensive links that some bloggers so usefully and thoughtfully provide, I can do it quite quickly. I have been known to get a post more than three-quarters written during one television advert break (I should point out for those who don’t live in Spain that advert breaks here are among the longest in Europe). If my wife is watching a TV programme I can’t stand, that provides another opportunity. I can sit companionably on the sofa beside her with my laptop shaping my weekly post while she enjoys whatever it may be.
There are still blogging challenges ahead. I have a multilingual website and that means I have a multilingual blog. But I feel most comfortable writing in English and, at the moment, I’m rather neglecting the sections in Catalan, Spanish and French. Some time ago, it occurred to me that they offered me an opportunity. My writing in English is aimed mostly at translators, and that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future, but I could use the blog in other languages to post with my customers in mind. What I would like to do, and have started doing in a modest way, is to post interesting items that I come across on the Internet in the hope that customers and prospective customers might find them interesting. Unfortunately, doing that properly requires more time than I have available at the moment. It’s a problem I hope to resolve one way or another the New Year. It may mean devoting more time to my blog and less to something else; it may mean cutting back on these posts in English; I may find myself rejecting the idea as simply not worth the investment I would need to make in it, I don’t yet know.
Another very good question raised at the dinner was: what kind of blog should a new blogger write? And thinking about that for a few minutes led me to the only real piece of advice I would give a new blogger. And that advice is: it simply doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re original or innovative or clever or informative. Of course it’s good if you can be at least one of those things, but what really matters is that you don’t just do it for the SEO or because someone told you to or because everyone else is doing it. Because the great thing about a blog – the only thing that’s really worthwhile about it – is that it doesn’t belong to your website designer or your social media adviser or to anyone else. It’s YOURS! So if you blog, do it because you want to, and do it your way. Only if you do that, will you produce something no-one else will ever be capable of.
Great advice, Simon, and I wholeheartedly agree. Forget everything everyone says about blogging and do exactly what you want to do, be that writing a lot, hardly at all or forgetting about the blog idea altogether. I like your blog precisely because your personality shines through and you can tell you write from the heart. But I’m still annoyed that I missed out on a place at that blogging dinner!
Thanks, Nikki. Yes, it’s a shame you missed the dinner. It was fun and I’m sure your advice would have been appreciated.
Great article Simon! Let me just say that for someone who has been doing it for a few months you’ve been quite productive 🙂 And I agree with you that blogging is about writing from the heart and about things that matter to you. It is great to have a good SEO, but having great content and your own opinion about the industry and personality is the only thing that matters and valued the most among your readers. Good luck with your blog!
Thanks for your kind words, Dmitry. Keeping up my blog productivity in one form or another is one of my challenges for 2015.