Ice skaters skate and writers write. Ice skaters improve their craft by skating—practicing daily to get tiny improvement in style and execution. Writers get better the same way—by making tiny improvements with regular practice. Of course everyone who writes does not get better. Some folk simply create more mediocrity. But no writer gets better without writing. One discipline that improves a writer’s writing is a weekly column or editorial. If we commit to produce a column every week we’ll not be sitting around waiting for inspiration—we’ll get up and go out on the ice and start skating. A weekly column helps a writer practice their craft—why not start one this week?
You might aim to eventually become a syndicated columnist for a Christian magazine or daily newspaper chain but consider starting simpler than that—just publish your columns on the Internet. The easiest way to publish your weekly column is through one of the popular free blogging sites like www.blogger.com. When you get rolling and develop an audience then you can move to something a bit more fancy like buying a domain name and getting hosting services for your own site. But start with a free blog site. Writers write. Put it out there and see who wants to read it.
Most writers are like children with crayon-drawings. We imagine our work as a masterpiece that ought to be displayed on the world’s refrigerator. The truth is most of our writing is mediocre; plenty is downright horrible and only occasionally is any brilliant. (I’ve contributed to all three categories but mostly the first two.) It is probably safe to assume your own writing is average and there is probably not much demand for it. Budding writers imagine themselves hitting the jackpot with their brilliant book, but in reality their chances are not much better than winning the lottery. Writing a column allows a writer to gain an audience where they can test their writing and find out if anyone really wants to read it. You can discover if your writing is valued by an audience or if it only something your mother admires. An Internet column allows you to test your marketability. Does anyone want to read what you’re writing? Post it and see.
What is your angle? What sets your writing apart from the millions of other writers in the world? Decide your approach up front. The invention of the computer has made everybody a writer and the Internet has made us all publishers. People discharge words into cyberspace at a millions-a-minute rate. What is your angle that will make your words stand out and gather a following? When I first launched into a weekly Internet column I decided I’d write columns to provoke people to think—columns readers might print off and take to lunch to discuss with others or use as the basis of a Sunday school discussion class. While I sometimes try to convince people, usually I try to prod them to decide what they think about the issue I’ve addressed. This was not a “niche” I had found on the Internet—there were no niches in 1995 when I started my column—there were less than a half dozen religious columns out there at the time. Causing thinking was my aim so I decided to provoke readers to think more (sometimes I just provoke them). What would your niche be? What sort of column could you produce every week for years on end? Before you try to get syndicated see if you have the writer’s stamina to produce something every week for a couple of years. Some writers have dazzling ideas but they only have ten of them. A column forces us to write by discipline not by inspiration. Pick your niche then start writing.
Once you’ve established the parameters start writing and never miss. If you’re a writer you already know that writing comes by perspiration not inspiration. Schedule a block of time to write your column then post it. I usually allocate two hours to write my weekly column—no more. Sure, when I am writing a manuscript for a book I take days to polish and craft the words, but for a weekly column I “just do it” and when two hours is up I post it. I often write a column before breakfast or on Sunday afternoons. They are not all examples of my best writing—in fact many aren’t really even that good. But they cause some readers to think about the topic and I get just a tiny bit better as a writer before breakfast or before Sunday evening arrives. Start writing and “post it anyway.” Perfectionists seldom get published, writers do.
One of the wonderful attributes of Internet writing is reversing Pilate’s observation, “What is written is written.” When an error slips through on paper we writers must live with it through several reprints and only see it repaired when a second edition is produced. The vast majority of books never get to a second edition. Internet publishing is more temporary and revisable. Fixing an error is as simple as revising the column and posting it again. Readers sometimes find errors of fact or logic in my columns and I make corrections within a hour of my first post. I have at times posted ten editions of a column in the first ten days of its life. The Internet is forgiving and this may make it easier to be sloppy, but it also makes it easier to improve.
If you publish your column on the Internet and people read it you’ll get responses. Generally you will get 20-30 “hits” for every person who posts a response or writes an email to you. If you have your own domain and web hosting service you can actually track the daily traffic on your site. As you might expect, for me Tuesdays my site is overrun with “hits.” If you are not up to answering mail consider omitting your email address and forcing readers to post online. Using online-only responses means you’ll have fewer responses though. Readers are more willing to send an email than post a public response. In 1995 I received three or four emails a week. Within a year I was getting 50 emails a week. I now get more than a hundred emails a day from my columns. About half of the responses are to the current week’s column and the other half are from past columns that search engines have steered them to. For instance, one of the interesting responses I get about every month comes from a column I wrote titled, What to do when you’ve married a jerk. (I always wonder what the women actually typed into her search engine that morning that brought her to my column!) If you write something people want to read they’ll respond. And it will hone and sharpen your logic and correct errors in your work. I am a much better writer today than I was ten years ago. Much of that improvement came from readers who took time to correct, scold, chastise, suggest, or rebuke me. I’d rather have them do it than my editor!
Oh, you wanted to make money by writing? Sorry wrong chapter in this book. But if you follow all of this advice you could get good enough that they’ll collect some of your writing into a book, or you could get syndicated as a newspaper columnists—and that pays per hour about what you’d get at Taco Bell.® Yes, there can be big money in writing for some folk. But most writers don’t write for the money—they write because they are writers.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to write an Internet column?
Keith Drury March 8, 2005
© 2005 Wesleyan Publishing House
 My Internet column and eBay started the same year; they’ve made more money so far, in case you’re wondering.