Writers I Read: Shawn Blanc

Editor’s Note: I’m not sure this guy needs much of an introduction. Hailing from the Midwest, Shawn Blanc is an independent writer, coffee nut, and soon-to-be dad. We got to hang out at Macworld 2012, and it was a blast.

Stephen: Thanks for agreeing to an interview. I know you’re a busy guy. You’ve been a full-time writer for a while now. While you’ve shared some about how the transition has been going, I’d love to hear more about how you got the point where you felt like you needed to make the jump. What led you to take such a leap of faith?

Shawn: There wasn’t necessarily a specific, defining moment where I decided to go for it. It was more like a series of moments that lead me up to realizing that I wanted to take the site and my writing full time. Though if you were going to twist my arm about it, I would say that perhaps the most significant of all the moments that lead up to the decision was one evening when my wife and I were eating dinner.

Anna and I were at home one evening after Christmas but before the New Year, and I mentioned to her how I’d been thinking of taking shawnblanc.net full time. This wasn’t the first time I’d mentioned this to her, but every time in the past I only half-meant it when I said it, and so she would half-reply with a raised eyebrow as if to say, “isn’t that nice, dear.”

But this time I meant it, and she knew it. She looked me in the eye and said that if that is what I wanted to do, she would stand behind me.

When your wife tells you it’s okay to take a risk and that she’s on your team even if you fail, then how can you not go for it? After that, all I needed was to decide for myself if I truly wanted to take the risk and make the leap. I mulled it over for a few days, and then decided I would go for it.

Stephen: Dude, what a great picture of marriage. I’m sure it was probably more than a little scary to do it. At the same time, it’s clear to me that you felt like you had to do this.

The timing is interesting to me. I think that you are riding (or maybe even helped create) a wave of great content that is out there right now. People seem to have a newfound interest in reading good writing and listening to good podcasts. What do you think is causing people to gravitate towards our type of content?

Shawn: I’m not sure that I fully agree with your statement that there is a newfound interest in reading good writing and listening to good podcasts. I think people have always been interested in reading good writing and listening to good shows. It’s just that there wasn’t a whole lot of good content out there, nor was it as easy to find as it is now.

There certainly has been a noticeable rise of good writing and broadcasting talent within the tech- and design-centric spheres, and I think part of it has been because the whole scene is begging to mature a bit. Writers like John Gruber and podcasters like Dan Benjamin have gone from being lone wolfs to standard bearers. Because of their commitment to high standards and exceptional work in tech writing and podcasting others have grown to appreciate that type of quality, and have used it as a standard in their own work.

Moreover, there are a lot of fantastic tools which are making discovery and engagement with this talent easy and even enjoyable. Apps and services such as Instapaper and Instacast are simultaneously riding this wave and contributing to it.

Stephen: I think you’ve better shaped what I’ve been thinking about. There is more good content — and better tools to enjoy them with — then before. I also agree with the maturity bit, as well.

Part of me thinks that this is a natural step, as those of us who grew up with the personal computer industry have a draw to think, write and speak about. Do you think there’s much to that?

Shawn: Yes, but I don’t see it as a new trend rather just a new topic for an age-old trend. My point being that for writers — or any artistic creator, really — there has always been a draw to produce work which is centered around what is current and what is relevant. Not all writers will write about current events or current trends, but many will. And, to top it all off, thanks to the Web it is easier than ever in the history of writing to get an audience. People who 50 years ago would have abandoned the vocation of a writer because they had no outlet for their writing, can now sign up for a free WordPress blog in a few minutes and instantly have an outlet. It’s a personal publishing revolution.

Stephen: Have your views on self-publishing in any ways changed since starting out full-time?

Shawn: My view hasn’t changed so much as my perspective has broadened. I’ve learned that self-publishing is a lot more work than I thought it would be. You are in essence running a one-man small business and thus you have to do the work of the visionary leader, the organized manager, the secretary, the accountant, the janitor, and the employees.

I’ve also learned about the incredible value of building relationships with others. Both online and offline, I’ve found that getting to know other people in the same field as me has been a great asset because I can learn from them, bounce ideas off of them, and we can work together on projects. The life of self-publishing / self-employment shouldn’t be an isolated one.

Stephen: As one of the few folks in this business who have been able to make the jump to full-time, what’s your advice to those who want to do it one day?

Shawn: There isn’t any one path to becoming a full-time blogger. The two things that seem to have worked for me are consistency and diversity.

The first, consistency, is in regard to showing up every day to write for the site. I ran the site as a hobby for nearly 4 years before taking it full time, and during those years I built a reputation of consistently showing up. That’s not to say I wrote every day — sometimes the site would go a week or a month without any updates — but I never abandoned the site nor let it go dormant.

I think it was that consistency which helped impart a level of trust to my readers. And that trust was invaluable for enabling me to go full time because of the membership.

And that is where the second thing comes in to play: diversity. This isn’t so much about blogging as it is about common business sense. Writing your own site as your full-time job means you are also a small business owner. And so diversifying your income streams is important. I have a few sources of revenue for the site that all add up to enough to keep the lights on.

And, though I didn’t mention it earlier, there is a third issue you need to settle. It’s passion; or drive. Being a full-time blogger is difficult and tiring. There are more and more folks who, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, have been able to step into the world of self-publishing. But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s right for you. I would advise anyone considering this occupation to deeply ponder if it’s something they are willing to pour themselves into. It is exciting and rewarding, but at times it is also very lonely (as all writing often is).

The good news is that there is no better time to go for it than now. The Internet favors the indie writers and self publishers. The tools and the opportunities have never been more available. All it takes is the determination to work your butt off and the willingness to take big scary risks.

Stephen: Thanks man. Best of luck with the site and little man on the the way.