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How I Invented Blogging

When I was a kid growing up, and my parents’ friends would ask me the inevitable question, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I would look them square in the eye and say definitively, “I want to be a blogger.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. I did go through a period, when I was about 8 or 9, of wanting to be a vet, until my mother pointed out the inherent limitations of a veterinarian who accepted appointments only with cute, healthy dogs under a year old.

That, and I was rather shy—so I never actually looked an adult square in the eye.

Truth be told, I never spoke to them, either.

But other than that brief diversion—I always wanted to be a blogger. In fact, I invented blogging. It’s just that it took 25 years for the technology to catch up.

So while I waited, I spent hours every day writing. But unlike my friends who kept diaries stashed under their beds, I needed an audience. I needed interaction, feedback, community.

One day, my third-grade teacher sent home forms that encouraged our parents to let us sign up for a program called Dear Pen Pal, so kids could write to kids in other countries. This was an international pen pal organization that launched a big push in the US elementary schools.

Apparently, the path to popular diplomacy was paved with letters scrawled in illegible handwriting by American schoolchildren, complaining that their parents made them sign up for this dumb program all in the name of international relations, whatever that meant.

My letters, of course, contained not a single complaint. In fact, I happily prattled on for pages! A blogger was born! I wrote in fascinating detail about the minutiae of my life: my teacher, my friends, my dog… and then… umm, well now what? The thing was, after the first one or two letters were written to the first one or two pen pals, I felt limited by the suburban middle-class landscape of my own life.

More content, dammit!

I needed more. More stories. More excitement. More content, dammit.

So I made it up. I created new personalities, new voices, new details, and I got more pen pals because I needed new personas to target.

By the end of third grade, I had not just one but nine pen pals — based in, among other places, England, Australia, Malaysia, Greece, and (inexplicably) New Jersey. Some of the international kids had a limited grasp of English—not that it mattered to me.

Alone in my room after school, I would lie on my twin bed and enthusiastically recount life on our horse farm, with my two sets of twin siblings.

I regaled my pen pals with stories of our family trip to the Grand Canyon, how I skipped second grade, the antics of my two new puppies, or my nurturing older brother named Reed (or sometimes Grant) who played in a rock band.

Sometimes, I was the oldest in a family of nine.

Once, I was a triplet.

I had various names: Jade, Jewel, Judy, Sarah, Rochelle….

A Life I Didn’t Have

I researched places I’d never been and things I’d never seen. I wrote about the life I didn’t have. It was entertaining. It was content. Even if none of it was true.  I kept track of it all in a spiral bound notebook.

Does this sound weird?  I suppose it was. (It amazed me even at the time that my mother never questioned why “Jade Handley” was getting airmail to our house.)

Time passed. I grew up. My pen pals grew up. Eventually each of us — one by one — stopped writing back.

I left for college, graduated, got a job as a journalist, wrote a lot of magazine articles and newspaper stories, edited a few books, got married, had kids of my own. And co-founded ClickZ and learned about the Internet.

Then—this would be 25 years later—a few of my very smart colleagues at MarketingProfs started making noises about starting a blog.

And I said, “A what?”

So they explained it all to me—the frequent posting, the feedback, the trackbacks, the benefits of community.

And then it hit me: I already knew all about that. Because, well… I invented it.

And, at one time, when coming home after school and checking the mailbox at the end of our driveway was a much-anticipated ritual, I lived for it.

Back to now.

Which is kind of like now. Having launched my group marketing blog almost two years ago, and now this one a few weeks ago, I am a renewed believer in the power of talking to an audience in an intimate and immediate environment, and in hearing their voices talk back.

I’ve embraced it as a business tool, certainly, as a way to educate, elucidate, and be educated. But, at the same time, I am reliving the joy of communicating, the creativity of writing, and the thrill of the conversation.

Moliere once wrote that “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” So true. Well, maybe not entirely… Now, as a Born Again writer and convert to the power of blogs, I write for love, for newfound friends, and for money—all at the same time.

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39 Responses to How I Invented Blogging

  1. Gavin Heaton says:

    I still get a thrill with every comment that I receive. It is like getting short, sweet, shots of love from half a world away. Well, it is when they are nice ;)

  2. Gavin Heaton says:

    I still get a thrill with every comment that I receive. It is like getting short, sweet, shots of love from half a world away. Well, it is when they are nice ;)

  3. Jay says:

    Exactly! I did the pen pal thing too. Plus letter writing with friends. The latter is the origin of the Jay Solo pen name, in a themed exchange of letters dubbed Letter Wars.

  4. Jay says:

    Exactly! I did the pen pal thing too. Plus letter writing with friends. The latter is the origin of the Jay Solo pen name, in a themed exchange of letters dubbed Letter Wars.

  5. Ann Handley says:

    Gavin — Yeah, it is! I guess the day you stop caring is the day you stop blogging.

    Jay — Funny. Did you assume personas, too? Cuz if you did I’ll feel a little less weird…. ; )

  6. Ann Handley says:

    Gavin — Yeah, it is! I guess the day you stop caring is the day you stop blogging.

    Jay — Funny. Did you assume personas, too? Cuz if you did I’ll feel a little less weird…. ; )

  7. Toby says:

    Somehow knew Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet .. but that Ann Handley did .. that I can believe :-)

    Last week I met 2 teachers who were honored by the Woodruff Arts Center for their work in bringing their classes together – in Scotland and in Georgia – to write poetry on blogs. Puts a new spin on pen pals. By the way, my childhood pen pal was Gun from Sweden.

  8. Toby says:

    Somehow knew Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet .. but that Ann Handley did .. that I can believe :-)

    Last week I met 2 teachers who were honored by the Woodruff Arts Center for their work in bringing their classes together – in Scotland and in Georgia – to write poetry on blogs. Puts a new spin on pen pals. By the way, my childhood pen pal was Gun from Sweden.

  9. Bdot says:

    …how much I hated my brother… how can you hate such a loving guy? and for the record, he wasn’t a rock star, he was a rodeo star until that horrible accident at Madison Square Garden…..Do you still hate pepper?

  10. Bdot says:

    …how much I hated my brother… how can you hate such a loving guy? and for the record, he wasn’t a rock star, he was a rodeo star until that horrible accident at Madison Square Garden…..Do you still hate pepper?

  11. Ann Handley says:

    Toby: That’s awesome. Social media certainly opens up the whole pen pal/connection thing. Of course, it was a LOT easier then to assume personas… now, this whole “transparency” thing gets in the way of creativity… sheesh. ; )

    Bdot: It wasn’t always so loving a relationship, you know. He’s improved A LOT!!

  12. Ann Handley says:

    Toby: That’s awesome. Social media certainly opens up the whole pen pal/connection thing. Of course, it was a LOT easier then to assume personas… now, this whole “transparency” thing gets in the way of creativity… sheesh. ; )

    Bdot: It wasn’t always so loving a relationship, you know. He’s improved A LOT!!

  13. Cam Beck says:

    What a charming story! I remember having pen pals in elementary school. Now I don’t even remember where they lived.

    Blogging is not only more enjoyable, but also more efficient!

  14. Cam Beck says:

    What a charming story! I remember having pen pals in elementary school. Now I don’t even remember where they lived.

    Blogging is not only more enjoyable, but also more efficient!

  15. Is blogging so successful because we love to chat… albeit, online? Saw a great cartoon recently of a cartoon man hugging his computer (was this something from you, Ann?)… the caption said, “I love my computer ’cause all my friends are in there.” Very kewl.

  16. Is blogging so successful because we love to chat… albeit, online? Saw a great cartoon recently of a cartoon man hugging his computer (was this something from you, Ann?)… the caption said, “I love my computer ’cause all my friends are in there.” Very kewl.

  17. Dusan says:

    There’s true passion in this post. That’s why it is so easy and wonderful to read it. Perfect lunch time. :-)

  18. Dusan says:

    There’s true passion in this post. That’s why it is so easy and wonderful to read it. Perfect lunch time. :-)

  19. Ann Handley says:

    Cam, Yvonne — Blogging is definitely a more efficient way to have a conversation, to get feedback and input from people you wouldn’t know otherwise, and connect with those who are outside of your geography. Kind of like… well, pen-palling!
    Funny cartoon, Yvonne.

    Dusan — Thanks, as always. You rock!

  20. Ann Handley says:

    Cam, Yvonne — Blogging is definitely a more efficient way to have a conversation, to get feedback and input from people you wouldn’t know otherwise, and connect with those who are outside of your geography. Kind of like… well, pen-palling!
    Funny cartoon, Yvonne.

    Dusan — Thanks, as always. You rock!

  21. Tim Brunelle says:

    Yeah, I’m definitely adding this blog to my Netvibes collection.

    I never did the pen pal thing. But I like Gavin said, every time my inbox notes a new comment, a little burst of energy courses through my veins.

    I’ll have to reference this post for my class at MCAD when we cover blogging.

  22. Tim Brunelle says:

    Yeah, I’m definitely adding this blog to my Netvibes collection.

    I never did the pen pal thing. But I like Gavin said, every time my inbox notes a new comment, a little burst of energy courses through my veins.

    I’ll have to reference this post for my class at MCAD when we cover blogging.

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  24. Jan says:

    Back in high school during the late ’70′s I so loved theme writing. My classmates despaired of this tedious task, but I just loved it so much I looked forward to writing each theme assignment. And who can forget the school paper? In my time, it was the refuge of the introspective, socially inept kids – I secretly rejoiced that the popular kids were into the more high profile clubs. There I held court in campus paper, “posted” stories and articles that held my readers captive because of my presumed erudition. Thus, I traced my blogging roots. While you have indeed “invented” blogging let me arrogate unto myself the claim of being one of its early adopters. :)

  25. Jan says:

    Back in high school during the late ’70′s I so loved theme writing. My classmates despaired of this tedious task, but I just loved it so much I looked forward to writing each theme assignment. And who can forget the school paper? In my time, it was the refuge of the introspective, socially inept kids – I secretly rejoiced that the popular kids were into the more high profile clubs. There I held court in campus paper, “posted” stories and articles that held my readers captive because of my presumed erudition. Thus, I traced my blogging roots. While you have indeed “invented” blogging let me arrogate unto myself the claim of being one of its early adopters. :)

  26. susan solomon says:

    Wow … we do have parallel lives (sort of). I too started writing to pen pals in grade school. Today, my pen pal from fourth grade is still one of my very best friends. Chiara and I have been writing to each other for 35 years (oh gawd….). We’ve chronicled it all, first on paper and now on email. (I published a “Me and My Pen Pal” piece for Seventeen in the 80s, which mortified Chiara.) I just visited her in Milan in December. And now our kids are like super friends. So, I guess I need to get back to blogging cuz I was one of the “originals,” too.

  27. susan solomon says:

    Wow … we do have parallel lives (sort of). I too started writing to pen pals in grade school. Today, my pen pal from fourth grade is still one of my very best friends. Chiara and I have been writing to each other for 35 years (oh gawd….). We’ve chronicled it all, first on paper and now on email. (I published a “Me and My Pen Pal” piece for Seventeen in the 80s, which mortified Chiara.) I just visited her in Milan in December. And now our kids are like super friends. So, I guess I need to get back to blogging cuz I was one of the “originals,” too.

  28. Devin says:

    Most people consider a queen size bed to be a sufficient enough space for two people to sleep on. There is enough room for both to have their own “space” and not be crowded. Queen sized beds generally have enough dimension and is most likely the reason for their popularity. One of the biggest mistakes of all times is when a couple buys a bed and didn't take dimensions into consideration. Many squeeze into a full size bed and end up miserable after a short period of time.

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