Q: What’s the difference between blog-writing and writing something like a magazine article?
A: You’re more likely to get paid for the article.
Yes, that’s a flippant answer. But any “difference” I might find would be flippant—like, “only one of them involves killing a tree.”
Writing a blog post, you have to source your own illustrations; a magazine has editors to do that for you.
A magazine editor might assign you a story; you’re on your own with your blog. And notice I said “might.” It’s much more likely that you’ll be pitching stories to the editors, at least until they put you on staff. And maybe even then.
You are editor-in-chief, fact-checker, copyeditor, and proofreader of your own blog. Magazines still have fact-checkers, copyeditors, and proofreaders on staff, don’t they? Well, the good ones do. The New Yorker even made a video of its in-house copyeditor Andrew Boynton recently, marking up the remarks Donald Trump gave at his Black History Month breakfast. That dude knows his way around a red pencil and it still took him nearly an hour to carve out something comprehensible.
But I don’t think my questioner was asking about the mechanics of publishing a blog vs. writing for a magazine. I think the real question was—does blog-writing require a different writing style?
Is blog-writing its own animal?
Different audiences expect different writing styles. What works in Foreign Affairs, for instance, would not fly in Vogue—not even the Spanish-language edition. Then again, those publications would likely not draw from the same pool of writers.
But I think we trip ourselves up if we decide that a magazine article is a completely different animal than a blog, or vice versa.
Yes, blogs can be more personal. I don’t mean that in the TMI sense; I mean you can write in the first person. You can express opinions. With a blog, you can filter the story you want to tell through your own experience. The good news is that automatically makes your writing unique—no one else has your set of experiences. The bad news, if you want to write journalism you will have to change that part of your writing style. Unless they’re paid opinionators, journalists don’t use the first person and they go out of their way to be even-handed. Sometimes too far out of their way, but that’s another subject.
Having gotten this far on my own, I decided to ask Mr. Google and discovered this, from a website called Making a Living Writing. The writer, Carol Tice, and I seem to be in agreement, except that she declares “good spelling and grammar optional” in blog posts. Well, yes, except if you want anyone to read more than one. She also says blogs are short, under 300 words. Not according to my SEO program, which chastises me if I post anything below 300 words. And some bloggers have been experimenting with longer pieces. Mine seem to be getting longer, too, though not due to any grand design.
Writing is writing
Other than a few stylistic tweaks, I don’t see much difference between blogs and magazine articles. Writing is writing. Bring your authentic self to the keyboard and give it your best shot.
Whatever you write, be scrupulously honest—and that includes citing your references and attributing quotations correctly. Check your facts, rely on primary sources whenever possible. And then just say what you need to say. If you’ve got ideas worth reading, you’ve won 90% of the battle.
It’s like cooking. You mix up a batch of batter, add some blueberries and—hey—you’ve got blueberry pancakes! Pour pretty much the same batter into muffin tins and you’ll have blueberry muffins. Add more flour and a bigger pan and if you’re clever you can turn it into coffee cake. But fundamentally, it’s all the same thing.
You can make your words into anything you like, too. But first you have to write them. So stop worrying about the different dishes you can make and start mixing your batter.