The sausage factory of plentiful blogging

Posted on July 26, 2011

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They say that you never want to go into a real-life sausage factory or you’ll never want to eat a banger again. I can believe that: in reality, the delicious food that we all seem to like fresh of a barbecue or served sizzling in our fried breakfasts is the offcuts, the trimmings and the downright unpalatable bits of pig blitzed until it becomes a smooth, inoffensive gruel.

There’s a reason why writers bring up the sausage factory analogy when discussing poorly-paid blogging jobs for companies like AOL-Huffington Post, which just opened a UK version within the past month or so (I sent them an email offering my services as a blogger – gratis, as everyone who contributes to the blogging section does – but haven’t heard back). When AOL laid off significant numbers of staff last year before joining forces with Arianna Huffington, there were a cavalcade of angry bloggers who spilled the depressing, highly-stresses atmosphere that requires 5 or 10 (or more) blogposts a day of decent quality. Almost all of them used the sausage factory analogy.

My favourite post is by Oliver Miller, who wrote for AOL’s Television section. He wrote a third of a million words in under a year for AOL – paid, relatively handsomely (for a blogger at least) at a rate of 10 cents a word.

Some people struggle to write for their whole lives, and only dream of ever getting paid for it. And here was I was, Mr. Big-Shot-Razor-Blade-Man, getting paid a real salary. I could sit at home and write in my pajamas while eating take-out food; and that’s what I did. I was so grateful.

But this was part of the problem. We — by which I mean me and my fellow employees — were all so grateful. Which allowed us to ignore — or willfully overlook — certain problems. Such as the fact that AOL editors forced us to work relentless hours. Or the fact that we were paid to lie, actually instructed to lie by our bosses.

He wrote 8 to 10 blogposts per day, and rapidly lost his enthusiasm. What started out as carefully crafted, proud copy became boilerplate. He was spending too long writing his posts, and eventually got it down to 25 minutes per post. It doesn’t sound appealing.

Except I’ve just done that, for less money than that, and writing more. And actually, I didn’t mind it. I still don’t. I’m still doing it.

There was an ad for an American humour website; a group trying to be the next Cracked (in fact, in their advice to writers they specifically direct you towards the site for an example of how they would like things written). I started doing work on Friday night, and I’ve since written 60 300+ word posts which are by degrees informative, entertaining and hopefully comedic. That’s between 15-20 posts, or 5-6,000 words a day.

I absolutely love it. Admittedly, there’s no pressure – I’m not being given 10 topics a day to write about or else – and I could, if I wanted to, only write a single post (or none at all). It’s also not for such a high-profile site as AOL, so any grammatical mistakes or factual errors (not that I think there have been any in my posts so far) wouldn’t be so harshly judged. I get to pick the topics, and if something interests me enough to be able to muster up a few hundred words, then that’s great. It’s largely mindless, vapid prose, but it’s fun.

I’ve managed to create a balshy alter-ego (you didn’t think I’d use my own name, did you?) who has a one-sided conversation with the reader. It comes easily to me, and I hope that I can continue doing it for a long time yet.

Weirdly, I’m not even concerned about the quantity of writing that would be involved. If I continued at current rates, I’d be writing significantly more than a million words in a year (perhaps nearer two). That’s okay. I can handle that, I think. I’ve got about a week’s worth of potential posts (including ‘Lady Gaga’s Biggest Hoo-Hahs’ and ‘Who Would Win? Pirates or Ninjas?’) planned and ready to write and upload. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s about 75-80 posts. They’re all written down on a pad of paper; whenever I have a stupid idea, it gets written down.

That list is supplemented by anything my mind conjured up while I’m surfing on the internet. If I read something interesting, I’ll give my own take on it and share. It’s fantastic.

I’ve been inside the sausage factory, and somehow I’ve come out smelling of roses. There were no pig carcasses, no spatters of blood and definitely no brains dripping down the walls. So far, so sane.

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