Transcript: Blogging (Part 1): Blogging and introverts

This entry is part 1 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview! After I transcribed it, I realized we managed to pack more than 9,000 words into one hour. So that I don’t overwhelm people, I’m going to split this up into 15 logical chunks to be published every Thursday. At the end of the blog series, I’ll put them all together in a text file and a PDF that you can read easily, and I’ll add insights you and other people might share along the way. =) Here’s the first chunk!

Holly Tse: All right, good evening, and welcome to the Lotus Blossoming Telesummit. My name is Holly Tse. I’m your host for tonight, and joining us this evening is Sacha Chua. Sacha Chua is a Generation Y tech evangelist, and she’s passionate about blogging, and she’s been writing her own blog since 2002. So, if you’ve been thinking about starting a blog, or you have a blog and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, or even if you’re a seasoned blogger, you’ll enjoy Sacha’s enthusiasm and you’ll probably pick up some great ideas tonight. So, welcome, Sacha, thank you for joining us.

Sacha Chua: Thank you very much! I’m looking forward to things we’ll find out in the conversation, particularly as I’ve managed to convince you to get into blogging again!

HT: Yes, it will be interesting to find out. I also want to mention that Sacha invites everyone to submit their questions live right now. If you’re on the webcast, you can type into the Q&A box, and if you’re on the phone… You have to press..

SC: Oh, just use the webcast.

HT: Yeah, probably the webcast is easier, yeah.

SC: if you are listening to the recording, though, please feel free to drop by my blog. I’m at That’s If you ask your questions there, I’d be happy to help.

HT: That’s Sacha. She’s so comfortable with technology. You can ask and she can talk at exactly the same time. That is awesome. So, Sacha, I wanted to ask you–because you have a really fresh perspective on blogging–how would you define what a blog is and how does that differ from what the “experts” say?

SC: Well, really, what a blog is, at its very core, is it’s just a list of entries that are ordered in chronological order. It’s usually the newest items first, and you go backwards from there. Now, many people think, Oh, blog, that’s for self-promotion, personal branding, or search engine optimization, or all of these new buzzwords that have sprung up around it. But you know, it’s actually a really, really useful tool to just practise writing and thinking about your life and figuring things out. And not only is it helpful to do that for yourself, but when you start sharing it with other people–and here’s the difference between having a journal and using a blog–when you start sharing your stories with other people, you’d be surprised at the kinds of insights that you get from other people: the lessons they’ll share, the encouragement they’ll share, and also the ways that you get to help other people too.

HT: So, can you give us examples, then, from your own life and your own blog, where blogging has led to some unexpected benefits?

SC: One of my unexpected benefits from this blog… A couple of years ago, I was in the habit of posting not just my thoughts, but also my to-do list online. It got to the point where I was feeling a little bit embarrassed because there were certain things I knew I had been procrastinating for weeks, such as going to the bookstore and buying this particular book that I’d heard about but hadn’t gotten around to reading. So I’d been procrastinating it for a good long while, and finally, someone went and bought me the book. Those are the funny things that happen when you share bits and pieces of your life online.

But I’ve also come across situations where I’m writing about something I’m figuring out, whether it’s my decision to take piano lessons or to stop taking them, or things I’d like to learn, my experiences with all these different hobbies and interests like woodworking or sewing, or all these things I’ve been trying in my life, right… and to be able to use that to reach out to somebody I would never have thought of e-mailing or finding elsewhere on the Web, and then having a friendship grow out of that. So it’s been really, really helpful, particularly as I– hard to tell from my voice, but–I feel rather introverted, especially around crowds, so this is a great way for me to get the conversation going without actually having to start conversations myself.

HT: I have been reading your blog and you keep saying you’re introverted, but… it doesn’t come across in your blog that you are.

SC: We often think that introverts have to be these people who find it really difficult to communicate, people who like spending time by themselves… Well, you know, we all find different ways of dealing with things. My favourite way of spending my evening is still staying at home and maybe doing a lot of reading or writing. I find conferences and networking events really intimidating. But on the other hand, when you talk about reaching people online, talking to them, maybe even becoming friends with people I’ve never really met or maybe I’ve only met once or twice… There’s nothing stopping people from doing that, and in fact, it actually really helps, because then you’re not always trying to make small talk about the same topics. You can actually get to really deep conversations that have built on other conversations.

Tune in next Thursday for the next part in this series! I’ll add new entries to the Discovering Yourself through Blogging page to make it easier for you to find them.

Transcript: Blogging (Part 2): Growing into blogging

This entry is part 2 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

Holly Tse: Yeah, you mentioned to me that you have [around] 2,000 readers for your blog. Now, how did that grow to that level?

SC: Oh, one reader at a time, I’d guess. I started off writing just about very technical things. I’d been using my blog as a way to take notes in university, so I wrote about my philosophy classes, computer science, and some of the open source programs I was working on. As I started publishing my notes, I saw that, hey, you know, this is a great way to learn from other people. I’d write about something, and then always, someone would come along with an even better way to do things, or would come along and say, “Thank you for sharing that. You saved me five minutes” or “…two hours”, or “You saved me a day of searching around and trying things out.”

As I figured out that hey, this is really useful for technical discovery, I started using it as well to write about other things I was figuring out. Personal finance, life after university… all these things.

I guess people like the fact that I’m figuring things out, I’m optimistic about it, I’m trying my best to write about all these different things that I’m learning because I know that if I don’t write it down, I’m going to forget, and then I’m going to have to go through the entire process of learning things again. Whereas if I write things down, then other people might be able to learn from that too.

HT: It sounds like a really good learning tool for yourself and for others, then.

SC: In fact, a lot of people have started looking at blogs and social networks in terms of personal learning networks (PLN). So that’s the educational jargon around it: personal learning networks. It’s not just about the notes that you keep. If you think about the kinds of blogs that you’d like to subscribe to so that you can learn from something from them, the kinds of people who inspire you–role models–because you can probably find their blogs or find them on social networks and add that kind of regular inspiration to life.

There’s so much that you can learn that isn’t in a textbook or isn’t in a commercial page or all that stuff. You can learn from people’s stories, and that’s an incredible thing. If you have a blog, then you can tell your own stories, and you can write about what all these other things make you think. How they inspire you. How you’re putting that inspiration to good use in your life. It’s an excellent way to build those relationships.

Transcript: Blogging (Part 3): Blogging and other social tools

This entry is part 3 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

HT: You mentioned social media, so… If you have a blog, how does Facebook and Twitter fit into the mix? Do they need to fit in the mix?

SC: You can if you want to. You don’t have to. What I often find is that my blog is the primary place where I put things, because a third-party company like Facebook or Twitter–sometimes they change their mind about what you can do with your stuff. So I put almost everything on my own blog. If I think other people might find it useful, I might post a link and share it with somebody or share it with everybody on Twitter or Facebook.

It also works the other way too. I might have a conversation with someone on Twitter. Most recently, actually – last Friday, I was having a conversation with people on Twitter about creativity. And it made me stop and think about what I think about creativity and stereotypes and “left-brain” and “right-brain” stuff that most people think of when it comes to that. You know, “I’m not creative because my work involves numbers or code or whatever, and creativity is drawing and painting and whatever.” Anyway, it made me think about all this stuff, and I wrote about it, and then I took that and shared that back into Twitter. So it feeds itself.

On the other hand, if you’re not on Twitter or Facebook, you can still blog. It’s a great way to write, and it’s a great way to get your thoughts out there, too.

Transcript: Blogging (Part 4): Parenting

This entry is part 4 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

HT: Okay. I’m going to tell you my situation. I’m a full-time mom. I look after my son. My day can go from 6:30 AM to 8:00 PM at night, which is actively looking after my son. That doesn’t include cooking or prepping for meals or shopping or me time (and I say that with a little laugh). I don’t have a lot of time. Right now, I’m in the middle of running a telesummit. I’ve got a couple of interviews I need to record this week. Just before I connected with you, I was busily putting spices on top of personal pita pizzas so that I could get them in the oven, have them cooked, take them out to the backyard to give to my husband and son. They’re outside because my son is a toddler and he likes to yell, so they’re graciously going outside so that you won’t hear them during this call. In fact, this might be the only telesummit in the world where I have a cat and a toddler who occasionally co-host with me. So this is my situation. I honestly don’t have a lot of time. So, convince me: why should I start a blog?

SC: It’s actually interesting, because you’re a parent, full-time, very busy taking care of very important things in your life… There are a lot of bloggers whose lives are like that. This entire mommy-blogging phenomenon has really taken off. People [even] make good money doing this too. They’re writing about the things they learn. There’s a ton of learning when you’re raising kids, of course, and so they do that and they share their stories and that’s totally all right. For a lot of these mommy bloggers or parent bloggers – part of it is that sense of being able to take a step back out of a very busy and a very hectic day, have a little time for yourself, have a little bit of adult reflection time so that you don’t go crazy. Part of it is that desire to remember these days. People are writing about what it’s like to go through their pregnancies or their first days of anticipation, or the very firsts – you know, all these milestones. And the seconds, and the thirds, because all these things are special. You know that soon enough, the years will pass, and then it will be hard to remember what it felt like. If you’re writing about that…

So there’s carving out time for yourself, the ability to remember, and the ability to connect with people. Especially when your schedule is all crazy – especially with people who have really young kids whose sleep schedules haven’t sorted out yet – it can be really hard to plan social get-togethers. But if you’re connecting with people through the storytelling, through blogging, then you’ve got a little bit of that sense of what’s going on, and you can connect with people, and you can share your stories about what’s happening in your life. You might be sharing this with just family. You might be sharing this with friends. You might be sharing this with new friends, and strangers you haven’t met yet. So it’s a great way to take care of the social interaction and the learning and all of these wonderful things.

Now, in terms of freeing up additional time for sanity and other priorities in life… One of the other things I discovered while writing about all these little productivity tips that I was exploring was the idea of cooking a lot of things at once. And yes, you’re thinking this is probably not very possible considering you’ve got so many things to organize, and you’ve got a kid and a husband and all that stuff…

But we’ve switched over to cooking maybe once a week or if we’re lucky, once every two weeks, just going through lots of lots of food – chopping it all up, cooking it all up, and then freezing it nicely – we’ve got this chest freezer that we stash things in now, and that saves us time too. You can find a lot of people writing about their experiences doing things like this: once-a-month cooking, or every so often, they cook, or they split things up and they share it with other families they know…

So no matter what it is, there are other people who have been in your situation. There are other stories you can learn from. If you write about it, then you’re also asking yourself these questions, reflecting on it, figuring out how you can make things better, even if it’s just a bit a time. Blogging is just that extra little bit that helps you have that habit of reflection and improvement and then connect with all these other amazing people.

You can get most of the benefits by reading other people’s stories, and gradually improving your life, but it’s so much more when you can write about it and afterwards, look back and see how much your life has changed, see all the different things you’ve learned, and pass those on to other people, too.

So, you’re not hopeless. People have survived things like that before. There is always time for things that are important to you, and blogging can actually help you save time.

HT: You’ve given me some great reasons there. First, it can allow me to carve out some time for myself for reflection. It can help me remember what’s going on in my life and in my son’s life as he develops–

SC: And don’t forget your husband!

HT: my husband too, and it’s a great way to connect with other people who are going through similar situations. So.

I actually know two moms–I’m going to just throw it out there, because they’ll probably catch the replay, I’ll actually ask them to–because I know two moms who have been talking and talking and talking about starting a blog. They haven’t started. One of them, she has a blog, but she kinda [mothballed] it a bit. She’s busy. She has a seven-month-old. I know, when you’ve got a baby, it’s a little bit more challenging to find the time. But the other one, she has time, so I think… I’m going to throw it out there and hope that they’re inspired to start a blog.

Tune in next Thursday for the next part in this series!

Transcript: Blogging (Part 5): Getting started

This entry is part 5 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

Holly Tse: What would you advise them for someone to get started? What’s the quickest way to get started?

Sacha Chua: I think the quickest way to get started is to ditch your expectations. A lot of people think: Oh, I’m going to start a blog, but it has to be really interesting, and it has to get plenty of comments on the first day in order for it to be worthwhile. That doesn’t really happen. What you want to do is you want to write just for yourself. Whether you want to start off writing a private blog or a journal, or maybe you want to just go ahead and tell stories even if no one’s around to listen to them… It’s already worth it, just for you. It’s already worth it if you can write down a single thing that you learned that day, or once small thing that you would like to do better the next day. If you can keep doing that, then you’re going to get better at remembering all these little things that you would’ve forgotten. Being able to get a sense of perspective about how far you’ve come. Being able to figure out, okay, how can I build on these improvements further?

I think that if you change your expectations to that–so instead of thinking, oh, I’m going to write this, but then I have to be famous and then people have to comment, and get to be like a New York Times columnist–to: I’m just going to write about my life. Something small. It doesn’t have to be profound. It doesn’t have to be interesting. It’s okay to bore yourself. In fact, you might as well do that, because you have to dig deeper to find all these things that only in hindsight turn out to be interesting.

Anyway. It’s okay to bore yourself. It’s okay to write small, simple things, just slices of daily life, just questions and ideas to help you grow. That is totally okay.

You don’t see a lot of that advice in books about blogging because they’re all focused on–well, not all, but many of them are focused on how people can grow side businesses through blogs, or how they can change their search engine rankings. You know what? You can use a blog to just write, to explore, to ask questions, and maybe connect with other people, and that is totally all right.

HT: Now, it’s interesting that you mention that you may bore yourself at first. You said that you need to dig deeper to find the interesting gems. Can you share more about that, please?

SC: This is totally something that happens. You don’t understand these patterns until you start writing. You know how you end up talking about some topics again and again, because it turns out those are the things that you’re really interested in? Or you might think, oh, I think I’m going to be interested in sewing, but then if you look at what you actually do day by day, it doesn’t really rank high on your list. When you start capturing these things in your life in a form that you can look back on, whether it’s keeping track of how you’ve been spending your time or going back over your archives and seeing what you write about, the things that you keep coming back to–the things that you keep talking about, the things you keep writing about–those are the things that have a lot of interest for you. The more that you think about them, the more you learn about them. I can write about a lot of things again and again, and I’ll keep learning something about them. I can write about time, I can write about personal finance, I can write about cats… There’s just so much to untangle, to discover about these things. It’s okay to write about something again and again because there’s something more you can learn from it, and there’s something more you can share with other people.

Most of this will be boring, especially if you haven’t had a lot of practice writing. The first few times around, you’ll be thinking, oh, my grammar is kinda funny and I’ve got typos here and there, and it’s boring. No one is ever going to read this. I’ve looked at my blog archives. I sat down and read through everything–not in one sitting–but I read through every single post that I’d written. From 2002 to 2007, I was writing about technical things that were probably interesting to just me and maybe five other people. Anyway, it was there. It was only later, after I’d figured out more in this process that I realized that okay, here’s where I don’t agree with other people. Here’s where I want to explore something different. It’s only when you can write past that, when you can tell the difference between what you’re supposed to think and what you actually think, or where you are and where you want to be… And you don’t get there without thinking a lot about it, without writing it down.

Writing down is important. If you’re just thinking about it, you can fool yourself into thinking: this is what I’m really interested in, this is where I’ve got a clear opinion. When you write it down, you’ve got to be honest with yourself, and then you find out whether you’re making sense or not. Most of the time–especially in the beginning–you’re not going to make sense. That’s okay.

Transcript: Blogging (Part 6): Looking back

This entry is part 6 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

Holly Tse: So, I have to ask you then… When you started blogging, or even today, do you ever sometimes read your posts and go, “Man, I’m boring, and oops, I think my grammar’s funny”?

Sacha Chua: Occasionally, I let embarrassing typos slip through. A lot of the times, I’m looking back at my posts from two years or six months ago and I’m thinking, “I wrote that?” Most of the time, it’s a good “I wrote that?” though. Sometimes it’s a “Wow, I’ve come a long way since then” kind of “I wrote that?” But it’s fascinating because when you give yourself enough time to be unfamiliar with the things that you’ve written down – which means that you’ve been writing for a while and you’ve made a habit of it – and you have it in a way that you can refer back to, not like… So, in my pre-blogging days, I kept a journal sporadically. Most of the time, I’d get a fourth of the way through a notebook and then I’d misplace it, or I’d lose interest in all that stuff, and it would be hard to go back to those notes again.

But with a blog, especially with a blog that’s backed up, I can go back to old stuff. And that’s how I can see, oh yeah, here’s where my thinking is different now. Back then, I used to think that having a relationship would get in the way of the cool things I want to do with my life. Now I can see that having a good relationship can support the things I want to do with my life. You get to do that kind of spot-the-difference thing, and that helps you learn even more about who you are and who you want to be.

So yeah, I’ve had those moments. I’ve had bugs in my published code. I’ve embarrassing typos. I’ve had places where I was just plain wrong, and places where I’ve changed my opinion, but that’s part of being human. All in all, I’m really glad I’ve got that record.