Eleanor Roosevelt would have made an excellent blogger. Though she lived and died before the era of the world wide web, she was her day’s version of a blogger: her syndicated newspaper column “My Day” appeared in American newspapers nationwide, 6 days a week, for nearly 30 years.
As a blogger (er, columnist) Mrs. Roosevelt had phenomenal stats: millions of raving fans and engaged subscribers. And the strategies she first employed to reach her audience 75 years ago have stood the test of time:
1. Write about something inherently interesting.
Mrs. Roosevelt’s column was called “My Day” because in it she described what her days were like. And readers wanted to know–how does the first lady of the United States spend her time? What’s it like to be married to the leader of the free world? Now here was a niche that needed filling!
2. Choose an inexhaustible topic.
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote about what she did each day. This topic allowed her to address an enormous range of issues: history, politics, news, travel, marriage, parenting, race relations, films, the Cold War, music, desegregation. She could talk about anything. (And she did.)
3. Write what you know.
Nobody was more qualified to write about the life of first lady than Mrs. Roosevelt herself. She was an expert on the topic, and she wrote with authority.
4. Be consistent.
Mrs. Roosevelt never took a day off. Her first “My Day” column appeared on December 30, 1935, and continued to run 6 days a week, year-round, until 1962. Her readers could count on her to be in their newspapers every morning. (She did make one exception, and took 4 days off after her husband’s death in 1945.)
5. Set a time limit.
Mrs. Roosevelt’s column ran 500 words, but she usually managed to complete each column in an hour. She had many obligations to attend to as first lady, and she made getting her column done quickly a priority. Readers didn’t complain that the quality suffered for it.
Mrs. Roosevelt saved time by dictating her columns to her assistant. (She once declared her secretary Malvina Thompson to be “the person who makes my life possible.”) Perhaps this is why her columns seem so friendly—it sounds as if she’s actually speaking to you, the reader. The writing isn’t college-level English; instead, it sounds like she’s jotting off a note to a friend. Her readers loved her for it.
6. Have a hard deadline.
Mrs. Roosevelt had to file her column each day before the paper went to press. No exceptions. She didn’t have any wiggle room, so she had no choice but to get the job done promptly.
Mrs. Roosevelt was loved by her readers because she connected with them on a personal level. She shared her life with them, and they loved her for it, especially because it was a very busy life, and they knew it wasn’t an easy thing for her to share it with them.
But she was able to do it, because she was such a genius about this whole blogging thing (or columnist thing, whatever). She was smart about her method, and that, dear readers, never goes out of style.
A searchable database of Mrs. Roosevelt’s “My Day” columns is available here, or you can browse her columns by year here. A book featuring highlights from her column is also available from Amazon. You can read my review of Mrs. Roosevelt’s book You Learn by Living here.
What’s your best blogging tip? Is it compatible with Mrs. Roosevelt’s advice?