1) What is the name of your blog?
My blog is called Matt Schiavenza: From the Dragon to the Apple . For the first three years of its existence it was called “A China Journal”. Creative, huh? The three years before that I had a blog called No Borders No Limits.
2) When did you start blogging?
I dabbled in blogs here and there when I was in college, but I didn’t write regularly until 2004, when I moved to China.
3) How did you pick the name for your blog?
I titled my first blog No Borders No Limits because I fancied myself a world traveler who would live in many different countries, teaching English and generally being a bum. Had I known that I’d have stayed in China as long as I did, I might have thought differently about it!
I then decided to have an eponymous blog, for a few reasons. One, I was trying to build a portfolio as a writer and thought it was important that people knew my name. Two, I was getting tired with the anonymity of the Internet; all the comment threads I read seemed to devolve into nasty arguments among people hiding behind fake names.
To be honest, I didn’t put an enormous amount of time into the subtitles of my site. “A China Journal” I chose because it was simple and direct, and that’s what I was going for at the time. “From the Dragon to the Apple” was just something I thought of, and while I don’t like it all that much I can’t be bothered changing it!
How did it get started? What motivated you to start a blog and what keeps you going?
When I lived in Italy for a year as a foreign student, in 2001, I used to write long e-mails describing my life to a group of friends. As the year progressed I put more and more effort into them, and as a result began receiving more positive feedback from my friends. This was the first time I had an “audience” as such.
By the time I moved to China in 2004 blogs had become quite popular, and I understood then that they were a unique and powerful tool that wasn’t going to go away. I felt that writing a blog would not only help my friends and family follow me from afar, but would also provide a platform for my thoughts and ideas. I wanted to join the conversation, so to speak.
4) How did you decide on what your main focus for your blog would be?
Initially, I didn’t pick a focus for my blog at all, so as a result in the early years my site jumped from topic to topic. I wrote about baseball, about American politics, about China, really about whatever popped into my head that particular day.
Then on the advice of a friend I started to focus my writing a bit more on China, because this was an area that I felt like I could “add value”, to use the hackneyed term. I realized that a lot of people were interested in what life was like in China, and as a person living there I could contribute something to their understanding. When I focused on China I found that my writing became more consistently interesting.
Nowadays things have gone full circle- I write about whatever pops into my mind again. This is due to being back in the US, where I necessarily have less to say about China. In addition I feel that I write about China in other forums so can reserve my personal blog for whatever interests me.
5) Did any other blogs inspire and influence your blog? What other blogs do you read?
Other blogs influenced me greatly. Back in 2003 and 2004 very few news organizations had blogs, so the medium was dominated by amateurs. There was really a sense that no matter who you were, if you wrote well your voice would be heard. Through these bloggers I learned about the importance of linking to others, the utility of embedding images and videos, and so forth- the nuts and bolts of the medium. Andrew Sullivan, in particular, inspired me. I’ve been reading his blog almost every day for several years now.
I’ve restricted my blog reading now to a handful about China—Danwei, The Peking Duck, China Hearsay, China Geeks, etc.—and a few others writing about other subjects. I love Techcrunch. There’s a blog about the San Francisco Giants, my favorite baseball team, that I love called The McCovey Chronicles. Foreign Policy magazine hosts several excellent blogs, including one by the well-known International Relations scholar Stephen Walt. Nowadays you can find good blogs written about just about everything.
6) Is blogging a full-time job now? Or is it a side-hobby? And if so, what do you do besides blogging?
Blogging isn’t and has never been a full-time job for me, though I wouldn’t mind if it were! I’m a full-time graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and am also currently an online reporter at the Asia Society here in New York.
7) What are some of the perks you've enjoyed personally as a blogger? Alternatively, what have you gained or learnt from your blog?
When I moved to China the community was so small that before long we all got to know each other, at least virtually. Whenever I visited Beijing or Shanghai I made a point to seek out bloggers I knew there, and some of my best friends in China are people I originally knew simply as bloggers. But perhaps the greatest perk was simply being told by strangers that they liked or admired my blog, and even in one or two cases that my blog helped inspire them in some way. That to me is quite an honor.
I’ve learned an enormous amount through the blog, but most importantly I gained a much-needed sense of humility. I’m lucky to have readers who know a lot more about things than I do, and every time they’ve corrected me on something it has made me smarter. Blogging in general has taught me a lot of the basics of being a writer, such as the importance of reading what you write before submitting it, and how to attribute ideas you borrow to the right people. In addition, simply the act of writing a lot, of getting bad writing out of my system, has made me better at it.
8) What is the most memorable compliment(s) you have received about your blog?
To be honest, I can’t think of any single compliment that I have received that stands out. But what I will mention is this—even when it doesn’t seem like anyone is reading, you’d be surprised who has heard of you. I’ve learned this on a couple of occasions, when I’ve had the honor of having well-known people tell me that they’ve heard of my site. Needless to say I was floored.
9) What would you like your readers to know about you which they may not already know from your blog?
Ha, well…I suppose that I’m not always so serious in real life!
Please head over to Matt's blog for a read at: http://mattschiavenza.com/
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