Moving it forward: Dan Ralls on what it takes to be a great blogger
For ZapLabs legal counsel, Dan Ralls, a good understanding of people and how they work is essential for his job—and he brings that to the table when it comes to his legal work. But it's also a quality that’s indispensable for his writing—and one that any content creator, whether they're focused on humor, advice, or even real estate, can employ.
How long have you been with the company?
“I’ve been with the company for 3.5 years.” Dan’s a lawyer here at ZapLabs, responsible for overseeing all legal aspects of the company.
Why do you like what you do?
Anyone who works in the office with Dan can tell that he's great with people. “I like that my job is primarily a people-focused function,” Dan says. “To be a good lawyer, you really have to have empathy. You need to understand people’s wants and needs.”
Why do you like working at ZapLabs specifically?
“I came here because there was a unique opportunity to act in a legal function at a small company that had been acquired by a larger company.” Back when Dan joined the team in 2015, ZapLabs (then ZipRealty) was newly acquired by Realogy. “There are a lot of cultural aspects I like about my job. The people here are fantastic. There's a good sense of community at ZapLabs.”
What do you do for fun?
“I spend a lot of time with my family, and I like to hang out with my kids, my wife, and my dog.” Dan’s also got a strong creative side, as evidenced by his substantial following on his blog. “I do a lot of writing and photography.” What role does technology play in your life?
Like many of us here at ZapLabs, Dan jokes that from the outside, it probably seems like he uses too much technology. But when it comes down to it, he says “If you're not excited about technology, you probably shouldn't work at a tech company. I use tech in every aspect of my life—not to the point where it takes over, but to enhance experiences.” Technology helps Dan with many of his creative pursuits as well – he uses writing and note taking applications to gather his thoughts and prepare to share them with the world.
Where do you blog?
“I write for Deadspin’s Ask a Lawyer column.” Deadspin’s column gets Dan quite a bit of exposure. “You never really know what’s going to get a lot of views on Deadspin. I do get radio interviews from it, and the attention’s nice.”Dan also does some blogging on Medium, where he writes about a wide variety of topics of his choosing—from parenting to Silicon Valley satire. Humor touches most of his pieces, which isn’t surprising for those who spend a lot of time around him in person.
Is it hard to come up with ideas?
“No—it’s more difficult to make myself write them.” Dan finds that deadlines help, even if he hasn’t fully fleshed out his goals for a piece. “Even if you have a half-idea, set a deadline for yourself to motivate you.”
What’s the biggest mistake people make when blogging?
With Dan, it’s all about being true to your voice and keeping your core goal for the piece in mind. “The biggest mistake people make is being afraid to be different and use their voice. A lot of people try to replicate success too much. People try to replicate something that is popular, but not necessarily good.” Using too many words is another huge one, Dan shared. “Everything on the page should move the piece forward.”
How do you revise and edit your work to get it ready for the spotlight?
First, Dan says, “write and write until you’re done, and don’t edit while you’re writing.” Avoid being long-winded. “If it’s humor, take out as many words as you can until it’s not funny anymore, then add back in that last word.” And finally: “The most important thing in writing, beyond clarity, is tone. Especially on the internet.” Always reread and adjust to make sure the tone is right for your subject.
Any favorite blogs or bloggers?
Dan’s got plenty of recommendations on this front.
- “Medium always presents a nice variety of perspectives.”
- “Open Culture is an endless source of interesting cultural pieces.”
- “Atlas Obscura is a trove of fascinating pieces about previously obscure, low-flying, or unknown cultural items.”
- “Aeon is a great forum for ideas of all sorts—always thought-provoking.”
What's your favorite quote?
“One of my favorite quotes by one of my favorite philosophers is: ‘It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.’ —Søren Kierkegaard”.
Writing itself is no easy task—and making that writing appeal to a wide audience is a challenge in and of itself. But as Dan proves, the best way to get better at it is to trust the process and your own voice, and write through the uncertainty. It’s all about keeping your efforts moving forward—and that’s a lesson that applies across the board.
As a Senior Product Content Strategist at ZapLabs, Bria creates content frameworks and product narratives that help real estate professionals navigate Zap’s CRM platform, while driving usage of Zap’s consumer-facing mobile apps by home buyers and sellers.