I’ve been blogging in some form or another for about 6 or 7 years. Most of that stuff is long defunct, but my current blog at Brass Tack Thinking has been around since 2008 (it was previously called Altitude Branding).
Sifting through the archives the other day, I was reflecting a bit on how far this blog has come, and what I’ve learned along the way. And when I shared a few bits on Twitter, several folks asked if I’d share what I’ve learned.
First, it’s important for me to make a few things clear about my goals for blogging, because they’re likely different than yours, and it gives context to what I’ve been doing this for.
Why I Blog
One of my favorite quotes is from the writer Joan Didion, who once said “I write to discover what I think.”
In my case, that couldn’t be more true. I started blogging because I wanted to explore my own point of view on topics around communication, branding, and eventually the emergence of social media. More than anything, writing helps me work through ideas, find clarity, and find connections between threads. It has helped me establish an area of expertise, a personality and point of view, and work through ideas that interest me. Also? I love to write. Words are my chosen medium, so blogging is a natural fit for me.
I know some of you will roll your eyes when I tell you that traffic and subscribers were never a huge aim for me, but they weren’t. They’ve definitely become valuable along the way, because visibility has brought me opportunity, like jobs and speaking gigs and book deals. So I don’t discount them, and I value sustaining the growth, but I don’t obsess over analytics and I don’t do a lot of gerrymandering purposefully to improve my stats. I just write, and spend a little money on decent design.
I didn’t, for example, ever set up my blog for the purpose of generating revenue through ads or products, so my immediate goals were NOT centered around traffic or hits or anything of the sort. I just wanted to start creating content that could form a basis for other things (like my then-consulting services). And that content has had the residual benefits I’d hoped for in terms of establishing me as an authoritative voice in my industry.
It’s also worth noting that I write in social media about social media. Which is a bit of a jolt, because social media people love to read about social media. So the natural content consumers, creators, and sharers are a big part of my audience (the rest is the more mainstream corporate management/exec type). That has most certainly made it easier to create a visible blog in a very nascent industry. If you’re writing about lapidary work or illuminated calligraphy, you might find that there’s a much smaller niche for that and your results will be relative.
So, here’s a bit of a rundown of what I’ve learned through the blogging adventure.
1. Consistency Counts.
I used to hate the idea that I needed to write regularly, or to adhere to some kind of schedule. Some people still get hives when you say that, preferring to focus on the “write when you have something to say” mantra. I think both are true.
I definitely write more passionately when I have something to say, but the practice of writing is equally important in cultivating a voice and a body of work overall. Getting good at writing for an audience means creating some cohesion, and it’s hard to do that in fits and starts. Sometimes, you can accomplish that by writing even if you don’t publish.
If traffic and eyeballs are a goal you have however, my experience (read: stats) also says that writing and publishing consistently and regularly makes a positive difference in that regard. My sweet spot is about 3 posts per week, but you’ll have to test yours to see what works best for you since there ain’t no secret formula here.
But writing is a discipline, honestly. If you have aims to use your writing as a vehicle to something else – work, leads, speaking gigs, book deals, advocacy – you have to work at it to make it good. And the only way to work at it is to do it. A lot.
2. Sometimes Blogging Sucks.
Not every moment of blogging is bliss. That’s just the way of it.
If you can think of your blog more as a ground for adventure and experimentation instead of gospel, that’ll go down a bit easier. But you’ll have clunkers. You’ll have posts you look back on months (or years) later as cringe-worthy. You’ll piss someone off, you’ll contradict yourself, you’ll get absolute crickets for the post you were convinced was your masterpiece.
You’ll get critiques from your closest friends and complete strangers, and some of them will sting. You will hit a wall or a dry spell, and you won’t want to write anymore at all. It’s all part of the game, and so many factors contribute to it.
That’s why #1 above is important. The more you work at it, the more you find what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll shove yourself through the rough spots. You can write once a month and figure it out eventually, but it’ll take a lot longer to do.That’s your choice.
But the universal truth is that blogging is like every other pursuit. There are ups, there are downs, and they’re both important to creating a complete picture. If you’re lucky, you’ll learn something from both.
3. Know What You’re In It For.
Some people blog to make money. Some write for ego and attention. Some people blog to rally people to a cause. Some (like me) write to express and explore ideas. Some write to publish their work or exercise their creativity. They’re all perfectly fine objectives.
Your audience will be different depending on your goals, so will your approach, your success rate, and how much work and effort it takes. But whatever your aims, know what they are. That way your decisions can always be measured against those aims to see if they line up, and you’ll know when you’re off the reservation.
4. Capture Ideas Everywhere.
One of the most common roadblocks bloggers face – and the one that often leads to giving up – is a lack of inspiration. You just run out of things to say, or you think you do.
One thing that’s helpful to me is having a way to capture fleeting post ideas whenever the inspiration strikes. I happen to love Evernote because of its translation across phone, iPad, and laptop. But I also think things like Dragon Dictation could come in handy. I scribble in my Moleskine, and have even been known to use my daughter’s bathtub crayons to scrawl something on the shower wall if it hits me then. Whatever it takes.
At present, I have about 112 blog post ideas in varying stages of draft in my Evernote folder. Some are just titles or ideas. Others are partially written drafts. Others are photos, or clips from other articles that inspired another thought. I may or may not ever get to them, and I delete drafts that I go back to later and make me think “meh”. But if I’m in writing mode and I don’t have a topic immediately to mind, I *always* manage to find something in my drafts folder that seems to fit my mood.
5. Your Content Will Evolve.
That’s part of the idea.
You may start in one direction, and end up somewhere else. Your posts will mature, your voice will change and settle in, you’ll find new things you’re passionate about and you’ll frequently question your own direction. You’ll write lots of list posts, then you’ll hate them. You’ll go crazy with the latest blogging meme, then you’ll be a purist all over again. You’ll sit and stare at the screen and wonder if you’ve lost your edge, and you’ll try something different. Some of those things will fail, some will be wildly awesome. You’ll get newly inspired by something you’d never known about before. You might try different types of content, or different subject matter altogether.
When you change stuff, it might be just a tweak in direction, or a complete overhaul of your blog from the ground up. You might come full circle, and find that where you started was where you wanted to be after all. It’ll happen. It’s all part of the adventure. Content isn’t an absolute, it’s dynamic. As it should be. That’s what keeps us – and you – interested and engaged.
6. It’s a Long Haul.
So, three years it’s been for Brass Tacks. And it’s a fairly successful blog that’s gained a bit of recognition, though I’m no superstar.
But at the beginning, it took me six months of blogging, several times per week, to really find the start of my footing. (Keep in mind that’s also after having THREE other blogs in past worlds that ended up nowhere). And by footing I mean starting to establish a clear focus, a unique voice, a sense of confidence, and yes, some regular attention that stuck around for a while. That’s when other people started to share my content. Comment more. Send other people over to check things out. That kind of thing.
And you know what?
It still needs my attention. Blogs don’t coast. You can’t just set it and forget it. You’ve got to keep feeding the machine, keeping it fresh, devoting your attention to it. It’s like a relationship, really, with your blog. Once you get it moving, you’ve got to *keep* it moving, or it stagnates and even dies on the vine. If you don’t care about momentum or lack thereof, then by all means, do it or stop doing it for a while, or whatever you feel like. But if a long-term, thriving, authoritative blog is something you’re striving for, it’s not an overnight thing, and you’ve gotta keep it going.
7. No One Is Making You Do This.
You don’t have to blog. And if you don’t want to blog, you’re better off not doing it.
I enjoy writing. It’s part of me, which makes blogging something I enjoy, not something I dread. Sure, it helps me from a business perspective, but if I hated it, I’m not at all sure I’d keep doing it. There’s not a universal law that says you have to have a blog. You’re not a victim of social media pressure, either, you’re in control. If you can’t find an approach to blogging or a topic that motivates you to keep wanting to do it, that’s a problem. And you’ve got to figure out why you’re beating your head against the wall.
Why? First of all, we can tell. If your content is created because of some sense of obligation, it’ll read that way. Second, there are far too many other things you could do to make an impact on your work and life that DO motivate you, so why burn energy on something that doesn’t?
If you hate blogging, you have my permission to quit doing it. Or change gears completely, nuke your blog, and start over (no unicorns will die if you do that, I promise, even if you’re famous). Unless it’s a requisite of your job, then I want to talk to your boss about why they’re giving that job to *you*.
8. Quit Comparing Yourself. And Forget This Post.
Oh, how many times I would look over my shoulder at the other bloggers I was supposed to emulate, or want to be like. I would read copious amounts of content about how to make my blog better and get myself all wrapped around the axle about everything from plugins to what lists I was on to how long a post should be and whether I should follow some kind of secret writing formula.
And then I realized the truth: the only universal constant of blogging is that there is none.
For everything I’ve learned and say works for me? Your success might be found in the opposite. For as much as I’m not focused on blogging for traffic, plenty of people have it down to a science and make good money doing it. I’ve questioned my own ways, changed them, gone back again. Taken advice, ignored it, adhered to some of the rules and broken many, many more.
The only thing that seems to really matter is that I keep working hard to write stuff that people want to read and that also feels like stuff I want to write. Somewhere in the middle, good stuff happens. Much of it probably unlikely to be instructed in a blog post, ironically enough. Be ok with forging your own path rather than following the one someone else laid.
I’d love to hear what you’ve learned, whether you’ve been blogging for a month or a decade. And if you’re blogging, are these obvious? Are they things you know are reassuring to hear anyway? Were there any surprises?
The hard part about these “lessons” posts is that some of these things might seem obvious, but aren’t to everyone, so someone may just find the encouragement they need to write or keep writing, and that’s worth a bunch. At the same time, it can feel really unoriginal to share a bunch of stuff that doesn’t feel very groundbreaking at all.
So, some of you asked and I answered. And if there’s something that I can weigh in on in the comments that I didn’t think of here, I’d love to do so. Hope it was helpful. Share what you’ve learned, too?