So my friend Mitch Joel wrote a post a week or so ago about how he blogs, and he tagged a few of us misfits in hopes that we’d write one of our own. So because I’d hate to do anything to let Mitch down — he is charming, after all — here’s a post about my blogging process, which amazingly enough has stayed pretty consistent over the years.
I write to discover what I think.
That’s a paraphrase of a quote from esteemed and outrageously talented writer Joan Didion. She’s amazing, but this philosophy really resonates with me and it’s been at the core of my blog from day one. Sometimes I have a definitive idea and the exercise is putting that into words. Other times I have a question I don’t at all have an answer to. Writing is as much an exploratory thing for me as a declarative thing.
My blog has certainly been helpful as a qualifier for people who want to work with me, including a big part of what landed me the gig with Radian6 back what seems like forever ago (and was actually in 2008) and my book contract. It’s a powerful marketing and positioning tool, and I deeply appreciate and value its place in my work.
But it’s never been a deliberate, crafted exercise in “what will make people hire me or buy stuff?” when I write. I suck at SEO, I don’t follow blogging “rules”, I don’t agonize over headlines like I should and I rarely pitch my stuff or write about the hot new thing or create controversy to stir some traffic. I couldn’t tell you what my traffic numbers are if you asked me, and that’s not humblebrag false humility BS, it’s seriously that I don’t know, because it’s not what I write for.
Writing is a form of exploration and expression for me that happens to also have business benefits because I’m moderately good at it. Blogging is a wonderful, shorter form outlet for thoughts. A testing ground for ideas, a way to communicate with colleagues and the community, a platform to have a voice (or the tiny illusion of one) in a very restless and noisy world.
Evernote is my go to app for capturing ideas on the fly, because I can get to it from my phone or my iPad or my laptop and never forget where I wrote something down. It can be just a post idea, or a few full-blown paragraphs that come to mind.
Sometimes I do turn to my trusty Moleskine, because my brain works like this: In the early stages of a concept when I’m still brainstorming or thinking, I *have* to do it on paper. I don’t totally understand why. But once I get something to a place where I can outline the major bits, I can start typing. Before that, it’s got to be pen on paper.
I have 202 drafts in my blogging notebook in Evernote as of today. Most of them will never see the light of day, they were shards of ideas or aimless wanderings down dead-end paths. There’s a few hotheaded rants in there that aren’t worthy of publishing but were particularly helpful for purging a bit of energy in the moment (they sound downright silly now). Some drafts will die in the notebook. Others I’ll rediscover months from now and I’ll surface them again thanks to a spark of inspiration.
I find ideas everywhere. Sometimes it’s carrying forward with where someone else’s idea leaves off. Other times it’s sparked by a conversation started on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll think of something on a plane, in the shower (thank heaven for bathtub crayons when that happens), in the midst of reading a book, during a totally unrelated movie. I’ve learned from experience that if I don’t have a place to put it, I’ll forget it, so I write it down.
Sometimes I forget what I was trying to tell myself, or my own notes read like hieroglyphics. That’s ok. It’s better than losing the really good post idea because I was half asleep when it showed up.
I’m built on WordPress, but never EVER ever ever EVER write straight in the browser. I’ve lost too many drafts that way. I write in Evernote, then move it to the blog to format and post.
It takes me anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to compose a post, depending on its complexity and whether it’s a concrete thought or an exercise in making a thought concrete.
Sometimes I sit and write a post in one shot. Others I have to come back to a couple of times to get them clear. I wish I was the kind of person who could claim a writing discipline that manifests in a metered fashion, but I’m a bit different than that.
When Jay and I wrote The Now Revolution, he wrote 1,500 words a day, period. I write something everyday, but sometimes it’s personal. Sometimes it’s work work. And for the book, I would go days on end with nothing written and then bang out 15,000 words in a sitting (which drove poor Jay nuts when we were close to deadline). As a result, when I get in a writing groove for the blog, I’ll often write a handful of posts and bank them or schedule them for later. Because I know I’ll have days where writing for the blog just isn’t in my brain stream.
Once upon a time I was pretty disciplined about publishing 3 times a week. That’s softened a bit as I get a new business up and running, and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to a rigid schedule here or not. I like the freedom that comes from publishing when I’m inspired, though I know my blog gets more consistent growth when I publish predictably. My goal for this blog isn’t growth, though. It’s something different now. That’s another post.
I’m horrifically inconsistent about replying to comments.
For some posts, I’ll reply to each and every one. For others, I’ll reply to a handful here and there that evoke a response. Other times – though it’s sacrilege to say so – I don’t reply to any at all. It’s not because I don’t appreciate them or care about what other people have to say. It’s truly because work will distract my attention, or life or my kid or something else. I read them all, I just don’t always respond. I know that’s evil to some, but it’s part of the reality and inconsistency that comes with blogging when it isn’t your job.
As for promoting and sharing a post, I’ll do it maybe twice a day on Twitter (once during the day and once at night) and once each on something like Facebook or Google+. I don’t always remember to do that, and I don’t have a formula I follow. Some posts I’m super proud of and they garner good discussion, so I’ll share them more often. Others I’m content to just let be.
The reality is that most posts have a shelf life of about 48 hours. The ones that are the ‘hits’ are never the ones I think, and I’m always amazed at the ones people are still reading, commenting on and sharing many months later. I don’t lose my head over trying to make every post a home run by blogger standards. Then it’s no fun anymore.
If all of the above isn’t enough for you, I wrote a post last August about a few of the Lessons Learned From the Long Blogging Road. I’d say they’re still true almost a year later, and you’ll note some consistent themes from what I’ve mentioned here.
Above all? Blog because you find something in it that you really enjoy. There’s nothing worse than reading content that’s been written because someone wants an ad click or a traffic number to show to their boss. The best blogs – even the ones successful by “traditional” terms – have a spark of something in them that brings them to life more than others.
The day I dislike the writing is the day I stop doing this. Perhaps I owe you an apology as a result, because I think you’re stuck with me for a while.
Thanks to Mitch for the nudge, and for being one of the good guys. Blog on, my friends.