10 Things I’ve Learned After a Decade of Blogging — Part 1
Ten years ago this week — on February 7, 2004, to be exact — I published this blog’s first post. So it’s time to celebrate a decade of blogging with a bit of reflection.
I have to admit that hitting the 10th anniversary of this blog has been something I’ve looked forward to and dreaded.
I’ve looked forward to it because it feels like a major accomplishment, more so than any other blogging anniversary I’ve reached so far, and if I’m completely honest, one I never imagined I’d reach. I’ve dreaded it because doing something like this for 10 years makes me feel like I should immediately be able to offer some grand wisdom about how it should be done, or some “secrets” that will revolutionize blogging.
I don’t have those, unfortunately, but I have 10 lessons I’ve learned that I hope you’ll find insightful or at least moderately helpful.
The reason I started a blog was that I fancied myself a younger version of Andy Rooney, ready to entertain with great wit and wisdom about both important and mundane issues of the day. I wasn’t a younger version of Andy Rooney, nor am I today. But that was the motivation back in 2004.
That same year, I was asked to write a post for the first anniversary of the now-defunct AOL Journals, the blogging platform on which Patrick’s Place began. Back then, I described blogging as building a house, furnishing it in a way that you felt was just right then going away for a short time. But rather than locking up the house, you opened the doors to all of your rooms (except for the basement where you keep those future furnishings you’re not ready for the world to see, yet) and you then leave the front door wide open.
You wonder if someone will walk in and explore. You hope they’ll enjoy what they see and leave you a message telling you that they did. But you hope — even secretly — that someone will stop by. This brings me to lesson number one:
Lesson #1: We blog because we want to know if anyone’s out there.
It may sound silly, but we want to know that there’s someone who cares enough to read what we have to say. (And hopefully, that they care even more once in a while to leave a comment or two along the way.) We want to have a voice, but it’s only common sense that having a voice is meaningless unless we know someone else actually hears it once in a while.
Even people who only write for themselves hope there’s someone out there who feels the way they do.
Lesson #2: As much as we may write for ourselves, we have to write for our audience, too.
If we’re not at least making an attempt to write as though other people are welcome, other people aren’t going to feel welcome. And then you have to wonder why they’d bother showing up.
I know that it’s fashionable for bloggers to claim that they only write for themselves and don’t care what their audience thinks. With a handful of exceptions, I call this balderdash. There’s nothing wrong with expressing yourself, and I don’t fault anyone who chooses blogging as a means to that end.
But ask yourself two important questions: First, how much do we accomplish if we publish a blog that no one ever reads; and Second, how much more do we feel we accomplish when we get the gratification of someone simply stopping long enough to say, “I agree” or “Good job.”
Maybe it’s entirely a subconscious thing for some of us. Or maybe for a handful of us, we just don’t want to admit that we crave a little attention now and then. But I’m convinced that most of us write because we want that audience. And that means we need to write for them, not to them.
Lesson #3: I don’t want customers and leads: I want readers and community.
These days, much of the talk about blogging centers on business. Well, I treat my blog as a business in terms of the effort I put into it. But there’s nothing for you to buy here. No purchase necessary. The only thing I might want to “sell” you on is an idea I’m putting forward. But if you disagree, I haven’t exactly lost a sale in the business sense.
I have nothing against business blogging, mind you. But not everyone who blogs is looking for leads or numbers on a database. I want interaction with human beings. And so when I receive advice that seems to focus on numbers without any concern for the people who comprise them, that’s advice I’m not particularly impressed with.
Speaking of advice, that brings me to the fourth lesson.
Lesson #4: Chew on all that the “blogging experts” tell you, then do what works for you.
On one level, it’s such an obvious notion. But I wish I’d had someone tell me that ten years ago. I see self-proclaimed blogging experts dictate policy to less-experienced bloggers on a weekly basis. And I see those newbies scratching their heads, getting discouraged by ideas that they aren’t ready to embrace or can’t make work.
Here’s a big secret: when it comes to blogging, there’s no “One Size Fits All.” Not everyone writes the same way, not everyone reads the same way. You have to figure out who your audience is, who you want it to be, and provide content that satisfies them.
The particulars on how to do that could be the subject of endless debate. But the greatest advice in the world doesn’t help you if it makes you so miserable that you kill your blog, does it?
Listen to the advice — mine, included — and take from it as much as you can. Just don’t take so much that you strangle your own creativity.
Here’s an example:
Lesson #5: You don’t have to write every single day.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard bloggers insist that you Must — yes, that’s with a capital M! — write every day, no matter what. If you feel like writing, you write. If you don’t feel like writing, you write. If you’re on your deathbed, you write. If you’re home with a sick child, you write.
Stop the insanity!
“Writers write.” That’s one of those silly little gems that are thrown around by people who really want to win the argument. Of course writers write. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be called writers, would they?
Bloggers blog. Painters paint. Farmers farm. Teachers teach. The list goes on and on.
But writers also read. The better writers study how more successful writers do it and learn new ways to be better themselves. Writers observe, too. So much of writing requires that the writer put himself into the minds of people and places other than his own. You can’t do that if you never leave the keyboard.
It is not the end of the world when a writer (or a blogger) decides to take a day off to do something else that might lead to new ideas or new perspectives for the next thing he writes. Sometimes a day off is just what you need to keep the creative juices flowing.