1. I can never predict which posts will be popular. The posts I think are particularly insightful or well-written, or the ones that take an especially long time to write, often get little or no interest. Meanwhile, many of the ones that I put together quickly turn out to be very popular. I’ve learned to go with the flow and accept whatever response I get.
2. I’ll never be satisfied. No matter how many readers, subscribers, commenters – choose your metric – I have, I always want more. I never hit a point where I think, Okay, that’s enough, now I’ve made it. This is human nature, the Hedonic Treadmill, and I’ve learned to accept this, too.
3. I need freedom. Three times now I’ve started a blog intending it to have a very narrow focus. I quit the first two after only a few months. The third blog – the one you’re reading now – kept going because I made the decision not to limit myself to my original topic, which was writing. Does a lack of focus cost me readers? Maybe. But if I over-focus and burn out on my topic, that will cost me even more. Besides, the “write about whatever” approach seems to work for John Scalzi.
4. It’s important to keep going, even when it feels like nobody’s reading. It’s easy to perform for a cheering crowd. But writing every day, even when you have almost no traffic? That’s a little tougher. Yet perseverance and regularity are what get you readers in the first place, which means you have to perform even when no one’s watching the stage.
5. I have to manage the time I spend blogging. A blog will consume your life, if you let it. There’s always more to do: more revision on your post-in-progress, more tweaks to your site structure or theme, more work you can do to get more readers. Right now, for instance, I’m dying to give the site a visual makeover, if I could just find a day to set aside for it. But by keeping my writing time to forty minutes or less (mostly), and not obsessing over it too much the rest of the day, I have more time and energy to keep the blog going.
6. Pictures are good, but they have to be specifically relevant. There’s no doubt that a post with a picture is more visually appealing than a big block of text. But too many bloggers decide they must have a picture in every post, and end up throwing out whatever public-domain picture they can find that’s even marginally relevant. (Old paintings seem to be a popular choice.) As a reader, though, I really only care about pictures that have some specific relevance to the topic, like a screenshot from a movie that the writer’s reviewing. Anything else is filler, and I can spot it a parsec away.
7. Respond to comments! I’ve made it a policy from day one to respond to every single comment I get on this blog. I can’t see myself ever changing that, unless the volume of comments someday just gets too big. Responding is an easy way to engage with readers and encourage more feedback in the future, so why not?
8. Resist the urge to overextend yourself in the blogging community. This was a major trap for me early on. I tried to buddy up with everybody, look at the blogs of all my commenters, get everyone to read by reading everyone. This certainly does work, but it can also get exhausting, and for me it quickly turned into an obligation rather than a pleasure. Today I just read the sites I like, and comment on the posts that interest me, without worrying how it will affect my own traffic. And the traffic you get by schmoozing is fragile anyway – you stop going to their site, and often enough, they’ll stop going to yours.
9. I hate it when bloggers give me orders. “If you haven’t read this book, what’s your excuse? Go out and buy it right now.” “You should be following her already.” “Watch this video. Go on, I’ll wait.” I know these are just expressions, just a way of showing excitement, but to me they come across as orders. That’s always irritated me, so I try to avoid saying anything like that here. If I ever do, feel free to call me out.
And the tenth thing I’ve learned about blogging is…(drum roll PLEASE)
10. I love it. Though I’ve said it before, it bears repeating: y’all are fantastic. I love writing here, and I love knowing that you read it. I love exploring these ideas with you, and I love knowing that you feel the same way (or you wouldn’t be reading). And if I say “love” one more time, this’ll turn into a Beatles song, so I’ll stop.
If you’re a blogger, what have you learned about blogging? And if you’re not, what have you learned about blogging from a reader’s point of view?