In all reality, I’m the last person you want to be taking advice from when it comes to blogging. Although in some respects, I am a good case study for what not to do when you sit down and decide that “Dammit! Today is the day that I will start a blog”.
Now, if you’re considering starting a blog, then there’s got to be two things about your situation that we can surmise. The first is that you read other people’s blogs. It’s not required; my feed-reader is admittedly sparsely populated, but certainly not empty. There are some blogs that I read because their authors inspire me through their writing, their subjects, and their philosophies. Chances are pretty good that you have a stable of blogs that you read that are driving you to consider taking up the electron quill yourself.
The second is that you feel that you want to speak to the public. Some would say that blogging stems from a desire to “say something”, but really if you just wanted to write down your thoughts, you could keep a journal at home and be done with it. Blogging is really about engagement with a community through a topic of your choice, and in a format that social media simply can’t handle. Think about all of the blogs you’ve personally commented on; that’s you right now. Now think about the process from the other side of that relationship; that’s you where you want to be by taking up the art of blogging.
In a way, blogging is about power. Not the “volcanic lair and Persian cat” kind of power, but the power of creation, of expression, community, and if you’re lucky, you get the bonus of influence. Those three elements are really what drive people to blog, and the bonus objective, I think, is a carrot for a lot of people.
One of the best parts of blogging for me is the act of setting up the blog itself. Sadly, in the age of mobile and tablets, a lot of the presence of a blog is lost, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter! First and foremost, a blog is your home. It’s where you feel comfortable, and like any home the design reflects who you are. People do come to the desktop version of the site, and a good first impression is always important, but ultimately it’s about exercising your creativity to make a space you’ll be proud to shop around.
Expressing yourself to the public is never easy, especially on the Internet. Blogging for friends is like having a conversation. Chances are you’re pretty comfortable with those people, and they know your mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Blogging for acquaintances is a little tougher, because you might end up revealing parts of yourself that you hadn’t brought out before, for reasons. And blogging for total strangers…that’s tough. We’ve all been advised to “not read the comments”, and we all know that those kinds of people are just one keyword away from finding your blog. They could be insightful and thought provoking (which is gold for any blogger), or they could make you rue the day you decided to set out your own shingle.
The thing is, no blog blossoms right out of the gate. Like any garden, your blog will take time to grow, and part of that growth will require cultivation of your readers. Your titles and content will bring them in, but ultimately it’s your personality and your voice that will make people return. Over time, you’ll shed the haters and collect the people who matter. In essence, you’ll grow to inhabit your own corner of the community that you serve, and as a result your blog will gain momentum as it’s shared through social media, trackback links, and good old fashioned habit among regular visitors.
Conventional wisdom will tell you that you should write for yourself. Don’t go chasing delusions of grandeur because the minute you feel that goal slipping from your grasp you’re going to get discouraged and want to quit. Writing can be therapeutic, an exercise to improve your writing skills, and a great way to meet new people. But sometimes it happens that a blog takes off and starts getting a lot of regular readers. Maybe it’s referenced frequently in other blogs. Maybe you catch the eyes of people in the industry you’re writing about, and your popularity soars. What then? Great power, great responsibility and all that. Few bloggers are considered to be influential among their peers, and fewer still are considered to be influential within the industries they cover. If you ever find yourself in that position, keep in mind that you’re writing out of love of the subject; you’re now part of it’s life support.
The ultimate payout is, like most any endeavor, based on what you put into it. Some days (maybe most days) you won’t like your writing, and that’ll discourage you. Some days you’ll see no traffic on posts you really loved, and that will discourage you. Some days you won’t be able to think of any topic that you want to spend time writing about, and that will discourage you.
Some days you’ll see a spike in traffic. Some days you’ll read back through your older posts and be astounded that you wrote the awesome posts that you’re reading. Some days you’ll get a lot of social media traction, pingbacks, and comments. Those days may be fewer than the days when it seems no one knows your blog exists, but the good days outweigh the bad by orders of magnitude. During those good times, don’t be afraid to get critical and analyze the differences between the high traffic posts and the low traffic posts. Don’t be afraid to break that fourth wall between creator and consumer for feedback about what readers like. Remember, you’re both providing a service, and putting yourself out there through engagement. Anything you can do to make the experience better for others and for yourself is a win-win situation.