As some readers may remember, I started this blog on a lark, as a quick refresh for an old and out-of-date website before my 25th college reunion. When I started, I did not have a plan to continue the blog, but I’ve kept going anyway. Having a place to put the ideas that clutter my head has been rewarding in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and I’ve met some terrific friends along the way. Now after writing at least monthly, often weekly, and sometimes daily for almost 10 straight years, I’ve learned a few things about blogging that might be worth sharing. The first lesson has to do with listicles, which are ubiquitous for good reason. The second lesson, predictable scheduling, is the heaviest lift (as one might say these days) but possibly the most important for anyone trying to build an audience. The third lesson, specific to blogging (as opposed to newsletters or other types of online content) has to do with using the medium, and I’ll save those details for when we get there.
We’ll start with the easy stuff: listicles. If you’re not in the trade (which, to be clear, I am not) and are unfamiliar with this term (as I was, until educated by a magazine-writing friend), a listicle is an article in numbered list form, usually with a headline like, “3 lessons from a decade of blogging” (or, better “7 sex tips for bored couples”). For anyone writing on deadline and lacking inspiration or time to do thorough research, listicles are life-savers. That, in itself, isn’t the lesson though. Listicles can be particularly useful, I’ve found, for a quick dopamine fix. If you’re in a rut and need a boost, this type of writing might feed the kind of reward loop that will keep you from throwing in the towel. Whether you’re just getting started or have been at it a while and are feeling fatigued, a listicle might be just the pick-me-up you need to stay motivated. It’s an easy one to try, too. Keep in mind that odd numbers outperform even numbers, and there are diminishing returns in click rate for numbers higher than 10.
Listicles also work toward the second lesson I’ve learned (am learning) (might yet learn), which is that regular, consistent, predictable posting (or distribution) is the key to building and retaining engaged readers. Great content, published sporadically will not produce the same kind of interaction and engagement as mediocre content published regularly. Not original advice, I know. The lesson is that the advice is actually worth taking, despite the fact that not every reader will read every post. Some might even say to you, in the aisle of the grocery store, “I mean to read what you write every week, but I just can’t keep up!” (Yes, true story – and at the time I took it as permission to become lax and lazy in scheduling). It does not matter if every reader reads every post. What matters is that the readers know they can find your post (or article, etc.) at the roughly the same time, on the same day(s), every time. Have I mastered this particular lesson? Well, if you’ve been here even a short time, then you already know the answer is “no.” When I did keep to a regular weekly (Saturdays, before 10:30 a.m.) schedule, though, everything worked better. Who do I think does a particularly good job of publishing regularly (and consistently) but not overloading it? Heather Cox Richardson, hands down.
The third lesson I’ve learned (specific to blogging and not applicable to newsletters) is the most important, particularly for anyone with even a teensy-weensy streak of perfectionism. Ready? IT’S A BLOG, AND YOU CAN GO BACK AND EDIT ANYTHING, WHENEVER YOU WANT! It’s a blog. A blog. So use the medium. Go back and edit, re-date, remove, repost, etc. Let that freedom and flexibility give you a happy trigger finger on the “Publish” button. And by “you,” I clearly mean ME. It’s a fucking blog, so write something publish it, and then go back and edit if you want (or not).
Are there other lessons I’ve learned from the past decade of blogging? Sure, but none that rise top of mind in the same way as these three. Do these three lessons apply equally to business blogging, not just personal blogging? Maybe, because even content creators writing for big corporations need an occasional dopamine boost from a spike in readership. Is blogging even still a thing? Yes – though it’s changing, of course. (Here’s what HubSpot has to offer on that subject.) So if you want to start (or reinvigorate) a blog, for yourself or your organization, today’s as good a time as any to start and see where things go. If you run dry on ideas, then you can whip up a listicle. If you remember that it’s a blog (editable, FOREVER), then you’ll have an easier time publishing regularly – even though you’ll have to accept that not every reader will read every post. You might even find, as I have, that the practice, even if sporadic, adds a kind of structure that helps you feel settled.
Postscript: It wouldn’t be right not to offer a final note of deep gratitude to the marvelous Pat Kelly, drill sergeant of the five paragraph essay structure. Like a listicle, it’s always there, always reliable, always gratifying.)
This post is 4/56 in a self-directed challenge to write something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.