That’s quite the claim. Let’s start from the beginning.
I’ve gotten a lot of practice writing blog posts, both for myself and for other people. I’ve been curating my little corner of the blogosphere for a little over a year now. With experience comes knowledge, and wow, have I learned a lot. Above all else, though, I’ve learned that I’m really bad at being a blogger.
I started this blog as a sort of website or content hub for more current writing so that anyone who comes across my name on the internet will associate it with something other than a handful of college projects and some social media profiles. In the event that I get published, this will eventually become a place to talk more about my work itself, upcoming projects and events, and other Official Author Things.
For now, though, I exist in this weird blogging limbo, and by all conventional wisdom, it’s not pretty. Here are some of the ways that, when it comes to my own blog here, I’m really terrible at this job. Maybe I’m not alone in this, but let’s find out.
I didn’t start with any ideas about my audience, niche, or focus.
I didn’t have a crystal-clear vision when I started this blog. It’s not that I didn’t think about it for a while—I toyed with different ideas before deciding on the site’s current form—but I could probably have sat back and considered it more. It’s kind of the chicken-and-egg phenomenon I alluded to earlier: I need a place to keep my writing for publication purposes, but until I get published there isn’t much I can talk about that doesn’t already exist online somewhere.
A lot of the advice out there involves focusing on a niche category and putting a spin on it so that it isn’t identical to everyone else’s site. Additionally, there’s a lot of emphasis on being an expert with something to share with an audience. Expert? Me? Not quite. I’m an expert on not being an expert, sure, and I can talk about the “behind the scenes” kind of stuff all I want, but I didn’t start with an audience in mind because I had no idea who would benefit from my kind of approach.
I wish I had started this blog after I started doing freelance work (even though the blog is what got me there), because I learned a lot about writing for audiences in that process. I learned a lot about reader personas, the imaginary but fully-developed individuals with names like “Samantha” and “Richard” who have ages, education levels, careers, and their own sets of objectives, hopes, dreams, and obstacles. I studied these people and learned how to write to them and for them so that they could enact changes in their lives. If I had thought to do the same thing for myself, I’d probably be in a different place right now.
As far as what I know about my audience? You’re predominantly Americans, and you really seem to like my posts about NaNoWriMo. If you’re here, have stuck around for a bit, and aren’t related to me by blood or marriage, I’m guessing you’re a writer or other artistic type of person in a similar boat as me: stumbling along the path to whatever “making it” means to you and wanting some confirmation that you’re not alone. Beyond the very basic demographic information that WordPress gives me, though, I don’t have a target persona that encompasses everything you collectively are.
Schedule? What schedule?
That’s not entirely true. It’s changed a couple of times in the last year, but I do have something of a loose schedule. At this point, my schedule is “Every other Wednesday, for the most part, except when it’s not,” but that’s subject to change. The reasons for “it’s not” are generally life events that took precedence over the blog, but those are not acceptable excuses in the blogging world.
The impetus behind this piece of advice is that you need to update frequently, and if you’re not dedicated or passionate enough to write about something several times a week, blogging is not for you. And really, I understand that: regular updates mean that you’re on people’s minds, that you prove that you have time management skills, and that you actually care about your content and readers. I think these are all great things for a writer to be, have, and do.
On the flip side, though, there’s also advice to know your limits and to avoid doing things that you dread. In all honesty, trying to come up with enjoyable content once a week, let alone more than once, kind of stressed me out when I was first starting out the blog. I tried to take on too much too soon, and my writing suffered for it. I started to avoid all writing because I was scared of the blog, which is the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen. So I’m working with a schedule that, for now, works for me. I could increase it to once a week in the future, but that probably won’t happen until after December ends, because this is a really busy month if you’re a musician.
I write too many words.
If you’ve been around here long enough, you know that I love my words. It’s not that I can’t stick to word count limits (because I absolutely can), it’s just that, for my personal work, I don’t like to have limits like that. It’s why I’m a prose writer and not a poet.
Conventional blogging wisdom seems to peg 500 as the word count sweet spot, although the range goes from 300 to 1,000. A lot of my freelance work for clients runs from 400 to 1,000 words with some going a twitch beyond that. My posts on this blog generally run well over 1,000 words. I do see the benefits of tightening up language to meet certain requirements, but for what I do on my site, it doesn’t feel authentic.
One thing I could stand to do more of here is search engine optimization. It’s another one of those things I got more comfortable with as I took on more freelance work, and when I started this blog I was aware of SEO as a concept, but didn’t implement it at the time. Being careful about the words that I put in, and using more effective words rather than a sheer volume of them, would probably bring more traffic.
Another thing that I learned in my proverbial freelance journey is that I write way too long of paragraphs. In the age of the internet, there’s a lot of advice about breaking up long blocks of text because they’re hard to read on computers, tablets, and phone screens. Short sentences and paragraphs are in vogue, as are bullet points and lists. You’re supposed to write for people who are reading in quiet moments in the checkout line and on their commute rather than dedicating their full time and attention to something. While I have practice with both, I just find being creative easier when I have more room to play.
How am I supposed to read this? It doesn’t even have pictures!
This is another point that I see people of conflicting opinions about. A lot of blog advice lists praise attractive images and photography for catching the reader’s eye and giving them something other than paragraphs to look at. Some posts, however, deride images as being clutter and distractions from your content, which should be the thing that people come to see.
I keep my amateur photography to Instagram, but don’t really share many images on this site. There just isn’t very much to look at when it comes to me and my process, and there are only so many pictures of my desk that I can take before someone realizes that it’s the same thing all the time. Sharing images of the things that I research would be cool to do, and probably something for you to look forward to, but not much of my research has been “field work” kind of stuff, and I’ve been hesitant to use images from other sources because copyright rules for images can get sticky.
Including on this post, actually.
Most of this advice comes from a place of either “don’t air public grievances unless that’s your brand” and “don’t pick fights with people on the internet.” These pieces of advice are quick to point out that online personalities who go on rants are popular because misery loves company, but that you’ll go farther by being more of a positive influence and an inspiration to the community you seek to build.
I’d like to think that my negativity is more from a place of self-deprecation and pessimism than actual bitterness, and that this is how it comes across to my readers. I was also hoping more for an honest and authentic approach that felt more like “this is what no one tells you about how the artistic life looks for someone just starting out, so let’s commiserate about it” than angry ranting. Whether or not I’ve achieved that is up to you.
…Email list? Friends?
I’m a shy introvert that never was good about making friends or approaching people to ask them for something. I acknowledge and respond to comments here and talk with people on social media, but actually making contacts in the way that people mean when they say “networking” hasn’t been something I’ve done all that well. It’s something that I’ll start pushing more toward in the future.
According to most of the blogging advice I read while preparing for this post, I should have started a weekly e-newsletter the moment my blog went live. I didn’t do it then because I was still getting my footing and I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of generating what would effectively be another complete post in email form. That, and I didn’t have any products to sell or events to update people on: why would I need a newsletter? After those first few months, it just became a matter of putting it off.
A one-year plan.
The thing about writing-related blogging is that your plans rely on the implementation of other plans. My plan for the future of this blog is to keep on posting every other week when I’m able, possibly bumping that back up to once a week once the holiday season wanes. I’ll probably start reaching out to other bloggers and optimizing what I already do here. I’ll work on getting the current manuscript done and sent out so that I have something to promote and talk about.
As for a timeline for that? I don’t have a clue. Writing is not an easy industry to predict, and life can always get in the way. Every time I make a schedule or a timeline, something inevitably comes up. So for the next year, I’m aiming for forward momentum and just kind of hoping I don’t fall on my face in the meantime. I’ve been told by a few friends that I’m pretty good at getting back on wagons I fall off of: whether you call that stubbornness or persistence, I know I have that on my side.
So what do I do right?
A lot of my more valuable life lessons come from my experiences as a musician. The one piece of advice that I think most applies here? “Fake it ‘til you make it.” It’s beautiful, it’s simple, and it works for everything from music to writing to adult life in general.
If you make a silly mistake, own it loudly and proudly. You’ll know that you’ve made a mistake, but no one in the audience will know unless you point it out. You might have stumbled, but if you act like it’s part of the show, it might as well be.
So I might not have done everything I was supposed to. In fact, according to the most common tips, there are very few things I even got remotely close on, let alone right. But readers, especially those of you that have stuck around for a while: would you have known any of this if I didn’t write well over 2,000 words poking fun at myself for it? Probably not, because that’s part of my voice, which is the thing you’re here for. You’re here because, for one reason or another, you want to hear what I have to say, regardless of whether it fits into a formula or checklist.
Let’s hear from some other blogging rebels.
Are you a blogger that goes against conventional wisdom? What rules have you broken? Are you going to start following them or no? Do you have any advice of your own? Feel free to share your stories in the comments!