During my first 6 months of “serious” blogging I discovered a lot of things about blogging and about myself. In the first post of this series I’ll share what I learned about the blog writing process. This is a rather long post, more than 2500 words, so I suggest you set aside some time to read it comfortably. Keep in mind that this series is targeted towards people who embraced blogging more like a profession or a revenue oriented activity rather than people who blog for relaxation or fun. There’s quite a difference between journaling and blogging.
During the first 6 months I wrote 106 articles on my blog. For the sake of statistics that accounts to 0,58 posts per day. Here’s the monthly breakdown:
October 2008 – 17 posts
November 2008 – 20 posts
December 2008 – 20 posts
January 2009 – 17 posts
February 2009 – 15 posts
March 2009 – 17 posts
The lowest month was February and the most productive months were November and December. During the first 3 months the enthusiasm level was pretty high and I found it easier to work. But after the first 100 days I had to rely more on self-discipline than on enthusiasm. The motivation was there all the time, but the drive to work is made of more than just enthusiasm. I had to really stick with it. I had to keep a constant flow of work, and here’s why.
Posting speed is one of the key metrics of blogging. Here are some of my thoughts about blog metrics, among other things, if you want to know more about this topic. Based on the posting speed you can actually predict some of your other blog metrics, like traffic and comments and pingbacks. In fact, posting speed was the main metric I wanted to control during the first 6 months.
When I decided to go full time blogging, this was my first and most important commitment: to write at least 15 posts per month, one post every other day, at least 1200 words for every post. That was my number one goal.
And I did this for a number of reasons:
First of all, I think you should to test your limits before going further. You have to know how much you can do. If you’re going to make a business out of it you have to know your production capacities. So, putting myself to some kind of stress period was like prototyping my future activity. Maybe I liked blogging as a hobby but I didn’t really have the resources or the drive to make it a full time activity. Testing it was the best way to find out.
Second, if you’re going to have a blog, you’re going to write, period. This is what a blog is, after all. You really have to make a habit out of this. You have to internalize the habit of writing. There are some other activities you perform as a blogger and we’ll see a little later that your blog is far more than your posts, but you do have to have posts, in the first place.
Third, you have to make it consciously. Like, you know, from a distance. Many people who heard about blogging as a source of revenue assume that if they write their personal impressions, ramblings or rants they’ll be flooded with traffic. It’s not like this. If you’re going to blog for a source of revenue you have to make a clear difference from therapeutical writing and your day to day blogging. Some people are using their blogs as emotional safety valves and expect their readers to be really interested in that. Well, unless you’re already famous, that ain’t gonna happen.
And the last reason was trying something achievable, something realistic. One post every other day is something doable. It’s still a pretty big task for 6 months in a row, but it’s doable. Before that, I had some bad experience with blogging goal setting. Last year, in May, I started a personal challenge called 90 days blog challenge which basically meant that I will write a post per day for the next 90 days. At that time I still had to manage my company and I was still negotiating my exit process. I had so little time and so much to do. And of course, I failed miserably at that challenge, after only 17 days. Even more, I got horribly ill and actually stopped blogging until I finally solved my exit.
The goal was too big. My evaluation of what writing a daily blog post would involve was totally wrong. I wanted to keep a certain level of quality of my posts, but I didn’t had any previous experience with that, so I had to spend a lot more time on that than on things I’m really used to do. I had to tune in, to shift to a new working pace, and all this process was a little foggy for me. So I made some big mistakes.
It’s very important to have a clear focus. The first 6 months of blogging are consuming. They’re consuming your time, your resources, even your money. If you’re doing something else at the same time expect a huge increase in stress. You’ll have to do a lot more than before. So you’re going to either quit your previous job, either make a huge stretch and commit to it.
Once again, this apply to somebody who wants to make a career out of blogging, not to somebody that blogs for pleasure, fun or relaxation.
Apart from writing, you’re going to do some other tasks as a professional blogger. The most important are: responding to your comments and commenting on other blogs. There is another one which is pretty important too: social networking, but will talk more about that in the second post of this series, the one about Promotion.
In my experience, you have to set up some time to respond to the comments on your blog every day. Sometimes I do it in the moment, if it happens to be around when somebody comments on one of my posts, but most of the time I do it in the morning, when I “empty” all my comments inbox. Answering to the comments is a part of the blogging writing process. As we’ll see a little later, your comments are part of your blog too, not only your posts. So, I had to pay more and more attention to this. I usually try to engage in conversations and to express my point of vue, not just dropping “thank you” notes. Often, these comments lead to new blog post ideas. And most of the time, comments are a terrific added value to the post.
Another activity is commenting on other blogs. In the beginning, I focused on commenting on popular blogs, like those in Alexa’s top 5000, for instance. But I felt a little distance. It wasn’t really my vibe. After a period of searching, 2-3 months after starting to blog for a living, I finally found a series of blogs which I resonated with. Those were personal development blogs, like my own, relatively young and in the same league of traffic. I started to comment on those blogs and ignore the super-stars. Immediately, I started to feel better. I’ll talk more about commenting on other blogsÂ and traffic in the Promotion post on this series, for now I just wanted to stress that I did a lot of commenting on other blogs, and that is also part of the writing process.
Whenever I comment on other blogs I try to stick to the topic. I seldom put links back to my posts, although this is a widely advertised technique for getting traffic (again, more on that in the Promotion post). I set up some chunks of time every day and check out the blogs in my “network”. And I always put my personal view there, my own personal style and vision. Sometimes this is against the original author vision, but sometimes is also good to agree to disagree. Even if I’m not agreeing with the post author, I still write my comment. Even if it’s a little different, it can still bring value and it propagate my ideas.
Blog Writing Setup
But the main process I’ve finalized during this first 6 months was setting up a blogging setup. As my challenge to write a post every other day advanced I realized that I have to create a scaffold for this. I needed a way to streamline the activity, a way to become more productive. And having a business for more than 10 years was a really important advantage here. I learned a lot about how to improve processes when I used to manage my company, so all I had to do was to apply that.
First of all, I needed a much more comprehensible system for managing my posts. WordPress admin interface is good, but I needed to know more about my overall blog activity: posts categories, advertising activities, etc. So, I created a mind map in which I translated my whole blog. I already wrote about how to put your blog into a mind map. If you want to download the mind map without reading the blog posts, here’s a direct link Put your blog into a mind map (245 downloads) . The mind map is in MindManager format, and you can download a free viewer from here. But I highly recommend to read the blog post first.
Second, I needed a way to organize my authoring activities. This was a different step from above. So, I turned my MacJournal into a full blogging setup, with a GTD twist. Basically, the setup allowed me to focus on my next posts and to keep a list of my ideas and drafts in a better way than with WordPress admin interface. At the beginning of those 6 months I never knew what I should write about next. I had to improvise many times. I felt a lack of clarity and I had a sense of confusion. I didn’t even had the notion of draft.
By using a blogging setup I managed to find a place for my drafts, for my ideas and this proved to be a huge advantage. Right now, I spend little or no time in managing my future posts, because the entire activity is more or less on auto pilot. It happens naturally as I go along. In my “next posts” folder I have right now about 50 new ideas and the number grows every week, regardless of the fact that many of those future posts are actually written and published. This allows me to ponder not only the style and the size of my blog posts but gives me an overview of my entire publishing strategy. I can schedule posts based on the overall category distribution, on my partnerships, on whatever I want. I can shape my blog voice in a much more flexible way.
And the final step was to create a wordpress plugin in order to audit my whole blogging activity. This was a little bit complicated, but I really needed a way to improve my self-discipline and to assess my progress. That was after my first 3 months, around December 2008. So, I came up with the idea to write a wordpress plugin which will do exactly that. And I wrote the plugin, tested it, and used it successfully every day. In the final post on this series, that one about the Tools, I will write a little more about it and provide a download link. Right now the plugin is a little bit buggy, although usable. I know it can be hugely improved but for me it proved to be extremely helpful.
Those are the “technical” insights from my blog writing activity, but there’s more to that. I intently left to the end some of the most important stuff I learned. Because you can have a perfect setup, a strong strategy and a lot of self discipline, but you can’t really grow as a blogger unless you take into account the following lessons.
Your Blog Is Beyond Your Blog
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that your blog is not made of posts. Is made of much more than that. Your blog is made of your posts, the comments of your blog readers and your comments on other blogs. And even more than that. Keeping a blog is not a matter of writing daily under some domain name. This is only a minor part of this activity. Keeping a successful blog means extending your presence in this endless web of opportunities. Having a blog means telling the world what you want to tell, using a variety of channels. Each of these channels have an importance on its own. And you must be consistent. Writing something on your blog but commenting on other blogs with a different attitude won’t help.
Your blog is your own personality spread along all the social media. Your presence in the world wide web is made of various pieces, distributed on a variety of places. The biggest the distribution, the higher the chances for success and acknowledgement. Be everywhere you can. Be on your blog, be on other blogs, be on twitter, on facebook, on StumbleUpon, be everywhere. And be consistent. Your value is made of the accumulation of all these contributions and your blog will eventually act like a gravity spot: it will eventually attract all the people interested in your personality, all the people who want to hear your voice.
Keeping a “posts only” perspective on your blog is diminisihing and frustrating. As a professional blogger you’re not just writing articles on your blog, this is only the beginning. You must take advantage of all the opportunities around and express your personality everywhere you want.Â You can broadcast your message through your posts, to your comments responses and to your comments on other blogs, and to all the social media channels you can access. And that’s much more empowering than keeping it only to your articles. It’s difficult to grasp this in the first few months, but after a while you’ll get used to it. And it feels good, it’s rewarding.
Write Meaningful Stuff
But the most important thing I learned about writing in this first 6 months of blogging was that you should always write meaningful stuff. Write from your own experience, write from your heart, but write with a meaning. Be honest. Give purpose to what you publish each day because your readers need and deserve that.
Your readers are swimming in an ocean of information. Really, they actually do. With each blog they read, with each RSS feed they’re subscribing to, with each social interaction they engage they’re actually trying to stay at the surface. So give them something to cling on, something meaningful, something above the surface, something that will ease their journey. Give them a boat which they can sail, give them something that would make their cruise memorable.
Your readers aren’t there for your pleasure and profit, YOU are there to help them have a better life experience. Don’t make the ocean bigger by compiling common things, rehashing platitudes or copying other blogs. Your readers are already overwhelmed with that. They’re literally sinking into that liquid.
Give them a boat, don’t let them sink.