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Five Lessons from Five Years of Blogging

Five years ago today, I published my first blog post on a rinky-dink website I called Spiritual Klutz.  That post was a little essay called “Fatherhood Hits Me Upside the Head,” which I managed to write in spite of the grogginess and exhaustion of being a new dad.

In the 1,825 days that have passed since then, I’ve posted hundreds of blog posts, Facebook status updates on my page, and a few tweets; and I’ve learned some valuable lessons in the process.  Here are five of them that I’m happy to share with my fellow bloggers:

1. Very few people in the world care what you have to say, so write for fun, not for fame.  I know you feel like you’ve shared something really special with the world when you click that “publish” button.  But guess what?  Relatively few people care anything about your writing.  Every minute, there are billions of words being spilled onto blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and other websites; and your contribution is just another grain of sand on an endless beach of mostly-useless verbiage.  So in light of that reality, I would encourage you to write about what strikes your interest; and as a result, you’ll probably sound more interesting to the handful of folks who actually take the time to read your posts.

2. Don’t check the numbers.  It’s so tempting to check the stats on your blog to see if people are interested in what you have to say.  And in a way, stats are helpful.  You get a good idea of what resonates with your audience – the titles that make them click, the subjects that make people link to you.  But in the end, it does more harm than good.  The tail inevitably begins to wag the dog, and you’re no longer writing for fun – you’re writing because you want to celebrate that 200 people clicked on your post.  But then after 200 people click on the post, you want to see 300, 700, 900, 1,200 and so on.  Statistics become a twisted validation game where the number of clicks determine your value as a writer and human being.  And because your successes can never be successful enough, the endless validation game just makes you feel like a loser every time.

3. Set a schedule and keep it.  The internet is littered with defunct blogs that people started and abandoned three weeks later.  When people see your breathless Facebook announcement that you’ve started a blog, they sigh; click on it; read a quarter of your first entry; and assume you’ll quit in three weeks.  Prove them wrong with consistent, quality, writing on a regular, reliable basis, and they’ll come back for more.

4. How to deal with writer’s block: tell the truth.  Sometimes when I sit down to write about an idea, I just can’t seem to get the right words out; and it’s usually because I don’t know the point I’m trying to make.  I’ve just got an partially-formed idea.  When that happens, I get still, close my eyes, think about the topic, and ask myself, What is true?  Then I sit there quietly and wait for the truth to surface until I’ve got the conclusion to my post.  When it finally comes to me, it’s relatively easy to write a clear post that resonates with other people.

5. Know that you’re going to be weird about it.  If you get serious about blogging, you’re going to suffer from a little bit of neuroses.  It’s tough to be a creative producer and then put it out there for the rest of the world to mostly ignore or critique.  You’ll go through times of insecurity, overconfidence, despair, and dryness – but if you’ll press through it and keep writing about things that you know are true, you’ll probably have the kind of meaningful influence that will make the process worth it.

Now that I think of it, I could probably write a 15-point list of things I’ve learned from five years of blogging, but that would violate one more pointer of mine: be okay with brevity.  In a world where people can hardly bear to read through a string of 140-character tweets without getting bored, you’d better believe they’re not going to read your 1,700-word diatribe.  And although it’s okay if people choose not to read your blog, you don’t want to be the one who scared them away.

Anyway, thanks to all of you who have been checking out my work for the past five years.  And by the way, you can check it out more regularly by signing up for an email with a weekly recap of what I’ve written by clicking here or by following me on Facebook or Twitter.

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