This week marks my blog’s one-year anniversary! After you’ve done anything for a year, you learn a thing or two about the right ways and the wrong ways of going about it.
Before anything, I want to say thank you to all the faithful readers out there! It’s very encouraging to hear that people are reading and sharing what’s written here. Reads, comments, Likes, and shares are pure gold for a blogger. Thank you for your thoughts and interest.
I’m sure some of you read this blog simply because you know me – thanks for that, and keep doing it! – but I do hope I can write something of substance here. Words that might clarify something, or tell and old truth, or make you think.
Here are a few thoughts on writing for an audience over the last year.
Public writing is about a relationship
You might not think of reading and writing as communal activities, but blogging really is. When you write on the internet, you’re putting your words out there and hoping others will come across them, take them in, and maybe even respond (wouldn’t that be something!).
Unlike journaling and academic writing (and I’ve never wanted this blog to be either a public journal or a school paper), blogging seems to be a back-and-forth between writer and reader. Not only because I am writing for readers, but also because a blog is constantly changing, updating, responding to readers. It’s not a one-and-done thing; it’s always evolving.
Slowly but surely, this blog is evolving (and so am I) in reaction to you, readers. I’ve learned a little bit about the best times to post: 6:30 on Tuesday mornings are hot! And how to write titles that might intrigue, but don’t lie to you. And that I don’t have to obey all the “Blogging For Dummies” rules to get readers… though maybe I should put more art on here?
To put it plainly, this blog has taught me a lot, and would not have survived without you to read it. My relationship with you as readers is important to me, so thanks again!
Blogging helps me write better… sometimes
Blogging forces me to be quick and clear, and usually catchy. I haven’t mastered all of that — not by a long-shot — but I’m improving.
I can sometimes get lost in tangents and Melville-esque language — and some of that is just style — but blogging for a year has helped sharpen some of my writing. I try to say what I intend to say. In school, it might have taken me 5,000 words to say what I try to say here in 1,000.
Of course there’s always the temptation to be too brief, or funny, or edgy, or hyperbolic, but I’m learning about that too. I don’t want this to be a Buzzfeed type blog; I want to write worthwhile things. But I don’t want this to be a course in Griffinian Philosophy 101 either. Blogging makes me find a middle ground, one that (I hope) appeals to a wider audience.
Knowing what to write
“How do you come up with your ideas?” That’s probably the most common question I get about this blog (or “How do you have the time?” to which I respond: we always find the time for the things we really want to do… and I can type lots of words per minute!). My ideas come from everywhere: the news, the train, conversations with friends, sermons, movies, but mostly other things I read.
The important question for the blogger is not, “How do you come up with your ideas?” but rather “How do you know what ideas are worth writing about?”
If you can believe it, I am constantly considering things to write about — writing ideas on napkins and in notebooks and on sticky notes. But one of the most important lessons from this blog has been knowing now only what I can write, but what is worth my time to write… and your time to read.
I’ve gradually learned the kinds of things I like to write about and what people might actually care to peruse. It’s that overlap that determines the shape of this blog. The topics dealt with here are broad, but they’re becoming less so. Mostly, it’s been honed down to topics of faith and sort of anthropological looks at culture. That’s because those are issues that I like, that I care about, and that others seem to respond to.
All writers have to figure out what they want to write about, but a blogger has to learn what an audience might be willing to spend 5 minutes reading through. (p.s. I’m always open to suggestions, so send them my way!)
You’re only as good as your last post
The thing about blogging is that it has to stay fresh or it dies. Whenever I write a new post, the visits and reads spike for a day or two, then fall back to earth.
It’s sort of tiring, the realization that you always have to be writing if you want to stay relevant, if you want to keep your readers. It compels me to write more often than I might otherwise.
When I started this blog, I was absurdly over-eager, writing four or five posts a week. Needless to say, that didn’t last long. It shrank to two or three, and now I try to get at least one or two up per week — not always successfully.
Blogging helps keep me disciplined in the practice of writing. I feel sort of accountable. But it’s also taught me to be reasonable. No matter what I have to say, people probably don’t want — and definitely don’t need — to read it everday!
Not being showy or self-serving
I’ve said it before, but writing for an audience is inherently egotistical. Why should I think my writing is worth your time to read? (I don’t know that it is, but I can hope!)
The fear of being labeled “vain” or “narcissistic” nips at me. This blog has a Facebook page where each post is pinned and, well, my name is in the freaking title, but other than that I’m not much of a self-promoter. Some people have told me I should promote more — and sometimes I think they’re right — but I dread becoming arrogant or annoying with this blog.
I’m trying to develop more of a “brand” (that’s a business-y word for you!), and in the blog’s second year I hope to do that.
To be up front, I want more Facebook Likes (send all your thousands of friends to Like the page here!). I want more people to comment. I want more shares and more traffic. It’s sort of sick the way bloggers feel a rush from these things, but we do.
But those types of blogger treasure are always at war with humility, which is more important.
The point is to write for readers. But it’s also to write for a reason.
I want my writing to be popular. But more than that I want it to say something worth saying.
I will keep writing for a second year, and I hope you will keep reading. Because, really, without you, what’s the point?