Things Learned Blogging
Tom MacWright’s “How to blog” is full of great advice about blogging. It resonates with my own experience, so I wanted to note a few points here.
Ship Publish It™.
Once you choose the technology that runs your blog, use it. Don’t replace it, ever. Never ever rewrite it.
If you’re trying to blog, write. Work in the ‘posts’ and ‘drafts’ folders. Create TODO lists and schedules to get posts live. Stay out of the blog configuration, templates, plugins, and whatnot.
It might seem like an obvious point but if you want to blog, blog. Don’t work on the technology that powers your blog. Work on the content of your blog. A blog is content first, technology only incidentally.
To be honest, this is precisely why I avoid “art directed” blog posts. It’s even part of the reason I avoid creating social share imagery. For me, anything that gets in the way of publishing, even the slightest bit, is a danger to blogging.
This is a specific instance of a larger problem: most people are unable to finish their side projects or focus on their side hustles, because they get distracted and sidetracked by tinkering and other things that increase the complexity of the project, instead of working toward the original goal.
If the goal of your blog is to blog, i.e. to write and publish, then start by removing everything that gets in the way of that goal.
Eschew anything beyond writing the content of a post. No art direction. No social media imagery. No comments. No webmentions. No analytics. If you really want to be ruthless, no embedded rich media (images, video, etc.) only links to rich media.
Imagine stripping away everything in the way of writing until the only thing staring you back in the face is a blinking cursor and an empty text file. That’ll force you to think about writing.
In fact, you’ll probably feel blocked at that point and try to avoid writing by going and tinkering in code instead—“I want to work on my blog but I can’t write prose right now so I’ll work on my blog by refactoring the code powering my blog.” Been there.
When I write here, I wrote because of strongly held beliefs, of passionate interest, and the excitement of the creative process. There’s little practical reason to do it: I don’t make a cent from macwright.org, and where it has benefited me professionally, it has done so in an unintentional way I’d rather not overthink. For me, burnout is caused by doing something I usually love at a time when I don’t love it. I can picture few things more torturous than having a quota here, or trying to pick a ‘popular topic’ that would have ‘readership’. When my interests overlap with what the crowd wants, it’s a lovely coincidence. But I won’t force it.
I like this advice: write for you, not for others. And if you can’t think of what to “write”, document something for yourself and call it writing.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the mystery of blogging, it’s that the stuff you think nobody will read ends up with way more reach than anything you write thinking it will be popular.
So write about what you want, not what you think others want, and the words will spill out.
Then find a way to keep them spilling out, day after day after day.