Tag Archives: blogging

Blogging about Blogging about Blogging

Woah. You guys…the comments section on yesterday’s post. Just wow.

You guys gave me a lot to think about with this blogging thing, and I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one struggling to find my niche. And after hearing all of your thoughts, concerns, opinions, et cetera, I think I have a little better focus now.

To me, the overarching theme in the sentiments that almost all of you expressed was this: different people like different things.

For instance some of you expressed a desire for a blog to be focussed on one topic, for it to have some overriding theme that connected all of it’s posts together. Others said that as long as a blogger speaks with passion in his own true voice, that is enough to build a following.

And here’s the thing: I don’t think either side is wrong. There is no blog that is going to appeal to everyone. This is something we bloggers know, but then often manage to ignore.

Also, some bloggers are far better at writing topically than others. For instance, I love Jody Hedlund’s blog where she writes in a very informative manner about writing and social media, but I also enjoy Jess Witkins blog where she talks about her life and occasionally discusses the speed bumps she encounters on the way to writing her first book. And my main man Don Whittington somehow manages to combine the two by talking about a particular piece of art each week, and then transitioning into incredibly moving and deeply personal thoughts inspired by the piece.

So I’m here to tell you that no one has the definitive answer as to what to write about on your blog. Chuck Wendig is proof you can get by rather handily writing about writing (though as we saw yesterday, not everyone is going to like his approach). But you can’t be Chuck Wendig and neither can I. That’s not to say you can’t write about writing. Just do it your way.

Which leads me into the first of my two rules for bloggers:

1. Be yourself.

Unless you’re a serial killer. Then maybe try being someone else.

Actually you know what, scratch that. I bet people would throng to read a blog written by a serial killer.

You can fake being someone else for a little while, but in the end you’re going to burn out. Which leads us to rule number two.

2. Stick with it.

And really this is good advice for anything you want to do in life. You want to write a book? Stick with it. Want to build a good marriage? Stick with it. Build a one to one scale model of the entire world in Minecraft? Stick with it.

Because lets be real here: you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have posts that bomb. You’re going to have moments of crisis where you wonder if your blog is going in the right direction. All of that is fine.

Screwing up is not the end of the world.

Giving up is.

Huh. That’s has a nice ring to it.

Anyhoo that’s it. Really. On those two principles I believe you can build a successful blog. It’ll take time. All good things do. But if you keep pressing forward eventually you’ll find the right path.

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Of Battling Bloggers and the Zen of “Duh”

I don’t usually like to respond directly to other blogs, but I thought today merited some exception to that rule. See, on Wednesday Kristen Lamb tried once again to whack us in the noggin with the idea that as writers trying to grow an  online audience, blogging about writing is not a good idea.

This is not new. Kristen has been talking about this at least since I started reading after her at the beginning of the year.

Then Austin Wulf, another blogger I like and respect, answered back with a post arguing against Kristen Lamb’s main points. I recommended you read both blogs for yourself if for no other reason than the fact that they represent two very well argued and opposing viewpoints.

But here’s the deal: I’ve been thinking a lot about this blogging thing lately. More importantly I’ve been thinking about audience numbers and how to expand them. Of course I’ve always wanted more readers, but for a long time it was something almost academic, simply a way to fuel my pride about my blogging ability.

But about a month ago something changed. I released an ebook called A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw. Many of you who are loyal readers of this blog bought the book, and I thank you. But about two weeks after releasing the book my numbers basically hit a brick wall. I’d sell one every couple of days, but the numbers just weren’t there. I’d tapped out my audience, and now I was swinging in the wind. And I don’t know about you, but the prospect of making money really makes me perk up and pay attention.

So I started thinking about what I could do about it, and what I came up with was this: maybe I shouldn’t be blogging exclusively about writing.

Because I believe it does limit my readership to a certain extent. Looking back over posts of the past, some of the most popular by SEO numbers have absolutely nothing to do with writing. And now that I’m further along in my blogging career SEO is a big part of bringing in traffic.

Now there are clearly writers that can pull off writing about writing and garner an audience by the boatload, but as far as I can tell all of those writers are named Chuck Wendig. I am not named Chuck Wendig, nor do I have even an iota of the man’s skill in crafting pithy punchy posts.

Which is why you may have noticed in the past few weeks, that I haven’t been writing as much about writing. Instead I’ve been dabbling in other topics that interest me to see what kind of reaction I can get from the audience at large. This is not to say that I’ll never blog about writing again, but after all this time, I’m finally starting to think maybe Kristen was right all along. And even though it did take me a while to realize it, I’m not ashamed.

Sometimes you have to understand something for yourself. You hear it over and over, and one day it finally clicks and you’ll say, “You know that thing everyone tried to tell me I should do for all those years. Maybe I should give that a shot.”

And the people who tried to tell you for all those years are smacking their heads with their palms and saying, “Yes, what a brilliant idea. Maybe you should try that.”

And that’s okay. Because sometimes you just have to learn it on your own.

Addendum: don’t worry. The economics post was a bomb, so you won’t have to worry about seeing Money Mondays anytime soon.

Addendum 2: I have a new/old short story out for the Kindle. It’s a terrifying little tale that mixes science fiction and horror into a delightfully spine-tingling concoction that I call Derelict. Maybe you should check it out.

This Title Is Really Long, Which Is Ironic, Because The Post Is About Brevity, So You’d Think The Title Would Be Short Too, But Nope It Just Goes On And On And On Until It-

Brevity.

Yes, I’m going there. Because I think it’s important

1. This is your blog, not your magnum opus.

You got something to say, go ahead and say it, but do you really have enough substance to fill up a thousand words?

And don’t get me wrong, the answer may be, “Why yes as a matter of fact, I do Albert.” Which is fine and all, but there’s no actual obligation to give us the epic version of whatever it is you want to say. You may think, “Oh, but all this stuff is really important” and it may well be important. So split it into more than one post. Why? Because…

2. I have ADD.

Well, that may be a bit misleading. I haven’t been diagnosed or anything. Lets just lay I’m easily distracted, yes?

You’re expecting an “Ooh, shiny object” joke here. This is me subverting your expectations.

Something specifically about reading off of a computer screen is incredibly difficult for me. I know not everyone suffers from this problem. A friend of my can read through entire books on her computer screen. I can’t.

Should you cater your blog just to me? Well no. That’s what this blog is for. But I’m pretty sure not the only one who doesn’t want to read massive text blocks on his computer screen.

3. No one cares.

Seriously no one is impressed by long blog posts. Back when I first started blogging I was still learning this principle, and I had some posts that stretched on for upwards of a thousand words. No once, not once, did anyone comment and say “Woah, Albert, congratulations on writing such a long post.”

And now that I’ve started writing short posts, no one has said, “You know, Albert, I really miss when you used to go on and on and on. Your shorter posts aren’t nearly as good.”

Longer posts are not better posts.

4. Don’t listen to me.

Remember yesterday, when we talked about finding your voice? That applies here too. If you’re in love with writing long blog posts, don’t let me try to change who you are. That may be part of your identity as a writer.

Then again, It may not be. I only ask is that you consider it.

All I can show you is the world as I see it. I’m certainly not the only perspective in town.

On Waiting

 

When I was a kid I swore I’d never have a garden. My dad had a garden and I hated it. There were weeds and bugs, and the sun was hot, and I got dirt under my fingernails and just…ugg. I hated it.

As it turns out, I was a moron. Or maybe I was a genius, and I’m a moron now. Whichever one it is, I’ve got a garden. It’s not very big, but I’ve got a little of everything in there. A few tomatoes, some onions, some corn, all the wonderful things I love to eat magically sprouting up out of the ground from nothing more than a tiny seed. It’s kind of exciting.

But.

It.

Takes.

For.

Ev.

Errrrrrr.

Seriously. I’m looking out at my front lawn and weeds sprout up literally overnight, but it takes ninety days to get a decent ear of corn? Let’s maybe speed up the program yes?

Only I can’t. I can go out there and water that little patch of dirt till my yard floods. I can fertilize and mulch and pull up weeds all day long, but you know what? That corn is still going to take three months before it’s ready to eat.

Social media is a lot the same way. A while back I took Kristen Lamb’s advice and jumped into this blogging thing with both feet. I got on Twitter, I got on Facebook, I was ready. Now to wait for the tidal wave of followers to come and be amazed by my awesome.

Only it wasn’t a tidal wave. It was a trickle. One or two here, three or four there, nothing really to write home about. But after a few weeks that trickle grew into a dribble, and after a few months that dribble was a small but respectable stream. And what of the Freshly Pressed Fiasco of 2011? Well it was nice while it lasted, and it did boost my numbers, but not by an unbelievable amount.

Why am I telling you this? Because some of you are in the same boat with me. We look up at the big shots and we just know they’ve got all this clout and we think, “What am I doing wrong?”

And it’s a fine question to ask. We should never be through looking for ways we can improve ourselves. But we should be willing to accept the answer, “Mostly nothing.”

Yes, maybe we can improve our writing and delivery a little, but real honest growth still takes time. Those weeds in my front yard sure sprung up fast, but they’re not good for anything. And the thousands of views I got on my Lima Beans post don’t mean anything in the long run, because most of those people have moved on to the next distraction.

That doesn’t mean that social media is fruitless. It just means we have to wait for the stuff that matters.

We aren’t going to get a million Twitter followers in twenty-four hours like Charlie Sheen did and that’s okay. But a little at a time, if we work at it, our following will grow. And it will be worth it.

Just like it will be worth it three months from now when I sit down at the dinner table and eat the corn and tomatoes out of my very own garden. My mouth is watering already.

On the Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Perfectionitis

Recently I received an email notification about this blog post in my inbox. It took me a little off guard because I didn’t remember when I had subscribed to this particular blog. But when I read the post I remembered. It had just been a long time since the blog had updated.

In the post itself the blog’s author discussed how growing doubt and uncertainty had kept her from posting anything in over a month, how that she had agonized over whether her writing was really good enough and how people would receive her work. It was a beautifully written piece, and I thought it was terribly courageous for this woman to share her fears so freely.

She’s not the only one with this problem either. I suffer from the same thing every week, and I suspect some of you do too.

“But Albert,” you may say, “Your blog updates every day (barring Sundays.) Surely you’ve conquered those demons of self doubt by now.”

Nope. Sorry to say I haven’t. See I suffer from a little thing called perfectionitis. Totally a real disorder. Not one I just made up as I was typing that sentence at all.

Perfectionitis is that feeling you get when you look back over your blog post and it just doesn’t look quite right. Something’s off. Maybe it doesn’t flow the way you wanted it to. Maybe it meanders from the originally prescribed topic. Maybe you can’t think of a third thing for your list of maybes.

You start to panic. “This is crap,” you think to yourself. “If I post this they’ll eat me alive. All my followers will leave and never return. Oh despair!”

Calm. Down.

You’re going off the rails. What you really need is a healthy dose of Truth to straighten you out. So here goes:

Truth Number One: your blog is not perfect.

Face it. You made a mistake somewhere along the way.

There’s a typo in your post somewhere. That sentence you’re closing the post with just doesn’t really give a good feeling of conclusion.  You can’t think of a good third thing in your list of things that might be wrong with a blog post (seriously this one gets me every time.)

Whatever. Nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. We aren’t going to bat a thousand every game. This is a fact of life. Deal with it.

Fact Number Two: it doesn’t matter.

Here’s a little tidbit that will shock your socks off: Your readers do not hate you. They are not sitting at the edge of their chairs peering into their screens and thinking, “Aha! I found a typo! All my months of waiting have finally paid off. To the comments!”

Probably they’re people just like you. They’re reading your blog because they think you might have something interesting to say. The truth is, most people want to like your blog.

They aren’t looking for a reason to leave. They’re looking for a reason to stay.

You do not have to be perfect.

Fact Number Three: consistency is just as important as quality.

Please note that I did not say that quality is unimportant. This is another area where you need that magic quality of balance. Yes, you should be concerned with how well you’ve written your blog. Yes, you should check your work as best you can.

But if you can’t get it perfect post it anyway.

Here’s a fact that probably won’t shock you. Almost every website that I visit regularly updates regularly. My favourite blogs are the ones that have new posts multiple times a week. And not all those posts have to be perfect and wonderful for me to keep coming back to those blogs.

A while back, Chuck Wendig made a few posts about playing the game Minecraft. I have zero interest in Minecraft, but I didn’t say, “Well Chucky I’ll be taking my blog reading services elsewhere thank you very much.” Because the next day he had another post and another one on the day after that, they had something I could learn from.

Bottom line is this: we are creatures of habit. If you post the single greatest blog post in the history of the world and then stop, chances are no one is going to notice. If you want to gain any kind of following you have to keep pushing through that demon of doubt.

And who knows? You might not love that blog post but someone else might. Often we criticize ourselves so harshly we forget to see the good in our work.

So that’s my two cents worth. I hope that it’s given you some encouragement. But if not, then stick around. I’ll try something else tommorow.

Harry Potter Fan Fiction Changed My Life

Sometimes it’s easy for my to look at myself in the mirror and say, “What are you doing here, Albert? Writing? Blogging? You really think anyone cares about any of this? You’re not telling anyone anything they don’t already know. You’ve got diddly. Oh, and by the way, you need a shave”

But when I get discouraged sometimes it helps me to remember why I started writing in the first place. Last week, I talked about the moment that I realized that writers, all writers, were normal people, just like me, and if they could do it, I could do it too. But I didn’t tell you about how that moment happened.

Back then, I was a nobody working away at my local Walmart (I’m still a nobody working away at my local Walmart, so let that be a lesson to you about following your dreams.) I had just temporarily  transfered to the Hardware Department, where I was learning to mix paint from the lady who worked that department normally. And at some point between talking about paint and plumbing she happened to mention that she was a writer.

“Oh, yeah?” I asked. “What kind of stuff do you write?”

“Harry Potter fan fiction mostly,” she told me.

“Is it any good?” (Yes, I know. I am the soul of tact.)

“Why don’t you go to the website and see for yourself?

So when I got home, I did. And it was good. I went into it thinking I would find all kinds of misspellings and tortuously constructed sentences, but instead I found a story that was just as well written as some of the books I had on my shelf at home. It was a moment that changed my life.

I went back to work the next day gushing to this woman about writing and books and about how stunned I was at how good her writing was (still the ever-tactful one, that’s me.)

She shrugged it off, and said, “It’s not that big a deal really. You could do it.”

“But I don’t want to write fan fiction.”

“So write your own story.”

So I did. There were a ton of false steps and bad starts, but I finally got my head around the process, and over the course of several months I pounded out my story from beginning to end. I went back to that woman so often for advice and encouragement I’m surprised she didn’t lose patience with me and tell me to take a hike. But she didn’t. In fact, we’re friends to this day.

So when I say to myself, “What am I doing? I’m just a peon at Walmart with his little blog, and his stupid stories,” I think back to the moment I was inspired to start writing. Imagine if that woman had said to herself, “This is stupid. It’s just a knockoff fanfic. No one’s ever going to care. I’m quitting.” If she’d done that, I might never have gotten my start in this wonderful and crazy world of writing.

So I keep going, if for no other reason than that I might encourage you the same way she once encouraged me. If I can inspire even one person to throw themselves into writing, body and soul, I will be able to say that I accomplished something meaningful. And that is as good a reason as any to write.

The Manure Manifesto

After spending several hours spread over the space of two days writing and editing today’s blog post, it slowly began to dawn on me that what I had written was complete crap.  And now matter how much I polish my crap it’s still going to stink.

It wouldn’t have mattered before.  Before, back when I was plodding away on blogger.com and got excited if I had three views in a day, I could have lived with myself for letting something sub-par slide through. But now the game has changed.  You changed it.  A few of you have done me the honor of commenting on my posts and subscribing to this blog, and now, suddenly, I’m not blogging in a vacuum.  I owe you something.  I can’t just put out crap because that’s what I’ve got.  You deserve better than that.

So instead you get this.  It’s not much, but I’d like to think a nugget of passion is worth more than a mountain of manure.

And if, in your devilish curiosity, you wonder what that hard-wrought segment of doomed text might have been about, I will leave you with one clue.  Just three little words gingerly plucked from the original steaming pile of eight-hundred and forty-five:

Zombie Samuel Coleridge.

Thank you for reading.  That is all.