A disclaimer, then.
I’m often wary of tips. I believe the best lessons can be learned by failing and flailing, and I believe those are the lessons that settle in deepest, right in the spot where it matters. There is wisdom in just going for it, and so much beauty in the path, no matter how winding and unworthy it feels.
And yet, I also believe there is wisdom in offering up your own failings and flailings to the next one in line. So, to you — a brief list of blogging tips from someone with the perspective of an Internet Old Maid (i.e. 12 years of professional blogging will age a gal quicker than dog years…).
I hope, so much, that it is helpful in your own winding path:
Write for you.
I know what you’ve been told. You’ve been told to choose an audience, to write to your audience, to speak to your audience, to find out their every like/dislike/obsession/idiosyncrasy. You’ve been told this is the key to success, writing what you know to who you know. But of course there’s another way (there is always another way). Try, instead, writing for you. Write what you want to know. Write what you want to learn, just for the pleasure of having written it. Write because you love it, because you have something to explore and not because you have something to say. Publish it, if you’d like.
Write as often as you possibly can. (This does not mean publish as often as you possibly can.) Get in the habit, work on your craft. Discover your voice. It takes great practice and great patience, great furies and great failures. Do it anyway. Focus on consistency in writing and let the consistency in publishing come later. Sit down in your chair and type it out. Edit later. Publish later. For now, just write.
Shift the goal.
Growth takes time; consider a goal other than wild numbers and Internet fame. Consider the goal of learning, of exploration, of documenting a wide variety of passions and purposes in your life. This takes time, but also offers sustainability. If discovery – in yourself or in something else – is the goal, you’ll find it unnecessary to be discovered yourself.
Speaking of such, you might believe that a successful blogger must brand herself. This is untrue. There is always another way. This space began as an art catalog, then a design blog, then a video series, then a renovation column, then a — what is it now? A documentation of our days? A lifestyle blog? It matters not. Do not brandish yourself for veiled permanency. Allow change in your writing as you allow change in you, the writer. Resist the temptation to believe content is more important than your soul, that avoiding reader whiplash is more important than a heart pivot. If you can no longer write about throw pillows, decide to no longer write about throw pillows.
A good site design is like settling in to write at a clean, beautiful-to-you desk. It is surprisingly important, for you and for those who might be visiting such desk. Pay attention to it; design needn’t be complicated. Templates are a good place to start; Squarespace offers the best of the best.
People are not numbers. Readers are not stats. They are humans, you and I, in all of our lovely complexities. Do not fret yourself over bounce rates and conversion metrics. There are plenty of other things to fret over, after all. Save the fretting for the real stuff.
Once you’ve begun to write consistently, perhaps to publish consistently, once you’re confident in your craft and feel compelled to share it with someone other than your mother, consider offering a guest post to your favorite site, publication or magazine. A simple email introducing yourself, a few post ideas and a few links to your work will suffice; no need to hang the moon. The only must: never write “To whom it may concern.” Take the time; do the research. Make it personal.
Blogs are widely read on-the-go, so consider a simple and minimal design that looks just as great on your phone as it does in the cubicle. (Hint: Squarespace offers over 45 templates that are fully optimized for mobile; well worth a peek.)
Perhaps you’ve hit it big. Perhaps you have gazillions of Instagram followers or your kid’s first birthday party is on the front page of Huffington Post. Maybe you’re Reddit famous, even. Keep this in check. Surround yourself with people who subscribe to the newspaper, who are forever confusing Twitter with a venereal disease, who still squint into their flip phone. Blog to live, if you wish, but don’t live to blog. Remember that life contains far more delicious dimensions than the one on your screen.
Social media is not required. It is a tool for sharing, and it is simply that. You needn’t complicate it with scheduling apps or content strategies, with engagement metrics or automated timers. Write something and share it, if you’d like. Feel something and share it, if you’d like. Choose which platforms are the most enjoyable to you, then go forth and enjoy them.
Sure, a linkbait headline is catchy. It works. Just yesterday, I clicked on 20 amazing Rod Stewart GIFs I never knew existed (they were every bit as incredible as you’d imagine). And yet, gimmicks aren’t everything. Your posts needn’t be sticky to stick. You don’t have to research SEO tirelessly, or mock up Pinterest graphics for every post you write, or pose in front of Fred Segal for Instagram. You don’t have to follow the “rules.” You can, if you’ve got the time and the inclination. But can and must are very different things.
If you’re less confident with technology, consider a platform that offers built-in tech support through guides, tutorials, workshops and videos. There are a zillion great resources here for the first-time blogger.
Share you, in all of your all-caps glory, but you needn’t share it all. Hold what is sacred for your precious few, and explore the rest with as much honesty as you can muster. There is a difference between being fully authentic and fully transparent; the latter is earned, not owed.
Go your own way. The Internet is wide and deep and vast. There is room for you. There is space to dream as wildly as you dare. Dream differently. Carve out your room. Take up your space. Dare as you must.