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.
These tips were written for my friends at Squarespace. Ready to start your own blog? Head here with offer code ‘MANKIND17’ for 10% off your first website or domain purchase.
Thank you for writing all of this. Your post encouraged me to do things in my own way : no rules, no SEO, no Twitter.
Just an ironic and simple way to talk about interior design like I would write in a newspaper. No key words, just nice words. Keep doing ! Best.
Your tips just gave me goosebumps. Wonderful and so true. Thank you.
Oh goodness, thank you!
Thank you, Erin! So encouraging. I’m 52 and I started a “blog” just over seven years ago maybe. I can’t remember really…I’m 52. I put “blog” in quotes because I never really quite thought of it as such. and When I look back now, I can see why. It is terrible. I’m almost finished reading CHASING SLOW and I don’t want it to end. You have inspired and challenges me. I had never heard of you or your work and I can’t remember (I’m 52) where I heard of your book or what possessed me to pay money for a “random” book by a “random” author…hardback, no less! But I’m so glad I did. I have since scoped out your Instagram and your blog and this post is just what I needed! I had completely shut down, overwhelmed by technology and “relevance” and stats and new words from a language I had never even heard. I was way too old and busy with life to even begin to try and learn all that and I just shut down.But now, now I’m just beginning to be inspired to write again! Thank you!!!
All the typos in my comment. Good grief. I quit. Or maybe I should enlarge the print on my phone screen or get stronger readers. Yeah, that.
Ha — typos are welcome here! :)
Carrie — 52 is not old! I’m 48 and starting a blog myself after years of writing for other people. Please write! Nancy
Oh Carrie, I’m so thrilled you’re beginning to write again, and thank you so much for picking up Chasing Slow! Isn’t randomness lovely? :) Big hugs your way.
Ah, such a rarity to find a fellow blogger that throws all the “rules” to the wind and just does what they please. What a refreshing read – and encouraging, too, considering that you’re a prime example of success. Thank you for this, Erin. XO
Thank you so much, Oksana!!
You are the real deal, Erin. Also, let’s talk about the Micron pens because are they not the best thing ever?!
OMG MICRON PENS! Yes yes yes yes yes! Bee sometimes wants to borrow them for her crafts and I hand them over with ever-clenched fingers. ;)
This is such a solid list, thank you Erin! Grateful for your wisdom and willingness to share it with us!
You’re so so welcome – thank you for reading!
Love this Erin. #13 resonates with me. Since I write about child loss, grief, and adoption, it is often hard for me to find that fine line of transparency versus authenticity.
Oh I can relate. So much love your way, friend.
After several years of following all the “rules,” I finally tossed them out the window in favor of making my own way. The rules served me well at first as I tried to learn this Internet and blogging thing, but eventually they stopped being helpful and started being a hindrance to my writing. (Because when you spend all your time trying to play by the rules, there is little time left for the art.) I still feel a bit uncomfortable in this new space I’m allowing, but your words encourage me to keep going my way, following my art and my dreams and my voice — not someone else’s. Thank you, thank you.
Oh I love hearing this, Brittany! Keep up the good and worthy walk!
At 66-years old and a writer all my life and a blogger the past 10+ years it actually makes me giddy to know I’m doing it correctly! Thanks for the confirmation! (I’m a new reader – my friend sent the link.)
Oh, thank you for being here, Susan!
“Resist the temptation to believe content is more important than your soul, that avoiding reader whiplash is more important than a heart pivot.”
THIS. OMIGOODNESS. I basically did this exact thing a couple of weeks ago, pivoting and combining two blogs into one because having two separate ones was stressing me out. I lost some subscribers, which was a little disheartening, but my soul breathed easier the moment I made the choice. I’m also in the process of redesigning my professional website and I’ve been having such a hard time with things because of what you’re “supposed” to do, and this is the exact reminder I needed that I don’t have to do anything, particularly if it adds stress or causes me to freak out.Thank you, Erin, for sharing these. My favorite “blogging tips” post ever. :)
Oh I’m so happy I could help, Sarah — I’ve pivoted many times, and I’m sure have lost many readers by choosing a quieter, slower pace rather than a more obvious Internet presence. But at the same time, I’m confident that those who need your message will find it when they need it, and then they’ll move on and find another message they need for another time. Such the beauty of the Internet!
Erin, this is suuuuuchhh a good post. I liked it right from the outset when you said you’re wary of tips, but that there’s value in offering wisdom in failings and flailings. It’s the reason I love reading self help columns even when they’ve no bearing on my current situation – I’m always interested to hear what I can learn from someone else’s experiences, even if I don’t take it all as gospel.
I write for a marketing agency, so I know all about SEO and audience insights and personas. But when it comes to my blog, I let all that fall away and just write whatever I want to write about – life feels too short (and conversely much too long) than to write ‘work style’ in my free time. I know it’s against all the recommended advice, and it’s against the advice I’d give our client’s where content marketing is concerned, but for personal blogging? I’m all for writing for me, happily pivoting and not knowing the password to my Google analytics account. My boyfriend loves to check my stats, but I tend to care very little! A comment to continue the conversation means a great deal more, even if just one. :)
I love your blog, and your writing. I regularly check here to see if you’ve posted something new. :)
Oh Flora, we are cut from the same cloth! It’s such a wonderful freedom to know the rules and decide not to follow them for you, isn’t it? Sending love your way. :)
Thank you for sharing this Erin. I’ve seen so many blogging tip posts, but this one brings it back to why we should be blogging in the first place – to write and to share our stories and above all, be truthful. <3
Love this, Sam – thank you!!!
LOVE this post. I feel so inspired, Erin! Thanks for sharing this!
So happy to hear that – you’re welcome!!! :)
Thank you so much for these tips! I have been feeling a bit discouraged lately and these tips helped me refocus.
You’re so welcome, Barbara!
Thanks again for all of your heartfelt writing tips! It’s always nice to be reminded to write for me. You’re the first writer who I’ve heard suggest “write what you want to learn” and it’s shifted my whole perspective. 😊
Oh Andrea, thank you! It shifted for me when I did the same, and I’ve found so much more enjoyment out of writing now! :)
For this mom whose mind was racing enough to bring her to this screen at this crazy mid-night hour. Thank you. Your words are lifegiving and centering.Too many formulas can stifle any creativity. I needed this.
So much love, Karen.
Hi, Erin! I love your posts so much. Quick question – what kind of camera is that on your desk? It looks awesome! Thanks :)
It’s an Instax! So so much fun!:
Wonderful advice, Erin, and very much appreciated:) My business went through a little mid-life crisis recently so I decided shift gears and focus on the fun of the actual work itself. What a difference it makes!
Makes SUCH a difference, doesn’t it?!?! :)
THANK YOU FOR THIS. IT JUST TAKES THE PRESSURE OFF AND IT GOES WITH EVERYTHING I TELL MYSELF, AND AGAINST MOST THINGS I’VE BEEN TOLD. THANK YOU AS ALWAYS FOR YOUR WISE WORDS.
You’re so welcome, Tammy!!!
Thank you so much for writing this! Blogging has become such a different beast than years ago. These are good tips to stay grounded.
I couldn’t agree more! :)
This was perfect. I loved it and everything you do. Thank you!
Goodness, thank you!
Such great tips. And ones that are true to our self and the craft of writing. I love that it is not formalistic and saying the same thing as so many sights. It allows us to be human and creative.
Sounds like very good advice. I’m not exactly an “old maid” as a blogger, but I have discovered some of the same things to be true.
So glad to hear, Donna! :)
Thank you for this Erin, I’ve been contemplating starting a blog for over 6 years now and haven’t mustered the courage. Your website is such an inspiration, it has been from the very start. Your posts find a way to my heart regardless of wether i can relate to them or not, and its all down to the expression of you that resonates from each post. It feels genuine. Maybe this year will be my year. All the best to you and your beautiful family.
Oh Georgi, this is such a kind note. Thank you so much! And yes, I think this sounds like your year! ;)
I recently subscribed.
I am not a blogger. Heck, I just recently picked up( again) the habit of journaling a bit- I’ve written a few poems here and there… ha ha…
I simply decided if I like someone’s writing, I would read it.
I like your writing.
I am working on healthy boundaries with people.
“There is a difference between being fully authentic and fully transparent; the latter is earned, not owed.”
That is like gold to me right now.
Thank you for your writing. I will be back!
Thank you so much, Jean!!
Erin, thank you so much for this encouragement. I’ve been trying and failing and flailing and sometimes writing something halfway exciting for a couple of years now, and these tidbits of truth are exactly what I need to keep on with it.
You are so very welcome, Allie — here’s to the journey! :)
Absolutely love these tips. There is a little bits and pieces to take from each. Number 1 is one of the most important things for me when it comes to blogging.
Thank you, Natasha!!!!!!!
These tips were so freeing! Thank you for your insight. Sincerely, a newbie blogger.
You are so so welcome. :)
Girl, I am not even a blogger, yet this post speaks to me… I just have to tell you after discovering your book this past month (a friend recommended it) the way you write brings such comfort, such peace. It’s reminds me how amped up I can be in my own head about impressing, living a life worthy to be looked at, etc…. and then I read your words and they ground me and in the most beautiful way, take out some of that hot air from my own head. Thank you for your transparency and vulnerability.
Oh goodness, this is such an encouraging note, Erika – thank you!!!
Recently, I read Chasing Slow.The title caught my eye in the Barnes and Nobel where I do most my writing. I have a toddler too. I’ve been writing a blog for a long while now, since 2002 I think? It started out about Homeschooling my boys, then it was about my sister’s journey with breast cancer, and lately, I’ve been blogging about my faith. It seems I’ve lost my readers. I keep telling myself if I reach just one, it’s all worth it, but it does get discouraging.I had many readers when I wrote about breast cancer, which is sad. After I lost my sister, we built a farmhouse on a farm, so we could chase a simple slowed down life. We are moving there in the summer. I just wanted to reach out and thank you for this post. I agree, I have to stop looking at the numbers and just write. Just release it into the universe and walk away. I think if our paths ever crossed, we’d get along really well and Bee and Bella could have been friends. Thanks for your writing. I’ve been enjoying it.
bee and bella sound like a master duo! ;) i can so relate, tammy, and wish you much peace in your decision to write what you must. sometimes, the reader who needs our words the most is our own self. :)
PS love the hair!
thank you! :)
Erin, I don’t even know… Just thank you. It sounds so ridiculous, but this post brought tears to my eyes. I am a church planter’s wife with a masters in interior design. I haven’t been able to work in years and just starting off on my own with a new website that took me forever to build. I love to write. I’ve blogged for years – but mostly for family and friends. I was about to buy ebooks and whatever else to help me get my blog started as a business… I’ve felt overwhelmed, fearful, inadequate – stuck in the comparison trap yet trying so hard to be content… All I want to do is bring glory to God. To use the gifts He’s given me and – if I could be so blessed – to bring others to Him.
Thank you. For your wisdom. For your candid thoughts. I’m so glad I found you that day on my run listening to the God-Centered Mom podcast. Grateful for you.
what a kind note, lindsey. sending you peace and love — i can so relate to those feelings of inadequacy! but i trust you’ve already been given everything you need for today. ;) keep up the good and worthy work!!! :)
Thank you for this! I’ve heard you share some of these things on podcasts before, and I love them just as much now. There is great value to accepting change as a writer, and doing things your own way. Who wants to write to just pattern what is already out there? I am learning to enjoy the process and finding peace in not being on social media/selling myself a ton. Writing and creating should be a joy – not just another “should” to follow. I always enjoy your content. Thanks for sharing and encouraging us to be ourselves as you keep being you. :)
oh, emily, thank you!!!!!!! and ha, i can be such a broken record on those podcasts!!! “you do you! you do you!” :)
Erin,just to be given permission for what i know to be true makes me heave a huge sigh of relief!
you’re so welcome, ashley. :)
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