Whenever a blog post gets any attention, I receive comments and emails from new bloggers asking for advice. This is all very flattering and for a few moments, I puff myself up to expound on guidelines about blogging. Except they’re only guidelines for me. What works for me, serves my purpose, meets my needs as a writer, reader and blogger, might be entirely different for you. This is the beauty and the challenge of blogging. We’re all just feeling our way through it.
We’ve heard that blogging is dead for the last ten years. That goes right along with physical books and the personal essay. It’s taken me nearly 50 years to fine tune my obliviousness to trends and so far, it’s worked out pretty well. I rarely read e-books and I still ingest paper books by the dozens. I write personal essays and I still post them on a blog. I’m not wealthy, powerful, or famous, so you might see that as a weakness in the plot, but most of us aren’t destined for those things anyway.
Whatever the state of blogging might be, I’ll share what I’ve learned over the last five years about writing for a blog and what I see as a reader of blogs. Take it with a grain of salt and feel free to ask me questions. I’ll try to sound sage, like I actually have my shit together.
In terms of topics, I will write about anything. This has served me well over the long haul. Niche-oriented blogs can run out of steam when the kids grow up or the traveling ends and shifting gears can sometimes be a challenge for reader retention. On the other hand, my blog relies on my voice and not subject appeal to attract readers. Both this and the longer form writing are specific choices and have consequences which likely result in fewer readers.
A recurring comment I get is about my authenticity and honesty often to the tune that I’m being brave or have courage. As much as I’d like to absorb the compliments, the fact is that I prefer to live simply by being myself in all venues. This also has consequences, but one of the happier ones is that I’ve been able to develop genuine connections with people over the years.
That being said, I follow a rule that I never put out anything for public consumption that I haven’t processed. As I mentioned to a commenter on my post about depression, I protect my sensibilities. I write about something when I am strong enough to withstand scrutiny and not a moment before.
Not only do I feel responsible for protecting my own sensibilities, but also those of my family and friends. I’ve never written about my daughter or husband without their permission. Most of my family of origin literally do not know how to use computers and those that do, don’t care about my writing. I still try to be circumspect when I write about them.
Lastly, I have no problem using blue language here, but I do recognize that many people find that unappealing. This last year has been a banner year for swearing at The Green Study, but considering the state of things, I’m a little proud that I’ve managed to write posts without drowning them in f-bombs.
Length & Frequency
If you listen to marketers, we’re all serfs on the content farm. Everything is about churning out frequent, easily digestible nuggets for a population with attention deficits. I ignore that. I prefer longer form writing and taking an idea on its natural journey. Sometimes that journey ends at 500 words, but as I become more resistant to Twitter culture, I’ve been unabashedly running up around 1,000 words on a post.
I don’t post on a schedule. My preference is quality over quantity and sometimes quality takes a little time to brew. I have randomly blurted out a poem or short post on occasion, but my pattern seems to be that I post every 1-2 weeks, taking intermittent hiatuses. Since I’m not trying to drive a business with my blog or run up stats, this works for me.
Format & Grammar
I stick to a pretty straightforward format – writing interspersed with a few pictures to give the eyes a break. For me, the primary focus is the writing. Finding pictures after the fact is just a bit of fun. I’ve had eye issues over the years which make me very cognizant of what a strain small text, large blocks of uninterrupted text, busy backgrounds, and clutter on the sidelines can cause the eyes.
My writing has grown stronger in many ways since starting to write a blog. I am less afraid of ending sentences in prepositions, forgetting an Oxford comma, or writing more stylistically. I am occasionally a vicious editor. But in all the discussions of grammar, we often forget its main purpose: to provide a uniform way so that we can communicate effectively with each other, tell our stories, get our point across, and connect.
Paragraphs, punctuation, capitalization, and proper spelling are all useful tools in effective communication. It also allows the reader to breathe. It provides structure, flow, and rhythm. People get excoriated for being insistent about these things, but the fact of the matter is, most of us are not James Joyce, e.e. cummings, or Cormac McCarthy. We still need to use basic tools and it’s disrespectful to expect readers to do our work for us, by making them machete their way through a jungle of print.
Readership & Social Media
Ah, the old trap of Likes and Follows. I spent my first eight months of blogging with 3-10 readers tops. Fortunately, I hadn’t yet discovered the addictive nature of those little buttons and statistics. I was still just freaking myself out by writing publicly, oblivious that I should be upset that the only thing going viral was me during flu season.
I made the mistake of reading advice articles about SEOs and social media venues. I opened Twitter and Facebook accounts halfheartedly, where they sit ignored and unwanted to this day. Time is of a finite nature and while we have many opportunities to yap about our lives, it’s important to actually live a life offline. I can’t manage that and juggle multiple venues of writing.
Currently my readership is running around 16K, but that is a fake number and is not to be relied on as a bellwether for my abilities as a writer. It breaks down to about 50 regular readers, 2300 sporadic readers, 1000 readers who only want posts on writing or mental health, 2 relatives and 6 friends. The remaining 12,000 readers want me to take a vacation getaway to their remote island resort, to sell me a knockoff handbag, or to sign me up for their dating site marketing Russian and Asian women.
Over the last five years, I’ve come to appreciate the real people, no matter what the number, who read and engage and connect with me. Writing in public and having someone say “this made me feel less alone” or when they earnestly engage in a conversation about the topic and interact with other commenters – well, that’s the sweet spot.
Blogging Etiquette & Peeves
The Reciprocal Follow: I’ve heard several perspectives on this. I do not Follow people expecting them to Follow me. Nor do I Follow people just because they’ve followed me. We know how quickly our Readers can fill up and it again comes down to finite time. While I appreciate people subscribing to my blog, I always hope that it is because they have found something here that appeals to them and assume they’d prefer genuine readers and not just a stat on their blog as well.
The Comment Mercenaries: “I like your post. Please look at mine (usually followed with a link).” This does not move me to look at a blog. If someone leaves an engaging comment, I will likely look at their blog. A generic comment with a looky-loo request suggests that they barely read the post and that they’re just blog-jumping in order to direct people to their blogs.
Comment Policy: I wrote one this year due to the fact that I thought I’d be going off the rails with political rants. Turns out That Guy is not that interesting and that there are plenty of people railing at the sky. Still, I wonder why I didn’t have a policy sooner. It sets the tone for the blog that says “This is not Facebook or Twitter. We are civilized and respectful here.”
Comment Response: I try to answer every comment in a relatively timely fashion. Sometimes it might be several days depending on my schedule or if I accidentally miss it, several months. If the comment section is open, then it is my responsibility to monitor it. I hold comments in moderation for sensitive posts regarding mental health issues, but for the most part, it’s free range.
Being a Good Reader
I am not a good blog reader in that I only do it as time permits, when titles catch my attention (that are not obvious click bait). Since I’m trying to finish a book, I have to be careful not to get too sidetracked with blogging. I only comment when I think I might add to the conversation or when the post is stellar in the shape of its content and skill of writing. This is the best I can do with limited time.
That being said, being a new blogger means the expanse of one’s readership counts on you interacting with other bloggers on a genuine level. I have often found new blogs to read in the comment sections of a blog and readers have told me that they got to my blog through the blog of someone else. This is the community aspect of blogging which takes time and effort.
Blogging as If No One’s Life Depends on It
Blogging is, for most people, a hobby. Statistically, very few people make a living from it. And if you’re a writer, the conventional wisdom is that you must, must, must have a social media platform. We’ve all read blogs that were essentially product pitches. For me, this is a huge turnoff and really defeats the purpose of social media, which is engagement.
I remember the jitters I experienced publishing my first post, as if it would be a deal-breaker for my writing. My nightmare of being a writer unmasked as a complete fraud would surely come true.
Then nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for a long time. I kept writing and posting and writing and posting. It felt like shouting into a void. I kept focusing on structure and content. I thought about themes and voice. My voice got stronger. And eventually, comments began to pop up. I engaged sincerely (like an eager Labrador) and started to make connections.
So despite this meandering post, blogging boils down to a few things: enjoy it, keep practicing, and be patient. It only took me 1800 words to get to this point, but it’s Sunday and my vicious editor is lounging about reading a book, drinking coffee, and lazily reaching over to hit the Publish button.
Best wishes to you on your blogging journey!