Less Platform, More Sanity

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I’m posting less on my blog these days, but I may be writing just as much compared to times past. The difference is that over half of my posts stay on my computer where no one else will ever read them.

I don’t feel bad about these unread posts. I needed to write them. Otherwise they would continue to buzz around in my head, demanding my attention and trumpeting their worth and, at times, “genius.”

In truth, I suspect that I would have posted almost all of them in the past. Such has been the pressure to pump up my blog numbers, to keep people engaged on social media, and to, let’s be honest, stir the post just a bit from time to time.

Now that I’ve stepped out of the traditional publishing platform rat race for the foreseeable future, I’m letting posts develop at their own pace and evaluating them with a far more critical eye. Some need a few weeks to settle into themselves. Others are ready to go after a bit of tweaking. And still far many more are done after the writing. The latter is a good thing.

I didn’t realize how badly I needed to just write things down and end it there. I often have an idea or the kernel of an idea bouncing around in my brain, and it can be such a relief to finally see it appear on a page. Once it lands there, I can make a sound judgment about its merits.

This has come into focus for me as I started praying with the Examen. Just writing out the good and the bad parts of my day on the “Examine” app provided clarity and a simple chance to vent a little. I have a moment of bracing honesty each day where I can tell myself, “There, I said it!”

I found that processing my issues in a private way via the Examen provided just as much if not more relief than a more public processing on my blog.

I still believe that blog posts are an important first draft of my ideas. I still think that blogging can be a helpful way to process ideas in public. I still love the idea of writing the best piece of short form content possible and then immediately finding out what readers think. As an author who develops book ideas for years, this immediacy is a blessed relief.

Every person who leaves his twenties behind and starts to stare down middle age or “old” age, whatever that is now, likes to think that some wisdom and gentleness has been added to the mix over time. Whether you call that moving from the first half of life to the second half of life, mellowing with age, or simply realizing that you were a bit of a jerk in the past, a bit of evolution on our parts strikes me as appropriate. I hope that I write differently ten years, twenty years, and even, gasp, thirty years from now.

At this point in my life, sacrificing a bit of consistency for the sake of picking only my best thoughts, rather than sharing ALL of my thoughts, feels like either a wise or a “less dumb” shift. I truly do need to write a lot, but it doesn’t all necessarily need to be shared.

Removing myself from the race to keep growing my blogging platform in order to catch a publisher’s eye finally gave me permission to let up a bit. I still care deeply about reaching more readers with my writing, but my higher priority is letting my work evolve at its own pace and recognizing that oftentimes my writing is only for my own eyes.

Perhaps it would be easier to write for others if I could first learn to write for myself.

3 Terrible, Stupid Things I Used to Do on My Blog

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I’ve been blogging since 2005, and that means I’m sort of an expert… at least an expert on what not to do. As I’ve tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve seen that I tended to make some really big, terrible, stupid mistakes because I fancied myself a pure, idealistic writer who does not bow to the conventions of the blogging world.

After changing a few things in my approach to blogging, I thought I should confess my mistakes so that you can avoid making them too.

 

Titles Don’t Matter for Blog Posts

I used to think that writing was all about writing amazing stories and sharing super-helpful ideas. If you spelled out the basic ideas clearly, the discerning reader would SURELY recognize my genius, brilliance, and value. These savvy readers don’t demand click bait. In fact, they’re most likely sitting by their computers right now just waiting for me to post something amazing.

But oh gosh, if Buzzfeed has taught us anything, which I highly doubt, it’s that people LURVE click-bait headlines. I should have totally titled this post: “You won’t believe what I used to do on my blog!” or “I teared up after reading the second sentence” or “This is better than tap dancing kittens on YouTube.” You get the idea. You were probably clicking all over those fake headlines just now even though you knew I was making them up and they didn’t have any hyperlinks. Admit it.

While we don’t have to give in to the Buzzfeed headline writing buffoonery that is ruining the Internet for the sake of advertising clicks, titles still matter a great deal. Every serious blogger I know spends a lot of time on their titles. These days I begin my blog posts with a title that plainly states the focus of my post for the sake of personal clarity, but then hack it to pieces and work through a bunch of different options before picking one.

Here’s the thing, there’s a ton of stuff out there on the Internet, and you really, really can’t afford to put up a bland headline that’s something like: “Musings on Stuff I Like.” First off, never, ever use the word “musings” ever again on your blog. In fact, WordPress developers, we need to add a mandatory plugin to the next build that automatically deletes blogs that use the word “musings” in contexts other than Greek mythology. But back to my point, please, for the love, spend some time writing a good blog post title. If you love your little blog posts as much as you say you do, then you need to give them good titles. Otherwise, very few people will be tempted to read your precious little posts.

 

I Don’t Have to Be Vulnerable on My Blog

Blogging used to be about ideas for me. In fact, it was all about ideas for about the first six years or so. I’d rant and rave about things from time to time, but I spent so much time believing that people just wanted to read my little nuggets of wisdom that I rarely inserted myself or my “feelings” into my posts.

I don’t know how I could have missed this for so long. I mean, yeah, people want to read smart ideas, but it would have helped if I wrote with the voice of a real person and share a little bit from my life.

Having said that, I also feared being one of those bloggers that shares all the things from his/her personal life online. I’m not quite in the Ron Swanson school of personal privacy where I’m tossing my cell phone in the sewer and burying gold bricks in undisclosed locations, but I find it really hard to determine when I’ve crossed the line from being authentic and real (in the sense of, “Keepin’ it real… yo”) into overdramatic over-sharing that violates the privacy of my family.

I can see now that vulnerability is essential for writers. Writers really do have to face our demons and set down at least part of that battle on the page.

Writers have to take risks. We don’t have to over-share or compromise the privacy of ourselves or loved ones, but we have to take big, vulnerable risks if we want people to care about our work. We have to work on stepping up to that line that divides authentic vulnerability from over-sharing, wherever it is, and give it a firm poke—just like old school Facebook.

And even if you aren’t particularly vulnerable, you have to at least care a lot about your topic. I’ve labored for hours over posts that I thought had tons of great ideas, only to see a passionate post I’ve dashed off in 20 minutes become the most popular post on my blog for all time. I’ve you aren’t personally invested in your writing, then your readers probably won’t be either.

 

Announcing “Here’s My New Blog Post” on Twitter

No one cares that I’ve just posted a blog post. No one. Probably not even my mother most days, especially if my titles are terrible. And yet, I used to complement my vanilla blog post titles with tweets that I plunked down like dry, crumbly, bland wafers.

One day I saw someone quoting from my blog post on Twitter, and I was like, “That’s awesome! I should try that!”

Now, some bloggers go a bit overboard with the Twitter quotes. They highlight the tweetable parts of their posts in bold, set up “Tweet this” links on their posts, or create little lists of tweetable quotes.

OK, I’m not here to judge anyone. This is personal confession time, and I’m confessing that I’m terrible at tweeting from my blog. Do whatever you like. I’ll just say that I saw some folks doing that, and I was like, “Oh come on! Just write something good!”

What can I say? I was born in the wrong age. I’m all “Get off my lawn!” with these new fangled marketing tactics. Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days. But back to my main point about the Twitters…

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TWEET THIS –> “Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days.” @edcyzewski

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I’ve still seen that people want to share helpful little quotes. Even if I tend to think in 1,000 to 2,000 word chunks, it won’t kill me to share a quote or two from my latest blog post if folks could find it helpful. Mind you, I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do. I’ve just realized that my resistance to posting a blog post quote on Twitter wasn’t all that smart of me

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TWEET THIS TOO!!!  –> “I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do.” @edcyzewski

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In conclusion, I’ve made some really huge, terrible, stupid mistakes as a blogger. These are all pretty basic, simple, run of the mill blogging tips that you can find all over the Internet. And still, there are tons of bloggers like myself who have resisted them. It’s time to get with the program. Adopting a few best blogging practices won’t hurt… too much. We may even get a few new readers along the way.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a blogger?