On Jan. 8, 2010, I sat down and wrote my first post over at my personal blog, wondering if it might go viral. It did not, but I was undeterred. I figured it would just take some time — you know, six months or so — before the world recognized my talent. I would become a blogging rock star and be on my way to a book deal. Or not.
No, I did not become a blogging rock star (nor do I have a book deal), but I did keep writing. In the meantime, I began doing it for the sake of making something beautiful. I also began to care much less about the size of my audience, and I learned some lessons that I wish I had known in the beginning. Here are four of them:
1. You’ve got to love to write. Imagine you’ve decided to sell lemonade on a street corner in your neighborhood. To be successful, you need to consistently serve high-quality lemonade. Easy enough, right? Well, there’s a catch: You have to give it out for free. Oh yeah, and another thing: There are several hundred other lemonade stands that have already lined your street, so nobody’s going to notice you at first. In fact, for a while your only customers will be a handful of friends and family members who are stopping by only because they feel sorry for you. So if you’re going to do that, all I can say is that you had better like making lemonade.
That’s blogging in a metaphor. You pour your heart and soul into posting the best essay ever, and your mom and 46 of your Facebook friends are the only ones who read it. And that’s your audience for a long, long time. So if you don’t love writing even if nobody’s reading, you probably don’t need to start blogging.
2. Choose a general topic that you could talk about all day. If you want to maintain a blog that nobody’s going to read, here’s the easiest way: Ramble about whatever’s on your mind. You will soon learn that the rest of the world isn’t nearly as interested in you as you are. However, if you’ll talk about a topic that interests a range of folks, you’ll bring in the people who share that interest (assuming you’re regularly producing high-quality material). So in my case, I picked a theme of “Finding God in the Ordinary,” where I highlight God’s presence in the everyday happenings of life. There’s a niche of folks out there who are hungry for those kinds of observations (I’m one of them), and I keep those people in mind when I sit down to write.
3. Draw attention to other people. As you write, make sure to highlight other people. It helps others feel invested in your work, and it guards against self-centeredness. So, for example, I’ve written several posts in which I highlighted God’s ordinary work through my parents, my siblings, my wife, and my friends. Another suggestion is to invite other gifted, but lesser-known, writers to share their stories with your audience. Like this week I invited my friend Rachel to write about her son’s struggle to live as an adult with Asperger’s. The response on social media to her touching essay was overwhelming. So recognize how interesting other people’s lives are, and you’re more likely to get new audience members interested in reading your blog.
4. Don’t check the numbers. If you’re going to build a body of work, you’re going to have to be consistent. But you will not be consistent if you are discouraged. And you will quickly get discouraged if you keep up with the number of people visiting your blog. Think about it: Is there some number of clicks that will be enough? Is it 200? 500? 2,500? I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with wanting to grow your audience, but if your goal is to get more and more readers, no number will be high enough. You’ll just objectify your audience and use their clicks to validate your work. Instead, make it your goal to produce something worth thinking about, and you will succeed every time you publish something that is “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (Philippians 4:8, NLT).
If you still think blogging is something you want to do, I applaud your courage. It will be rewarding, but it will also take work, discipline, and a willingness to keep going after you lose your initial inspiration. So get out your lemons and your lemonade pitcher — it’s time to start serving.
Do you have a favorite blog? Share a link with our readers in the comments section, and if you’ve got a blog, feel free to share it, too.