Doing It Wrong
Sometimes the internet seems to be filled with nothing but guilty pleasures. While many of us would struggle to live without it, spending time on the internet can feel like time wasted. There is a nagging doubt that the internet cannot ever match up to the finest books, or works of art, or even films. Each moment browsing is a moment that could, potentially, be better spent elsewhere, admittedly with less cute photos of cats.
Yet, we rely on the internet to inform, to facilitate communication and to reach out to others. And it is undoubtedly great at that, in its immediacy and ease of use. But there has come a point where I’ve realisde I should perhaps be a little more focused in my internet use, so I still have time for those great books, films, albums etc etc.
One bad habit I have pretty much eliminated is reading “How to Blog” blogs. When I first started blogging I was eager to find out how to do it well, and how to successfully reach out to others. While I had no illusions about becoming any sort of star blogger/writer, I did quite like the idea of someone/anyone reading my thoughts. If that wasn’t the case, I’d have just kept a diary, or hidden my writing in an old ring-binder, or a file on my computer, never to be read. We all get a kick out of getting a visitor, or a comment, right?
I’m sure that, initially, I did learn something from these blogs. Some of the lessons were practical, others more nebulous, based around the ‘feel’ of a successful blog as much as any hard-and-fast rules. I learnt the importance of tone of voice, of being myself. I learnt the importance of replying to comments, and of commenting on others’ sites. I learnt to always credit images. I learnt the importance of regular posts. Some of these I followed through well, others less so. But it all seemed pretty common-sense stuff.
But, as time went on, I saw the same old advice cropping up on site after site. And increasingly the focus was less on being a better blogger, and more on making money from blogging. Pretty soon I wasn’t reading these blogs for advice; I was reading them out of some kind of morbid curiosity, wondering how and why people were putting so much emphasis on essentially whoring out a fun form of communication.
These blogs would talk of pillars of content, linkbait, guest posts, SEO, Adwords, pdf reports, all geared towards finding an audience, gaining their trust, and then making money out of them. They were preaching moneytization, whatever that meant. It all felt a little creepy. I just wanted to engage with the world, I wasn’t looking for a second job.
Increasingly their plan seemed to revolve around the selling of reports that promised riches from blogging. Become a Full-Time Blogger! These pdfs seemed to consist of a plan where you set up a blogging advice site, build up a strong visitor base, and then sell them a pdf report about how to Become a Full-Time Blogger, which consists of a plan where you set up a blogging advice site, build up…you get the picture.
It was a step away from a pyramid scheme, and far removed from good blogging as I understood it.
I think the only meaningful advice on how to be successful is to be a good writer. Everything else is a scam, or isn’t going to work.
And all of this stuff really doesn’t help bloggers, as they seem to be a neurotic enough bunch as it is. They don’t need further evidence that they are Doing It Wrong. They worry about that enough as it is. I know I do.
Yet, I think the best bloggers, and the best blog posts, come from Doing It Wrong. Blogging as a platform allows us such incredible freedom. We can write what we want, when we want. So, why shackle ourselves to rules about how to write, or when to write?
The most interesting writing I’ve read has come from people willing to experiment, either in form, or in content. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does it is brilliant. As bloggers we aren’t answerable to anyone but ourselves. If we fail, or simply don’t pull off a new idea, it really doesn’t matter. But if we do stretch ourselves in our writing, or explore new areas, or simply let ourselves write what we feel we are bound to do something that helps us become better writers, and hopefully become more fun to read.
There’s nothing wrong with being a Dabbler. We don’t need to be consistent, we don’t need to know it all. In fact, it’s far more fun when we don’t.
We don’t need 50,000 visitors a day. And let’s face it, no matter what we do the chances of that happening are remote anyway. So we might as well enjoy ourselves, and get back to the core principles of blogging – expressing ourselves and reaching out into that lonely ol’ world of ours.
It might all sound a little corny, but I think it helps make mucking around the internet seem like less of a guilty pleasure, and less of a waste of time. And no matter how I cut down my usage, I’ll still keep reading those bloggers who are glorious, funny, clever, brave failures. I’d much rather read them than any blogging ‘success’.
This is a kind of response to The Failed Blogger at Double Word Score, which was a response to this post I wrote here. Thank you for indulging this circle-jerk-ery. I would genuinely love to hear your perspective, either in the comments, or in your own blog post. Can you relate, or am I just talking rubbish?
Good, thought-provoking post. No matter how we choose to measure “success” as a blogger—and we might be in agreement on this point but I’d argue that the terms “success” and “failure” w/r/t blogging should be based purely on page hits, new/repeat visitors, engagement time, page views per session, etc. if for no other reason than I’d rather be called a failure for my paltry rate of return visitors than I would for my blog’s frequently tossed off but occasionally heartfelt content—I do question whether a blogger can ever truly be “successful” if we’re measuring success by the real-world standards of extra-familial interpersonal relationships, impact on the community, number of streets and parks named in my honor, etc.
I’d argue that the terms “success” and “failure” w/r/t blogging should be based purely on page hits, new/repeat visitors, engagement time, page views per session, etc. if for no other reason than I’d rather be called a failure for my paltry rate of return visitors than I would for my blog’s frequently tossed off but occasionally heartfelt content
Generally, I agree. Yet…I think I’d rather have six engaged readers who regularly leave well-considered comments than have a thousand readers who never engage, or simply leave a “Great post!” comment that I suspect is purely there so they can link back to their own site.
I do question whether a blogger can ever truly be “successful” if we’re measuring success by the real-world standards of extra-familial interpersonal relationships, impact on the community, number of streets and parks named in my honor, etc.
Exactly. I think this may be touching on the point I was fumbling around with – that attempting to be a blogging “success” is dull and pointless, and will quite often produce less interesting work than if you just experiment and play around and have fun with the form.
I guess some blogging can make an impact – I’m thinking hyperlocal blogs, or political whistleblowers and the like. But I suspect their success is rooted more in a passion for writing and communicating than in trying to rack up a billion hits, or whatever.
Finally I think “frequently tossed off but occasionally heartfelt content” is as good a description as what I like in blogging than anything I can think of. There is something in the immediacy, honesty and variety of blogging that I can’t always get from other media. I love blogs that cover multiple subjects, or make interesting juxtaopositions, or just offer a new perspective. I think they are a good way of avoiding all those “filter bubble” pitfalls, and are just a little more human than 99% of the web.
I’d personally prefer a small but engaged readership as well, but I’m reluctant to use that as an indicator of success: over time I become aware of interests and quirks, and then I’ll craft posts with those interests/quirks in mind, and since my blog is deals with personal experience, I’m not sure it’s healthy for me to base my reaction to experiences on how I think my small but engaged readership will respond.
I’m with you on the merits of hyperlocal blogs, I think, even though I rarely read them. As far as topical blogs, I tend to gravitate to blogs that are highly focused (such as sports or health or books) and affiliated with newspapers. I guess I prefer reading these corporate-affiliated blogs because I don’t feel guilty about not being actively engaged with them.
I’m not sure it’s healthy for me to base my reaction to experiences on how I think my small but engaged readership will respond.
Agreed. I think that can shackle as much as inspire. And I don’t think it hurts to challenge your readers from time to time. I think (hope) most regular readers/comments will stick with a writer they enjoy no matter what is thrown at them. The best writers make you interested in subjects you never thought you’d be interested in.
I guess I prefer reading these corporate-affiliated blogs because I don’t feel guilty about not being actively engaged with them.
I can relate to that somewhat. I can’t tell if I read those sorts of blogs as I think they are more reliable (although trust in the mainstream media is at an all-time low) of if I read them because they are generally well-written and regularly updated.
What a lot of these tediously repetitive “how to blog” posts – which I’ve also stopped reading – seem to do is tell you how to get someone to visit your site for the first time, and then pad themselves out with a lot of really quite obvious stuff to convince readers that all you need to have a successful blog is a good process. They seem to gloss over the fact that the best blogs are generally also the best-written ones. That would leave 99% of us crying into our milk.
The definition of “success” also depends what you want to achieve. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I write primarily for my own enjoyment. I enjoy the process of having an idea, researching it and writing some words around it. I enjoy the fact I have a small (but beautifully formed) number of regular readers. Occasionally I write posts which draw in a large number of casual readers which are a nice ego boost when I look at my stats page, but ultimately count for little. I don’t blog with the purpose of seeking fame or turning over some cash. I blog because I like writing and like the idea of challenging myself to become better at it. Everything else is a nice bonus – but that’s all it is: a bonus.
All really well put, Tim. And glad I’m not the only one who used to read those posts!
They seem to gloss over the fact that the best blogs are generally also the best-written ones.
Yep. There’s no real shortcut, is there? The best writing generally shines through. But I guess it is easier to digest a load of obvious and/or pointless strategies than accept that one’s writing needs improving.
I blog because I like writing and like the idea of challenging myself to become better at it.
I’m right with you there. It seems like the only really sustainable motivation for blogging. How soul-destroying would blogging be if you didn’t enjoy it and were doing it just in the hope of becoming famous/making money from it?