Category: blogs

Blogging Advice for Beginners

Somehow, the 10th anniversary of my blog passed without notice. I wrote my very first blog post back on October 25, 2005. Back then I was on LiveJournal, but all of those posts found their way here when I converted to WordPress a few years later. Ten years, and 6,032 public posts later, I’m still having fun writing here. Now and then I hear that blogging is dead. Maybe that is true, but it is not dead here. And I’m not sure I believe it is dead in other quarters. My Feedly and Medium are always full of interesting reads.

A few days ago, a coworker of mine asked if she could get some advice on blogging and social media. I don’t know that I would call myself an expert on either subject. But I offered some lessons I’ve learned over the last ten years. Here is some of the advice I offered on blogging.

1. Post your best work

I’ve tried to get better at this over the years. For a long time I did my blog writing without a net. That is, I typed what I wanted to write directly into WordPress and then pressed Publish. These days, I write these posts in Scrivener, and I schedule them, often days in advance. I don’t rush to get them out. I re-read them and tweak them. I spend time trying to get them as clear as possible before I publish them. It my way of posting my best work.

For someone just starting out, I can’t emphasize how important posting your best work is. It is like submitting a story for publication. You always submit your best work. With the blog, there is not editor or gate-keeper to provide a quality check. Instead, there is an audience, and you want to make a good impression with that audience. The best way to do this is by posting your best work.

It is okay to write stuff and not post it. Looking through the things I have in my Scrivener blog project, I see five pieces I’ve written in the last month that I decided either not to post, or decided that they needed more work before I post them. For me, this is a sea-change from the days when I felt compelled to post something the second I’d finished typing the last word.

When I get asked about blogging, I am often asked about how to get people to read my blog. My response is always post your best work. If it is good, people will read it.

2. Consistency is more important than frequency

My friend wanted to know how frequently to post on her newly created blog. I told her that my experience is that consistency is more important than frequency. If you decide to post once a week, be sure to hit that mark every week—at the same time, if possible. If readers enjoy what you write, they’ll look for it regularly, and there is a schedule they can count on, regardless of the frequency, they’ll know when to look for it.

Consistency is more than when or how often you post. It is also means maintaining a consistent quality to the posts. Not every post will be a winner, but don’t forget the first piece of advice: post your best work.

Knowing how long it takes to produce your best work will help you figure out how frequently you can maintain consistency. If it takes you a month to produce a good post, then don’t try posting more than once a month until you are comfortable with the schedule. If it gets easier, you can increase the frequency of your posts, but only if you can avoid sacrificing quality. Quality is the most import part of writing.

3. Be patient

This blog was, by no means, an overnight success. In fact, I never really cared much about the site statistics until I’d been blogging for 5 years. In 2010, I started following the stats for the blog. I was getting something like 30 visitors each day. In 2011 (I think) I set a goal: could I improve the quality of what I was writing enough to triple that number and get 100 visitors each day? I had a year to do it, and I succeeded. From 2011 – 2014 things kept increasing, and I peaked at around a daily average of 4,000 visitors/day. In 2015, the numbers started falling. You know why? Because I was focused on other things, and I was no longer being consistent in when I posted.

These days, I’m back to posting regularly with a consistent schedule (the main post at 9 am each morning, with an occasional announcement or supplemental post in the afternoon), and guess what? The numbers are back up. Since December 1, I’ve been seeing 4,000-5,000 visitors each day on average. Here is what patience looks like on a timeline:

Blog stats timeline
Click to enlarge

My point here is not to brag. On the contrary, it took me 5 years of posting on consistent schedule, the best possible work I could write, day-in and day-out to get from 30 visitors a day, to 4,000 visitors a day. There was no magic bullet. There was no trick that I tried to get a bigger audience beyond trying to write interesting posts.

The Best Thing I Read on the Internet in 2015

I read a lot of stuff on the Internet. Blogs may be going out of style–so I have been told for the last 3 or 4 years, but I read a lot of them. Some of my most pleasant reading comes from blogs. I enjoy pop-culture technology pieces done by places like The Atlantic or WIRED.

But the best thing I read all year was Paul Ford’s What Is Code, which took up an entire issue of Bloomberg Business in June. At something over 30,000 words, it is long. But the writing is wonderful, the multimedia experience enhances the message, and the subject is near and dear to my heart as an accidental coder.

If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to set aside a few hours this week and go through it. Ford impressed me, and I really think it was the best thing I read on the Internet in 2015.

Pocket Gets a Cool New Recommendation Feature

I use Pocket to read articles I find interesting, and to help keep Evernote clutter-free. Today, Pocket introduced a new “recommendation” feature. Now, Pocket users can recommend articles they find interesting, and follow users who make recommendations. I have only used this feature once so far today, but I think it is a keeper, and I’ll be using it a lot more.

If you are interested in following my recommendations in Pocket, you can find me at @jamietr.

My Feedly Collections Are Now Available to Anyone

This morning, I purged a ton of feeds from Feedly that I was no longer keeping up with. At the same time, I took advantage of the new Feedly Collections feature that allows one to share their various collections with anyone who is interested. So if you are interesting in seeing what blogs I read on a regular basis, check out my Feedly collections.

I am always on the lookout for good blogs. In particular, I enjoy reading blogs on technology, life-hacking, quantified self, and writing (especially by writers). I also enjoy more general blogs like John Scalzi’s Whatever, or Anil Dash’s blog. I am also particularly interested in blogs by coders which talk about process–like some of the stuff that occasionally appears on GitHub’s blog. If you have recommendations for good blogs in these categories, drop them in the comments.

I’m Talking Golden Age Science Fiction, Evernote, and Lots More on The Three Hoarseman Podcast

Sunday evening, I had the wonderful opportunity to be the guest on the Three Hoarseman podcast. I chatted with hosts Fred Kiesche, Jeff Patterson, and John Stevens about Golden Age science fiction, Evernote, productivity, what I’m reading, and much more. If you’re interested, you can check out the podcast for yourself.

As always, I sound just like my brother whenever I hear myself speak.

Thanks, once again, to all three of the hosts for having me on the show.

Blogs I’ve enjoyed in 2014

Every now and then, I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have such a great audience here on the blog. Each year, the numbers keep going up, and it always surprises and pleases me. As I write this post, the blog has passed 1.2 million page views this year, and has seen nearly 600,000 visitors pass through its turnstiles. I am grateful for each and every one of them. So it only seems appropriate that I let you know about the various blogs that I have been reading this year, and I urge you to check them out at your leisure, if they suit your tastes as well.

New in 2014

Here are some blogs that were new to me1 in 2014:

Old reliables that I still enjoy

  • John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. John’s blog is the example I strive for  on my own blog. I like his clarity of thought, and the wide range of topics that he covers.
  • SF Signal. My source for genre news, and pretty everything else when it comes to science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
  • Brain Pickings. Eclectic blog where I find something interesting and/or useful every week.
  • Buffer Blog. Great insight into a startup company.
  • Bud Sparhawk’s blog. A great counterpoint to my own (generally upbeat) posts on a writer’s life. Bud is a far more successful writer than I am, and it is fascinating to read about his approach to the craft.

And in 2015…?

Any suggestions for blogs to read in 2015? Drop the in the comments. And thanks once again for reading.

  1. But not necessarily new to everyone else

My Favorite Guest Post of 2014

I was fortunate to be asked to write quite a few guest posts in 2014. But my personal favorite was one that I wanted to write. Fortunately for me, John DeNardo and the other good folks at SF Signal were willing to have me, and they published my post, “Daddy, What’s Dungeons & Dragons” on their site in late August.

This post came about because I had seen that a new version of the Player’s Handbook had been issued. I hadn’t played D&D in 25 years, but I ordered a new version of the book, and when it arrived, my son, 5 at the time, saw me open it, asked what it was, and when I told him, said, “Daddy, what’s Dungeons & Dragons?”

I am grateful to SF Signal for being willing to publish the post. If you haven’t seen it yet, and are interested in checking it out, head over there. You might also peruse all of the other great F&SF-related content that SF Signal and its contributors provide on a daily basis.

Blogs I’m Reading, May 2014 Edition

Every now and then, I get the question about what blogs I read. I’ve written about this before, but blog reading evolves faster than other types of reading (for me at least), and since the question has come up recently, I figured I’d share a few of the blogs that I try to keep up with on a daily basis.

These days, I use Feedly for my feeds, and skim articles there a couple of times a day. The ones I want to read, I send to Pocket, where I read them when I have time. And if I want to keep them, I send them from Pocket to Evernote1.

Here is how my feeds are categorized in Feedly today:

Feedly Categories

(The numbers next to the category are the number of unread posts, not the number of blogs in each category.)

As far as the thing I check every day, they include:

  • 538’s Data Lab. This is Nate Silver’s venture over at ESPN and it covers all kinds of cool and interesting data-based journalistic reporting. 538 actually has several feeds to help focus on various tastes. I think they are all worthwhile, but I mostly have time for the data lab.
  • ThinkUp blog. This is Gina Trapani and Anil Dash‘s new venture into friendly social media metrics. I was an early bird supporter and I really like what they are doing.
  • 27GoodThings. A blog run by Mike Dariano, which interview people three times a week and asks them to list 3 good things to read, 3 good things to watch, and 3 good things to use. I’m always getting good ideas here.
  • The Buffer Blog. The official blog for the Buffer app, but also an amazing open look into how to run a startup, as well as all kinds of other fascinating tidbits. I like this one a lot.
  • SF Signal. The Hugo Award-winning science fiction news site. This is one I’ve been reading for a long time (and one for which I used to write a column) and it still keeps me in the loop with what is going on all over the science fiction world. John DeNardo runs the site and has to be one of the nicest guys in all of science fiction.
  • Whatever. John Scalzi’s site, and another one that I read every day. I think I’ve said before that John has been one of my role models when it comes to being a good blogger.
  • Gammons’ Daily. Peter Gammons venture into baseball blogging. Keeps me up-to-date on the baseball world.

Those are some of the blogs that I try to keep up with daily. Given the amount of time I have each day, that’s about all I can handle.

  1. Yes, I know Feedly just introduce a feature that allows you to send directly to Evernote and it is a very cool feature. But I use Pocket as a kind of buffer to keep my Evernote clear of stuff I haven’t already reviewed.

My Blogging Influences

I have been blogging since late 2005, about 9-1/2 years. Over the course of that time, I’ve written 5,546 posts (5,547 if you count this one). That amounts to more than one-and-a-half posts per day, every day during my run thus far. I don’t even want to try to count how many words it amounts to.

In all the time I’ve been blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever written about my blogging influences. I’ve written about writers who have influenced me, but I’ve never gotten specific and identified those writers who influenced my blogging. I thought I’d do that today.

Compared to other forms of writing, blogging is still relatively young. The people who have been doing it the longest have only been doing it for 15 years or so. At first glance, this narrows the scope of influencers, but the truth is there is only one blogger out there that has influenced my approached to blogging. The two other people who have influenced my approach and style, while both writers, were never known for their blogs.

My style and approach to blogging has evolved a great deal since the early years. I used to rant a lot more than I do now. I used to write about things that no one else cared about. Over time, I’ve narrowed my focus, and I’ve done my level best to cut out the rants. I was reading the latest issue of Baseball Digest last night and came across this remarkable passage by the magazine’s editor, Bob Kuenster:

At the start of my career in covering Major League Baseball, a great writer told me to report on the good of the game. It has so many great things and good people that you should focus on that end of the spectrum and leave the controversial garbage for the hardcore news people to write about… fans want to read about the good in the game.

While I’d never thought about it in explicit terms, this is exactly what I’ve been evolving toward here on this blog. Writing about the good, whether it is in technology, science fiction, writing, family, or whatever it is that I happen to be writing about. I don’t always achieve this, but it is what I aim for. This isn’t to say that I don’t recognize the other end of the spectrum, but as Kuenster says, there are plenty of other people writing about that stuff. No need to add my voice to it.

Here are the three writers who have influenced my approach to blogging and writing about the good of the game.

John Scalzi

John Scalzi has been blogging at Whatever for 15 years. He’s one of the originals. And while John doesn’t always write about the good of the game, he does several things that has influenced me on this blog over the years:

  • He writes engaging posts.
  • He writes with clarity.
  • He writes consistently.
  • He writes in a way that encourages discussion and dialog.

Each of these things are something I have worked toward over the years, and John’s example has been foremost in my mind when doing this. Engaging posts are important for the same reason that hooks in piece of short fiction are important. You want to engage the reader and get them interested. Clarity is also important. With a potential audience as large as the entire Internet, it is important to try to be as clear as possible to avoid confusion and chaos. I think John does a great job of this, and I’ve worked hard to establish clarity in my posts.

Isaac Asimov

If you look at the thousands of essays that Isaac Asimov wrote over decades, and combine that with his colloquial style, you could make the case that Asimov was what we might call a “proto-blogger.”

Over the years, I think I’ve managed to read nearly every essay that Asimov has written, and his influence on my style here on the blog is undeniable. There are three things that I think I’ve taken away from Asimov when it comes to blogging:

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Some Thoughts on Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland Cover

I read Stephen King’s new novel Joyland earlier this week and I really enjoyed it. I don’t want to rehash the plot here or give anything away but I do have a few comments that others considering reading the book might find helpful.

The book is a murder mystery and the story is a good one. Of course it is a good one. This is Stephen King we’re talking about.

What surprised me most about the story is the tone. King captures the same muted, underwritten tone and style that I loved so much in Hearts in Atlantis and From a Buick 8. It is a quietly-written story that still manages to chill, thrill and keep you on the edge of your seat. At least, it did these things for me. I enjoyed every minute of the read.

I’m a Panelist on the SF Signal Podcast on SF Readers vs. Fantasy Readers

Over at SF Signal this morning is the podcast we recorded last week on the topic of SF Readers vs. Fantasy Readers. Panelists for this week’s podcast include:

It was a fun discussion. If you are interested in this sort of thing, I’d urge you to have a listen.