Tag: blogs

How to Start an Enjoyable Blogging Experience in 3 Easy Steps

I originally gave this post the clickbait-y title of “How to Start a Successful Blog in 3 Easy Steps.” I recently made the mistake of subscribing to a blog1 about how to build a successful blog. I went there to see if there might be anything I was doing that I shouldn’t be doing, or not doing that I should be doing. I came away from the experience unsubscribed, and feeling a little bit dirty. Some of it must have rubbed off, and thus that original title. Fortunately, I was able to change it in the nick of time.

The gist of this particular site is a familiar pattern that I’ve seen as the foundation for a lot of pieces on this topic. There are three steps:

  1. Produce good content.
  2. Build an audience through a multichannel marketing scheme.
  3. Measure, fine-tune, and repeat.

These steps are short and vague enough to make them seem like good advice, and perhaps, depending on one’s goals, these are the right steps to take. The devil, however, is in the details, and much of the thinking behind this sort of advice is anathema to my way of thinking.

Producing content makes me think of a production line, with an endless line of the same thing rolling along conveyor belts side-by-side, one after the other, in an endless parade of mediocrity. I’m a writer and so I write. I don’t think of what I write as “content.” Instead, I write essays. I’m okay with the term “posts” as a synonym for essays in this age of blogging. I try my best each time I set out to write something. Not all of it is good. But it is from those essays that aren’t good that I can learn how to do better.

The rationale behind blogging advice like the three steps above is to bring eyeballs to content in order to increase revenue. The implication, with some truth behind it, is that most blogs out there are attempting to earn money. More eyes means more clicks, more clicks means more ad revenue.

What’s missing is a model for blogs, like mine, which is a hobby, free of ads (because I find them annoying when I see them on other blogs), of sponsored content, done as an avocation, out of the joy I get from writing and discussing what I write with others. For someone who wants to build an audience without a business plan in mind, just a hobby, just to have fun, the model seems to fall apart.

One way to increase clicks, for instance, is to display only a lede paragraph to a post, and then require a reader to “Click to read more.” From a stats standpoint, a specific post will get more views in this model than one in which the entire post is available without clicking into it directly. I prefer the full post be available, and that’s how I have it setup here. You don’t have to “click to read more.” The entire post is there for you to read. The downside of this is that my stats undercount how many people see a given post. If the post is one of the 12 that are on the “front page” of the blog at any one time, a reader can read through the entire thing without ever clicking into it. This counts a “view” toward my “Home Page/Archives” but not to the specific post. It is a tradeoff I am willing to make to avoid inconveniencing readers.

There are other tricks that these advice sites give. Clickbait-y titles are another draw, and indeed, many of the advice blogs I’ve looked at focus on the importance of a post’s title, almost to the exclusion of everything else. They argue that if the title doesn’t draw in a reader, then no matter what you’ve written, it won’t get read. There is some validity to this. But titles should be accurate descriptions of what a piece is about, not bait-and-switch. Drawing in readers with one title only to show them something else is just annoying2.

As a writer, I want more readers because I write for readers. But I don’t want to get readers at the cost of annoying them. For a blog like this one, growth of readership has to be more organic. Success that I’ve had in the past has been largely based on 3 different factors than the three steps listed above:

  1. I write fairly well.
  2. I write consistently–meaning every day.
  3. I got lucky with what I was writing.

The first point is obviously debatable. But having sold fiction to the major science fiction magazines and some anthologies, I think my judgement in this is justified. I was paid for writing that was accept over other writing that could have been published in its place. This is also true for the dozens of pieces of nonfiction I’ve sold over the years.

Consistency is my superpower. Back in the heyday of this blog (say, 2012-2015), I was writing at least every day, and often multiple times a day. Readers could rely on me to have new stuff for them to read on a regular basis, and because of that, they kept coming back (assuming they liked what I was writing about).

Luck is the big unknown. If it goes your way, it can make a big difference. I was lucky to have an audience of readers who read what I wrote because of the fiction or nonfiction I was publishing. I got really lucky with my writing about Evernote. They reached out to me, because of my writing, and asked me to be an ambassador. That led to my Going Paperless series, and with Evernote’s signal boosts, dramatically increased the readership of my blog. It was more than I could have ever imagined. In 2013-2014, I was exceeding a million views each year. But it was mostly due to luck. The fact that I could write helped. And the fact that I was consistent helped make that luck, but there was still luck involved.

I don’t know what the average blog readership is and I doubt it is possible to get accurate stats on this. There is not a category for “blogging” stats in my 2021 edition of The World Almanac. They do list top newspaper websites and information website, but not “top blogs.” A Google search produces mixed results that tells me that smaller blogs should aim for at least 45,000 views/year with month-to-month growth of 6%. I found one site that suggested that if you are trying to make a full-time living from blogging, you should be aiming for at least 100,000 monthly page views. In that peak of 2013-2014, I was seeing number of about 120,000 monthly page views.

I’m not seeing those numbers today. There are several reasons for this. I burned out on the Evernote stuff, and a lot of people were coming to the blog to read those posts. There were years where I wasn’t writing as much or as consistently. Readership steadily dwindled to a low point last year (when I wrote only about 50 posts the entire year). This year, after more than 8 months of consistently writing at least one post a day, I am beginning to see the numbers come back up–slowly, but definitely up. Once again, two things have working in my favor:

  1. I still write fairly well. I like to think any writing today is better than what it was in 2013-2014, but that is an entirely subjective observation.
  2. My superpower is still consistency. With this piece, for instance, I have now posted for 255 consecutive days. In that time, I’ve written and posted 300 pieces. That’s write, you are reading my 300th essay of 2021.
Heat map of my posts for the last year. Since January 1, I haven’t missed a day.

What’s missing–and what is making the difference in terms of numbers from 2013-2014–is that element of luck. I don’t have an Evernote retweeting my posts to its 400,000+ followers.

Which begs the question: do the numbers really matter? They matter for blogs that are businesses, and for people who are trying to make a living from their blogs. But for hobbyists like myself, does it really matter how many people read what I write? From a practical standpoint, it probably does not. But from a human one, of course it does. I write so that people will read what I write and engage with it, and hopefully find value in it, whether it is simply something fun to read, or something that illuminates a part of life for them. The more people I can do this for, the happier it makes me. Maybe that shouldn’t be the case, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about how many people read what I wrote.

I started this piece with a clickbait-y title suggesting advice on how to start a successful blog in three easy steps. Let me conclude it with some real advice, for those who may be seeking it, for how to start an enjoyable blogging experience in three easy steps.

  1. Be able to do something fairly well. Writing is a good start since most blogs are centered around the written word. But there are photography blogs, music blogs, art blogs, AI blogs, you name it. Find something you are pretty good at and start there.
  2. Be consistent. Both in terms of quality (I always try my best) and frequency (I write every day, but consistency could mean weekly, monthly, etc.)
  3. Be patient. Don’t give in too soon. It takes time. Sometimes, a lot of time. I began this blog in 2005 and it took 8 years of writing, and consistency before luck stepped in and played its role. Remember that each time you want to give up could be the time that luck steps in for you.

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  1. I’m not going to link to it here. It is not my intention to be cruel.
  2. I almost did it here, but it was in the spirit of satire.

The Measure of the Blog’s Success

When I began writing here everyday again back on January 1, 2021, the blog was at a low point. Readership had dwindled down from highs of more than 120,000 views per month to a small fraction of that. Posts dwindled as well. Last year saw about 51 posts. By comparison, the first eight months of this year have seen 283 posts, including this one. Stats have started to come back up, slowly.

I have a confession: I’ve become obsessed with the stats here, as I once was in the heyday a few years back. I hate that I’ve been obsessed with them. I suppose part of me believes those stats are a measure of the blog’s success. Another part of me believes that maybe success can’t really be quantified. Still, in any endeavor we look for ways to measure our success. So How should I do it here?

Stats: page views, visitors, etc. are valuable when they can be tied to other measures. If I ran ads for instance, these stats would be tied to revenue from the ads. But I don’t have ads. I don’t have sponsors. I don’t have other revenue streams that the blog supports. Heck, I don’t even have Amazon affiliate links. So what is the point of being obsessed with stats like page views and visitors? It’s a bit of an endorphin hit on days the numbers are up, but disappointing on days when they are down. Then, too, stats never give you the full picture. There are the stats that WordPress provides, the stats showing visitors that come directly to the blog. But that doesn’t tell me how many subscribers read the blog through email, or RSS feeds. If the number isn’t all that accurate, what’s the point? Are there other measures of success?

Blog stats for the last 10 years
WordPress (JetPack) blog stats over the last 10 years. Note in 2014, I disconnected from JetPack so some stats weren’t recorded there. (I was using Google Analytics instead that year.)

One possibility is the number of followers and subscribers to the blog. These are people who have read something they’ve enjoyed enough to want to read more. When I find a blog I like, I subscribe to it so that I don’t miss anything. The number of subscribers here has slowly been creeping up so maybe that is a measure of success.

Another possibility is the number of “likes” and comments I get. I tend to prefer those over the stats because they show real engagement. Someone took the time to like a post or leave a comment. A page view is just that: an instance of a post loading in a browser. It does not mean someone read what I wrote. Likes and comments are tangible feedback from readers. These have been up significantly over previous years so perhaps they represent some measure of success. A subset of my audience is reading what I write and actively engaging with me. I like that.

Maybe the difficulty in measuring success is one of definition: what does success mean? When I started writing here again regularly in January I had one goal: to write everyday. Part of the reason was to get past the five years of writer’s block I’d experienced for my fiction writing. Part of the reason was to write because I enjoy writing. Part of the reason was to create a blog that I would want to read. None of these reasons were about making money. That is not something I wanted this blog to be about. Blog stats: views, clicks, interactions, bounce rates–they all seem to be geared toward generating revenue and that is something that is something I’ve never really intended for my blog.

Perhaps for a blog like this one, the traditional measures of success just don’t fit. I set out to write every day, and I’ve managed to do that so far. I write about whatever is on my mind and I have fun doing that. I’ve seen more direct engagement than in previous years and I take that as a positive sign. Will I stop obsessing over the traditional stats? Probably not. Instead, I’ll just keep reminding myself that they are not why I do this. I do it because it is fun for me, no matter how many people read what I write.

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5 Blogs I’ve Been Reading Lately — And Looking for More

With all of the reading I do, my blog reading has dwindled a bit. In part this is because I have had a difficult time finding the kinds of blogs I enjoy reading. But there are five that I have been following lately that I enjoy and I thought I’d share them here in case anyone else wanted to check them out.

1. Melanie Novak’s blog

Melanie is a romance writer who also writes great posts about the golden age of Hollywood. As a Bing Crosby fan, I really enjoy those posts on old picture, and some of the backstories she provides.

You can find her at: https://melanienovak.com.

2. Paul Jacobson’s blog

Paul’s blog is pretty eclectic but includes some great posts on tools and technology. Dungeons & Dragons fans might enjoy his post on How I Use Obsidian for Dungeons & Dragons Games–a nice intersection of gaming and technology.

You can find his blog at: https://pauljacobson.me

3. John Scalzi’s Whatever

I’ve been reading John’s blog for as long as I can remember. Although he and I have different styles, his blog was an early inspiration for my own blogging, and I find his way of breaking down his thoughts into digestible points very helpful on many of his posts. His post on Being Poor is classic, even 16 years later.

You can find his blog at: https://whatever.scalzi.com.

4. Seth Godin’s Blog

I recently discovered Seth’s blog after listening to him on an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast. This is another eclectic blog, with daily posts, many of them short and to the point, but occasionally longer ones. I like that Seth posts every day because that is what I try to do, too. I really enjoyed his post on Quality and Effort.

You can find his blog at: https://seths.blog

5. Brain Pickings

I’ve been reading Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog for years now. I even get the newsletters. If there is a hardest-working-blogger award, it would have to go to her hands down. I’ve been called prolific here on my own blog, but the writing she does on Brain Pickings make me look plain lazy. Plus, it is an incredibly eclectic site, where she writes on virtually everything. She tries to learn from everything she does (something I aspire to). Check out her post on 13 Life-Learnings from 13 Years of Brain Pickings.

You can find Brain Pickings at: https://www.brainpickings.org


And I’m looking for more

Reading through the above, I used the work “eclectic” an unseemly number of times, but that is what most look for in a blog. It’s what I try to do in my own, writing about anything that interests me. Given what you know of what I write about, interests I’ve expressed, and the list above, I’d love for any recommendations you have for other blogs I should be reading (feel free to include your own). Drop them in the comments, and if possible, include a reason why you like it or why you think I’d like it.

100 Consecutive Days of Blog Posts in 2021

Today marks one hundred consecutive days of blog posts that I have written thus far in 2021. 109 posts in 100 days, totaling about 70,000 words. As I said in my post of January 1,

I miss the days of just sitting at the keyboard and pounding out something that just occurred to me. And so rather than waiting for what I feel is a “post-worthy” idea, I’m going to swing back to posting here when things happen to pop into my head. What that means for you is more posts in 2021.

I’m happy to say that so far, this is true. I wrote a total of 51 blog posts in all of 2020, and have more than doubled that in the first 100 days of 2021. Comments and discussions are on the rise as well, more than triple so far than all of 2020 combined.

Overall, I’m very pleased by this. It isn’t always easy to come up with something to write every day, but it is always enjoyable, a part of the day that I always look forward to.

I am working this weekend. It is crunch time for a software project that me and my team has been working on for just over a year, and which will roll out in a few more weeks. Having this blog as a place to come to let my thoughts run free after (or before) a long day’s work is something that I am grateful for.

Thanks again for being such a great audience!

A Moment to Vent on Blogs

Allow me a moment to vent on blogs. If you don’t know want to read a “back-in-my-day” rand a la Andy Rooney, by all means, skip this one. I have a few complaints, in no particular order.

  1. Lately, I’ve been getting way more requests than normal for guest posts and other content for my blog. I have a site policy that says I almost never accept unsolicited guest posts, but no one seems to pay attention to these. Yet it seems like I’ve received half of dozen request in the last few days. Which leads me to wonder:
  2. Are blogs so hard up for content these days that they can only survive by outsourcing their content creation?

Do you ever notice how terrible many of these requests are?

  • Do you accept guest posts? If yes, I’ll provide you a well-written article and 100% related to your website niche.
  • I’m a blogger and freelancer, so you’re website is such a find for me. I’d like to contribute a guest article to your blog because I believe your audience will find my ideas interesting and useful.

In my head, I invent interview questions for these guest-blogger candidates:

  • What makes your article well-written?
  • If it is so well-written, why not put it on your own blog?
  • My blog has over 6,500 posts ranging across countless subjects. Tell me how your well-written article is 100% related to this “niche.”
  • What, in your opinion, makes my website “such a find” for you?
  • What makes you believe my audience will find your ideas interesting? Half the time, I don’t know if my audience finds my ideas interesting.

Some of these folks are persistent. Many of them, when they haven’t gotten a response from me, ask to speak to my manager.

Why my blog? Certainly, it can’t be the numbers; they are not what they were five years ago, but I gave up caring about the stats on the blog a long time ago. This is a place, where I can sit down and write about what’s on my mind. If people read it, I’m delighted. If people comment, I’m even more delighted. But the act of creation is what satisfies me, and anything beyond that is gravy.

Then, too, I’m skeptical that any of these potential guest bloggers have actually read what I write, or for that matter, have even looked at this blog. If they had, they’d notice almost at once the absence of any kind of advertising. They’d have to go back a long way to find a guest post (there have been a few over the years, but always at my request, not the other way around). If making money is the object of these guest posters, then I’d think one look at my site would scare them away.

Which brings me to my second complaint. I find myself visiting blogs less and less because, more often than not, they seem almost preposterously monetized. I’ve seen single articles take 30 seconds to load because that’s how long it takes all of the ads to load around the three or four hundred words of text. I stumbled onto Boing Boing recently, after a long absence, and, man, what happened? The site felt almost unusual under the weight of ads and pop-ups. I imagine the articles are still as good as ever, but it seemed impossible to get to them.

And what’s with all of the pop-ups? You get halfway through an article and suddenly there’s a pop-up asking you to for the love of God subscribe to their newsletter! You know what those pop-ups remind me of? They’re the digital versions of those annoying magazine inserts that I have to tear free from the paper copies of magazines I get. But the pop-ups are worse: I can’t tear them out!

Look, I get that people want to make money from their blogs. It seems to me that the real money comes from skill and value, not from buckshot guest post requests. I’ve never put ads on this blog, heck, I don’t even use that Amazon thing that earns you money when you recommend books. But that isn’t to say I haven’t made money as a result of the blog. I’ve been paid to give talks, and write articles for magazines because of things I’ve written about here. I like that better than choking the screen with ads and pop-ups. Even so, I’d be happy just writing.

Which brings me to my final complaint: I wish I had time write here more. I can’t quite describe the enjoyment I have sitting down and bashing out a silly post on bird-watching, or toilets. I don’t even mind announcing big goals to the world, uncertain as to whether or not I will meet them. I just like writing here, and I wish I could do it more.

Forgive the venting. There are always going to be people wanting to find a shortcut. Given that I enjoy writing here so much, it’s just hard for me to fathom why a shortcut would be necessary. That, and recently, it seems that everyone in the world is requesting to write an article for this blog.

All birds come home to roost

A brief note: my experiment with Word Press over for the time being.  It is a great document-management and blogging product, but:

  1. I spend way too much time trying to tweak it just the way I want
  2. It seems silly to me (now) to manage the blog myself when LiveJournal provides that service
  3. Most people reading this are already on LiveJournal and I don’t want to burden people with multiple logins and accounts.
  4. I paid for a permanent account way back when, I might as well use it.

So, for now anyway, LiveJournal will remain my official blog for the foreseeable future.  Items posted here will be relayed to Facebook.

Sorry for the confusion.

New updates on the Little Zipper

With my update on this blog earlier, I wanted to also post a reminder that Kelly and I do have a separate protected blog with updates on Zachary.  Until a few days ago, that blog hadn’t been updated in a while, but we’ve both made updates in the last few days.  Aa any parent knows, you can spend all day talking about your kids, and I didn’t want to impose that here, but for those who are interested, you can find out the latest on the Adventures of the Little Zipper and family here.

(Note: you must be pre-authorized to view that blog.  If you do not have access and you’d like to follow along, let me know.)

Originally published at Jamie’s Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Transition to WordPress

After nearly a year of playing with WordPress behind the scenes, I have decided to begin the gradual transition from LiveJournal to WordPress once and for all.  As part of this transition, the following will be taking place in the short-term:

  • All blog posts will continue to be cross-posted to LiveJournal and Facebook
  • LiveJournal posts will be closed to comments.  Instead, click the link at the bottom of each post to comment on my WordPress blog.
  • Comments on Facebook should (in theory) be picked up by WordPress as regular intervals.

I am doing this for several reasons:

  • I have a custom installation of WordPress on my  domain which I can control completely.
  • WordPress has more of the features that I am looking for, and it is far easier to tweak the styles than in LiveJournal.
  • One-stop-shopping for blog posting.

As far as LJ blogs that I read, I will continue reading them.  Most of them I read through Google Reader at this point, anyway.

The WordPress blog should be configured to allow you to register an account for comments (if you don’t already have one.)   I will approve this user account requests as quickly as I can.

Originally published at Jamie’s Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Do you like food?

I mean, really, who doesn’t right?  What about cooking?  And funny?  Do you like funny?  Well then, forget Julie and Julia and take short link hop over to the Mouse House Kitchen where gives you food and funny all in one heaping helping.  Think of it as George Carlin meets Rachel Ray:  you know, like the seven words you can’t say while spreading your EVOO once around the pan.  But don’t blame me if you come away hungry.  Or with soap in your mouth…