Starting this blog was my one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016.
First – it was a challenge to myself: I’d long called myself a writer, but the truth was I hadn’t written anything for me (as opposed to for work) in years.
The biggest challenge was to prove to myself that I could have the discipline to write regularly.
Everything else – finding a voice, building a readership, promotion, guest-blogging, etc. was ancillary.
Rather, the only thing that mattered was to adopt the consistent habit of writing so that on December 31, 2016, I could look back on a solid body of work – a portfolio of at least a few dozen pieces of writing that didn’t exist on Christmas Day 2015.
The cynic in me thinks that sharing “lessons learned” after just 50 blog posts is a bit like writing your memoirs when you’re only 25 years old.
But while this year is still a work in progress, I feel that I’m now far along the path to pass on a few lessons learned from my first 50 posts and 2,200 page views.
Here are the initial lessons I’ve learned from my first 7.5 months of blogging:
50 Lessons from 50 Blog Posts
1. The hardest thing is to get started.
I wasted probably three weeks last December agonizing over the right website name, site map and WordPress theme. All of this delayed the blog’s launch until Dec. 27 (yes – the November and December posts are mostly back-dated).
2. Launch with at least five posts.
I did this, and the response to my launch was positive, with many friends and family members commenting on how professional / legitimate it looked from Day 1. That inspiration helped me write the next 10 posts.
3. Once you have a functional design, let it be.
Content trumps bells and whistles, and it’s easy to second guess your design to infinity.
4. Find your rhythm.
5. The first 100 posts are just practice.
6. Develop an editorial calendar and daily writing time, then aim to stick with it.
7. The blogging “industry standard” is 2 posts per week. 33 weeks in, this remains my aspirational goal.
8. Writing is easy; the art is in the re-writing.
9. Read more than you write.
This follows from the maxim that in social media, “social listening” is more important than simply broadcasting.
10. Specifically, read, follow, and engage bloggers in your niche – they’ll offer inspiration, education and support.
11. Google is structured so that new websites generally don’t see appreciable organic traffic for at least four months.
12. These first four months thus offer a fertile time to play.
Since no one is reading, you have time to find your voice, refine your niche and improve your content.
13. Draft your posts over multiple sittings.
Stepping away for a time offers perspective.
14. Spell-check only gets you so far – roughly 80 percent of my first 40 posts were initially published with grammatical errors – usually a wrong word or two.
15. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good — if you wait for perfection, you’ll never publish.
16. Writing gets easier with practice.
17. Include at least one picture with every post.
18. HubSpot recommends adding a photo, graphic or video link about once every 150 words.
19. Use short paragraphs – 2-3 sentences max. Anything more and your content will look like a wall of text on mobile.
20. People skim, rather than read, the web – all the more reason to break up your content with graphics, headings and bullets.
21. SEO can be incremental – don’t sweat it at first.
22. Promotion is at least as important as publishing.
23. I used roughly 40% of my time on promotion these first 7.5 months.
It should have been 80%.
24. For social media promotion, pick and prioritize a primary channel rather than trying to build a following on many at once.
25. Most of my audience comes from Facebook and Twitter. Organic search remains a distant third.
26. Engagement with other bloggers is key – if you’re not commenting on at least three other blogs a week, you’re doing it wrong.
27. Your title is the most important part of your blog post.
Spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy on it.
28. Listicles work.
After 40 posts, my single top blog post alone accounted for more than 10 percent of the total views to my site. (It was a listicle.)
29. Momentum is cumulative – writing post # 31 is far easier than writing post # 1.
30. It’s okay to take a break.
I published zero posts during half of March and all of April. That’s seven weeks off between post # 25 & 26.
31. As an alternative to buying stock photos, most photos on Wikipedia are available (with proper attribution) via a Creative Commons license.
32. The practice of writing has made me a better writer.
33. Blogging changes your perspective – I see ideas for posts everywhere now.
34. It’s very difficult to get readers to comment on a new blog.
My first 40 posts yielded just 24 comments total – and four of them were mine. (For those not mathematically inclined, that’s ½ a comment per post).
35. Statistics show that 95 percent of bloggers quit in the first five months.
If you made it to month six, you’re winning.
36. There are days where the last thing I want to do is write.
On these days I find that brisk outdoor walks and copious amounts of chocolate help immeasurably.
37. Controversy is key. Challenge yourself to be different – take a different tact then everyone else.
I saw my best engagement from my criticism of Disney’s decision to order re-shoots of Star Wars: Rogue One.
38. Be real. A little bit of vulnerability goes a long way.
39. Don’t depend on any one distribution channel – last year, LinkedIn Pulse was a phenomenal way for new writers to achieve massive views; this year Medium is a far better choice.
40. Having now published 50 posts, I’ve drafted another 12 that will likely never see the light of day.
It’s okay to abandon posts or ideas that don’t work.
41. It’s about the process. 500 words a day, day in, day out.
42. When you’re stuck, Pinterest offers a wealth of inspirational quotes. (Credit to Ann Novakowski for introducing me to “Pinspiration”).
43. Ray Bradbury once said, “Want to be a writer? Write a short story a week for a year. Because it’s impossible to write 52 bad stories.” (Ahem! – see here for more.) I feel the same way about blogging.
44. Having a routine is key – writing at the same time, at the same place, even to the same few songs on your playlist.
45. WordPress as a back-end trumps Squarespace.
46. When in doubt, feel free to comment on a current trend in your niche, or (as here) write about the writing process.
47. Guest blogging to build traffic works.
48. Never use a fifty cent word where a 10 cent one will do.
49. Play to your strengths – write what you know, not about what you wish you knew.
50. Blogging is fun! It’s one of the more rewarding things I’ve attempted in the past few years.
What about you? Any tips or tricks I’ve missed that help you write or build a habit? Anything above particularly surprising or that resonates with you?
Let me know in the comments below!