What They Never Told You About Blogging…
Everything is easy… once you’re good at it.
I don’t recall where I first heard that quote, but I’ve concluded that it’s mostly bullshit when it comes to writing. There are some aspects of writing that become easier as you gain experience. Over time you gain a feel for structure, learn the rules of grammar and develop your voice.
You can find tens of thousands of articles about those topics, and others that address the nuts and bolts of writing and blogging.
There’s another side that never gets easy. It has nothing to do with your writing skills, subject matter or voice. I’m referring to the mental head-trash that keeps you from producing your best work. Each time you hit publish, there is a good chance that at least one of these outcomes will occur.
1. Nobody will notice
2. People will notice and shower you with accolades
3. People will notice and attack you with hate
4. People will notice but won’t care
5. People will notice and politely disagree with you
And of course, you never know what will happen until after you publish your piece. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before you send your work to the world, you need to write.
How To Start
The first word is often the hardest. Finding those first few words is easy if you seed your brain with ideas.
There are dozens of well-documented methods of discovering ideas. Almost all of my stories stem from one practice. I journal each night before bed, and then I use my journal entries to seed my brain. It acts as a starting point.
I start with the one-liner from my journal. As I write, I’ll ask myself a few questions to spark my creativity.
What is the connection?
What does it mean?
What does it prove?
Sometimes my finished story follows the arch of my journal entry. Other times it veers off in a different direction. You can read more about this process here.
The key is to populate your brain with raw material and allow your mind to wander from there.
The story you are reading today started with a journal entry about watching the 1996 Jock Jam Megamix music video. It’s a mashup of several songs which culminates in a sampling of the Village People’s, YMCA. How did that turn into a story about overcoming mental roadblocks to blogging? I wrote this in my journal.
Wouldn’t it be funny if I responded to a hateful comment with a random lyric from a cheesy song? If someone commented that I was a loser who should never write again, I could reply with “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA.” That would out-crazy the crazy.
How To Deal With Disappointment
You worked really hard on your story. You thought it was the one that would land you on television and earn you a six-figure book deal. Two days later, your story racked up a few dozen views and three fans.
I once wrote a story that pulled in a thousand fans. A follow-up story then pulled in six fans. It sent me into a brief downward spiral.
How did I recover from it?
I have found there is only one way to minimize the post-failure depression.
Be ready with another story (or close to ready). Every time you make available a story for publication, there is always a glimmer of hope about what it might achieve.
Hope balances out disappointment.
How To Deal With The “This Sucks Moment”
There’s an old saying, “Don’t polish a turd.” It’s okay to give up if it’s not working. Sometimes you’ll write a few hundred words and realize there’s no story; maybe there’s a story but it feels stale. You feel it in your gut. It might be hard to articulate why it sucks but you know it.
You need to permit yourself to throw away crappy work. In most cases, you can salvage something: an idea, a few lines, or an intro. Ask yourself these questions and move on.
“What else could make this interesting?”
“What’s the most interesting part of this story I can salvage and repurpose?”
One of the toughest challenges for a writer is accepting the realization that something you wrote is better suited for the dumpster.
How To Guarantee Success
We all define success in different ways. I define different levels of success. The first level is finishing a story.
I always get something out of the effort. The mental activity of finding connections and writing about your findings forces you to achieve growth. You might learn something new, reinforce a forgotten lesson or see something from a new perspective.
The process produces a victory. If you define success in this way, you always win.
How To Deal With Outward Success
By outward success, I mean views, reads, fans, email signups and other metrics beyond your control. That definition changes over time. Two years ago I would crack open a bottle of wine if a story reached ten fans.
Like any other endeavor, we’re always shooting for the next rung on the ladder. We’re always comparing ourselves to the guy or gal who’s doing a tiny bit better than us.
Every so often, you win big. You write something that connects with people. It’ll be 10X or 100X your typical engagement. You feel like you’re on top of the world. You might even redefine your metrics for success.
This type of success is difficult to sustain and can trigger a brief bout of writer blues if you fail to follow up with similar numbers. You can minimize the post-success blues with these actions.
First, get over yourself. You’re not that big a deal. You’re the same person you were the day before your story broke big.
Second, keep writing. It keeps your arrogance in check. The more time you spend writing, the less time you waste on self-admiration and navel-gazing.
Third, keep in mind that there are a lot of variables that contribute to a viral story: resonance, style, luck, timing, quality of writing, subject matter. You can’t control all those variables. I know of only one method to make luck, timing and resonance work for you; keep writing and hope those things find you.
How To Respond To Hate
I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter only a few crazies. It’s important to note the difference between hate and criticism. If you put your ideas out into the world, some people who disagree with you.
I almost always respond to criticism with a respectful reply. I appreciate those who disagree and present their arguments. I don’t pretend to have all the answers and welcome points of view that give me something to think about or force me to look at an issue from a different perspective.
I ignore all comments that attack me personally or show a lack of common courtesy. I know some folks feel the need to respond and get the last word in, but that only invites a counter-response. That kind of back and forth vitriol will suck the life out of you.
If you insist on responding to hate, try the random lyric game I mentioned at the beginning of this story. The commenter will think you are so crazy that he’ll probably block you from his feed, fearing you’re some bizarre psychopath. I haven’t tried it myself, but the idea tempts me.