The 5 Surprising Lessons From Three Years Of Blogging
The only rules that really matter
There are two sacred rules when it comes to blogging (or any other kind of writing). Rule number one states, “never be boring.”
That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people violate it. The second rule requires more explanation. I’ll share it later in this story.
Beyond the universal rules, there are inconvenient truths you need to accept in order to achieve success. We tend to focus too much on how things should work, and not enough on how they do work.
This list focuses on reality.
It’s the result of hard-fought lessons from over three years of consistent blogging. This list is not all-inclusive, but it reveals what’s most important and clears up common misconceptions.
1) The other law of supply and demand
My economics professor from decades ago once asked the class a trick question about the law of supply and demand. Everyone could answer the basics of how one could affect the other. But then he asked a question that stumped us.
“Where does demand come from in the first place?”
It comes from supply. Nobody demanded an iPhone before there was a supply of iPhones. Supply precedes demand.
You can apply this to your writing too. Nobody demands to read your work if there is little or no supply.
You need to create before anyone buys what you make. If you’re successful, readers will demand more of it. Sure, you can create too much supply. Like everything else, there is an optimal level of production.
Let’s zoom out and take supply and demand to the next level.
Competition helps all of us. Don’t fear an influx of other writers, some of whom might be more accomplished. If you play on the same field, it forces you to up your game. Your audience also benefits from exposure to higher quality work. They spend more time reading, sharing and spreading the word.
I don’t know what kind of stories you write. Nor do I know who reads them, but I can tell you what type of reader reads your blogs. It’s someone who reads other blogs. If you write about relationships, your audience is people who already read stories about relationships.
2) Writing about yourself gives you an advantage
When I first started blogging, I made myself invisible. I didn’t want the reader to know I existed. I achieved some small successes, but it wasn’t until I started opening up about myself that I gained traction.
Give people a glimpse into your life. Your life doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s better that it’s flawed. When you write about your flaws, you allow others to learn and avoid making the same mistakes as you.
When you write about your experiences and issues, you also gain insight. The process of formulating your ideas into a story forces you to work through your problems.
But save the shout-outs to other writers for offline.
Lots of writers on multiple platforms shout out to their blogging friends in their posts. I don’t take offense to anyone who does this. That’s not entirely true. I clench my teeth and move on. But that’s just my personality.
For me, it’s all about the writing and sharing something valuable with my readers. I don’t think my readers give a shit about who I connect with offline, what writers I read, or care about those self-indulgent inside jokes some writers trade back and forth but never explain.
I have my list of favorite writers. I read, comment, highlight, or share their stories. They know who they are, at least some of them might.
3) Be submissive to your ideas
Let ideas lead you. Don’t force ideas to fit a pre-determined path. My original thought for this story was “The Other Law Of Supply And Demand.” I was going to use the story about my former Economics professor (see above) and tie it in with a life lesson.
I started to write and got stuck. My plan fell apart. I began to write again and tied the supply and demand idea to blogging, and it led to this story.
It was an example of how I followed an idea to see where it led. When you force an idea to conform to your wishes, you violate what Steven Pinker calls Arc of Coherence — your story feels choppy, incoherent and forced.
You can start with an arc in mind, but don’t be afraid to change course if the idea seems to go in a different direction. Be submissive; follow your idea.
4) Experimentation leads to breakthroughs
If you publish one story a month, you better make it a damn good one. When you post regularly, you have more freedom to fail. That freedom allows you to experiment.
Experimentation allows you to test unconventional ideas, new techniques, and integrate new styles.
Some of my tests have failed epically. These failures sting. I won’t lie. But every so often an experiment works, and it leads you down a path that takes your writing in a new direction.
Don’t sweat the failures for more than five minutes. Congratulate yourself for trying, and for discovering something that doesn’t work.
5) The resonance of your idea matters most
I revisited some of my early work in preparing for this story. I reread my first popular story. It had over a thousand fans and dozens of comments. My face reddened with each passing sentence. I probably looked like a mutant beet by the time I had finished.
If you commit to getting a little bit better each day, you will cringe when you revisit your earlier work. Despite the poor quality of the story, it is still one of my most popular posts to date.
It demonstrates what matters most to readers. It’s not grammar, prose or polish.
Your big promise and the success and clarity at which you execute on your promise determine how well readers receive your stories.
Yeah, you’ll come across the occasional reader who hyperventilates himself into a coma over a misplaced comma. Poor grammar and prose can kill a great concept, but superb grammar and prose will never rescue a lackluster idea.
The other sacred rule
You can’t break this rule. In Dan Brown’s masterclass, he says, “every promise you make is a contract with your reader.” You may or may not like his books, but his simple logic makes sense. Breaking promises never works, whether it’s writing or any other area of life.
That’s the second universal rule. Don’t break your promises.
There are two places you make promises: your title and in the body of the story.
A promise in your title can be implicit or explicit. A headline that starts with the title, “How to..” is usually explicit. But even unconventional headlines imply a promise.
The title, “Quiet People Rule The World” implies that quiet people are a force to be reckoned with. I fulfilled that promise in the story.
In the body of the story, you make a promise every time you create a gap, a question that needs answering. Make sure you tic and tie all your loose ends. There’s nothing worse than a cliffhanger that will never get a resolution.