What I Talk About When I Talk About Blogging

I’ve had a lot of conversations in the past few months that start with people saying, “I really have been meaning to write or blog, but I just haven’t done it. Any advice on how to start and stick with it?”

Here are 12 things that I’ve learned since I started blogging in 2008:

  1. A structured time to write. Stephen King is famous for saying that step one in writing is to put your “butt in the chair.” Not glamorous, but true. 99% of my blog posts have been written on the train that I take home from work. And most of them come out very quickly – in 10-15 minutes. But I’ve discovered that when I don’t take the train, I don’t write blog posts. That’s when I write.
  2. Make a commitment. Commit to how much you’re going to publish / write / post. I’d suggest you aim high because you’ll probably do less than you intended (because that’s life). And “publish” because I think creating finished work (to your own standard) is important, because it lets you practice sharing complete thoughts that engage other people as readers.
  3. Set it up so someone is reading. I’ve been blogging for more than six years now and I’ve written nearly 1,000 posts. I absolutely, positively, would have given up after six months if I didn’t have readers. I’ve grown to feel that my readers and I have an unspoken contract: they commit to taking the time to read, think and (hopefully) act on the things I write that they find useful; I commit to keep on writing. And occasionally, they comment or reach out to say how a post has helped them or moved them or taught them something. That feels great. [If you’re writing for yourself or in a journal, this “someone” could be a colleague, a boss, a friend you respect, and you could commit to sharing 5 things you’ve written every month. My hunch is that if it’s just for you, you’re writing a personal journal, which is also important work but is something different.]
  4. Ignore your inner critic. We ALL think that everything we write isn’t good enough (not good enough for us, and definitely not good enough to have others read it). The irony is that the more you let yourself censor your own work, the less of your own work you’ll produce, and the less your work will improve.
  5. Remember that it’s much more important to write a lot than it is to write well. This is basically the same point as the prior point, written differently. When I was posting nearly every day, it helped me tremendously to know that if a post wasn’t good enough, I’d have another shot at it tomorrow. It’s helped me even more to go back to posts I’ve published and try to remember which ones I thought were the “good” and the “bad” ones.
  6. Remove the “am I saying something new?” filter. Because no, you’re not saying something completely new and that’s OK. The point is that it’s YOU saying it, and we care about what you think and how you make us feel when we interact with your idea and your emotions.
  7. Ignore the outer critic. Yes, sometime between here and there people you care a lot about will tell you to stop or to do things differently. Listen to them, contemplate what they say, but don’t commit to doing what they tell you to do. Any creative, self-expressive process is inherently delicate, a flame that’s easy to snuff out. Protect it.
  8. Keep it short. I’m highly partial to 200-500 word blog posts. Every time I write something longer than that it’s because I couldn’t make it shorter. Yes you might have a more technical or expository topic than I do, but by and large if you want people to interact with your ideas you need to present them as simply as possible, with as clear language as possible, in as few words as possible. Use this work to practice not hiding behind elaborate, obtuse language.
  9. Have a strong purpose, loosely held. Especially if you’re trying shift from being someone who doesn’t write to someone who does, I think it’s helpful to have a specific intention plus the freedom to write about what you want to write about. When I started this blog I thought it would just be about fundraising, but I didn’t have enough posts in me on that narrow topic, and the whole construct felt constraining. What I’ve found since then is that through the process of writing this blog I’ve figured out what this blog is about, and I think my readers get it too.
  10. Discomfort should happen. The reason you’re doing this is to grow. Growth comes through doing things you haven’t done before, aren’t comfortable doing, and aren’t good at today. If it feels hard, risky, or awkward, you’re doing the right things.
  11. Do it because it matters. There should be some deeper purpose, which isn’t the same as an external objective (as in, “this is how I’ll land a book deal” or “this will help me when I’m looking for my next job.”) I started blogging because I wanted to understand the job I was doing – fundraising – and what it meant, and could mean, to me and to the nonprofit sector. Over time that focus deepened into wanting to understand, in a much deeper way, people who give to charity, which led to an exploration of generosity, which in turn opened up a lot of avenues of further exploration. Ultimately, this blog has become a vehicle for understanding my own purpose and for sharing things that I’m learning or being challenged by along the way.
  12. Someday you won’t be able to live without it. My blogging continues to evolve, and its purpose and continues to shift. It changes as I do. But it is now part of who I am and what I do, and I hope never to lose that.

For all of you out there reading, thank you. I wouldn’t be here without you.

For all of you out there thinking about writing, I hope this helps.

[title apologies: Hakuri Murakami]

90 thoughts on “What I Talk About When I Talk About Blogging

  1. Sasha and Sasha Readers: I am in the throes of writing a book about social change and social justice. This is timely and useful advice!!! Even as I knew every one of these pointed points, I needed reminding. I will tomorrow too. Cheers.

  2. I had to write a similar list for myself to begin writing; I wonder whether we all have to write our very own instruction manuals to get what we seek from our pursuits.
    Sometimes hearing our own directives are the best way to realize what we actually want. Thanks.

  3. Thank you for this insightful and inspiring post, Sasha. As a fellow writer and blogger, I especially loved how you phrased point #9: “Have a strong purpose, loosely held.” So beautifully and simply stated, and so true.

  4. Thank you Dallas! And for Priyanka and Jonathan, it’s so interesting to sit down and state for ourselves what we need in place to do our own work…feels like an important (self) reminder.

  5. This post helped me when I needed it most. I feel that point 4 about ignoring your inner critic is what resonated with me the most. It is the very thing that is slowing me down with my own wee blog – I’m only 26 posts in and I am doubting myself and my writing on whether to continue. Reading your post has given me the courage to keep it up. So thank you!

  6. You know, I’m starting to write a lot about writing/blogging, rather than actual blogging, haha. It’s just easy to write about, plus it’s relatable for everyone in the blogging community! Nice post! I’ll be sure to implement your strategies!

    Take care!
    Renee

  7. I set up a blog page. Although I know what I want to write about, it took me about two weeks to write an about page and I’ve started three blogs that I am no longer interested in finishing (I have a harsh inner critic) Your post has provided me with some direction – most importantly situate yourself, write it and press publish. Thank you.

  8. Thanks for writing this piece. I’ve been thinking about writing for quite some time now but was truly nervous at what others would say. I know that I should just go for it and hopefully I can write helpful and meaningful pieces like you have. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

  9. Thanks for sharing! I just started my blog last week, so this was helpful for me to read. I’ve wanted to start a blog for many years now. I’m not entirely sure what direction it will take, but I feel I’m getting a clearer idea with each new post =)

  10. Great tips, although #9 makes me a little sad, only in the sense that there is a formula for the amount of attention people are able to give to anything anymore.

  11. Number 5. made me smile as I was recently told my grammar is appalling, and my answer – tell me something I didn’t know. Blogging is as you say about expressing yourself and being creative, which is a good thing but as you say short is best.

  12. I like how you broke it down… I have a really busy schedule and at times i give myself a headache thinking about work when I really don’t want to… specially when you feel alone… thats why i created this blog so that i can express myself, put thoughts out in the open. Personally it has helped me allot. However many of us are struggling to start and i think this will help other to post, thanks for sharing.

  13. great tips! the only thing I disagree with is the writing one – I happen to think good writing matters. but that’s just me, and here I am not even using caps!

  14. Thank you for posting this! While I don’t have enough readers, yet, to have outer critics, I do struggle with ignoring my inner critic and (until recently) with keeping them short. This is reassuring.

  15. I like your comment in #3 regarding how a blog post can help someone, move someone or teach them something new. That’s why I blog too; my favorite reaction is when somebody says, “Hey, I didn’t know that!”

    And congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  16. I definitely didn’t mean to imply that I don’t think good writing matters! I just don’t think everything I blog is going to be editorial/proofreader quality…but maybe that’s just me.

  17. Elegantly written, inspiringly put. As a new blogger (with a lot to say), I thank you. I think I’m getting to the ‘can’t live without it’ point. At least my family and friends think so (!)

  18. I just started to blog, i print my text, send it through email and ask my friends to read it.. I’m so exited to know someone actually read my work. Do you think commenting on other’s work can influence ur writing?

  19. Thanks, very encouraging post and very practical advice too. I just started blogging and while i really enjoy writing, ever so often i think i’m not good enough or people will laugh at my writing and that I should stop clogging up the blogosphere. But I’ll remember this post when I think that way again.

    I also read about what you do which is really awesome. Hope that i can move towards that for my career- from something very corporate to causes or things I care about.

  20. Wow thanks these tips are really great. I am my biggest critic and I have written blogs only to throw them out before publishing. I am more likely to just publish everything now. And I agree with the structured writing tips, for me it’s my bus rides home.

  21. Just in time! I’m quite questioning myself, is it right to post my entry? Thanks for your thoughts! I’m not a good blogger nor an intelligent writer. I’ll just keep on blogging.🙂

  22. Reblogged this on Christ. In. Tin. Kristine. and commented:
    Just in time! Keep on blogging. Keep in writing. If there are readers, good. But if there’s none, fine. After all, they are not the one you are impressing. It’s Him you are giving the glory.

    And I love this blogger’s thought of creating an entry in a train. Ha! Nagawa ko na yan. Nung nasa Jollibee ako. Haha! Cool thing huh?

  23. I’m new to this site. Yours was the first blog I read here. Thank you for reminding me why I must write. Why this nagging feeling won’t leave me alone. Thank you for the encouragement!

  24. I just started a brand new blog myself and so far, don’t have many readers. But since I’m having fun, I figured I should keep at it. Glad I came across this. It gives bloggers who are feeling a little lost some direction.

  25. I am printing this out and posting it on my wall. I have tried and failed to blog so many times, and those times I’ve failed to do a lot of the things you talk about here. I’ve just started again with an idea that I think has more potential than my previous ones, but I really need to stop worrying and just write. I spend way too much time wondering what the people on the other side of the screen will think.

  26. Nice write up rebloged this at kevinsdailys.wordpress.com the non stop Trending blog you should visit too

  27. Thank you! I am just starting out! I have an inner voice that keeps telling me that I am not funny! However – I have 500 ( thru FB) who are asking me ‘wens your next blog? I love it!’ So this keeps me going. Any more tips would be great – thanks again

  28. I can tell already that I will revisit the post several times in the future to remind me why I started blogging in the first place.

    It’s easy to get dismayed and fall out of blogging (like anything that is work), but you capture perfectly the rewarding potential of it all. Thank you!

  29. #8. Totally #8. Not sure I agree with #5. But this whole thing is fabulous, and generous, and wonderful, and true. Following you now… xoxo

  30. Thank you Britt!! And, on #5, here’s the excerpt from Josh Kauffman’s The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast:
    “A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right side solely on its quality.

    His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” groups: fifty pounds of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A.

    Well, come grading time a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work and learning from their mistakes, the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

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