Remember the do-over? Lose a game of Rock Paper Scissors and you got to do it again, with that magic little phrase? It didn’t matter if paper covered rock. You called a do-over. Because the sun was in your eyes and a caterpillar crawled over your bare foot and you were distracted by a shiny piece of tinfoil on the ground. And you got that do-over, didn’t you, every time. Because five-year-olds understand what is just and righteous. Man, I miss being five years old.
I’m doing over my blog. I’ve learned a few things, which I’m going to list here, and I’m about to take my own advice. If you come back in and some old posts are missing and there are new categories and everything is strange, bear with me. I am trying to do this up right this time. Because scissors cuts paper, damnit.
Here’s what I should have done. Learn from my mistakes, people.
Browse first, blog later. I started browsing after I’d already begun blogging, and that was a horrible mistake. Go to blogs that are similar to what you hope your blog will be. Look around. Look at all the archives you can find. Link to the people who leave comments, and go check out their blogs. When I first started looking around, I thought I was only looking for other writers. If I hadn’t been browsing the comments at Men with Pens, I would never have found IttyBiz, and if I hadn’t found her, I wouldn’t have found Shane & Peter, Dosh Dosh, and Skelliewag (the latter of which has an incredibly relevant post on how to increase your blog’s popularity, but I’m not there yet. I’m just going for ‘good.’ ‘Popular’ I will aspire to later. Like, next week.) Observe these blogs. They are doing everything right. You will learn from them.
Write a plan. Nothing too fancy. If you want to write on a few different topics, or if you have ideas for a good feature, write those down. If you’re going to be blogging on recipes and you want to include one post a day on an unusual use for chocolate, write that down. And then post it. And tell me about it. Because I want to know about unusual uses for chocolate. Decide what you are going to talk about, and what you are not going to talk about, and how you are going to be interesting. Because boring blogs suck. This is the number one rule, in fact. Do not be boring. It applies everywhere in your life.
Start writing. Do not be boring. Try to be clever, try to be interesting, try to stay on topic, whatever that topic may be. If your topic is your long-standing love affair with your OCD disorder, then so be it. Tell me all about how many times you waxed the floor. Tell me about the best kind of wax. Tell me to stir it counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. Do not tell me any of this if your blog is on executive media relations, because I do not care. Try to spell correctly and form coherent sentences. It bothers everyone when you don’t. I’m not talking about a random typo, just as a general rule. Or I might have to get all ranty on you.
Write one post a day. Or close to it, especially if you’re trying to build traffic. People who are momentarily amused by you will expect to be momentarily amused again the next day. And the next. And the next. If you do not amuse them, they will move on. It’s a long, slow slog into the territory of ProBlogger, where if there were no posts for a day, people would rend their garments and keen. Which brings me to . . .
Be prepared to stick it out for the long haul. You are not your readers’ reason for living yet. You are only the guy at the bus stop that they chatted to one day. A very nice guy, personable, funny, entertaining. If that guy is there the next day, the reader might chat with him again, and eventually that guy and the reader might become buddies, and then they might go out, and then he might be the reader’s reason for living. Way, way down the line. That guy is YOU. Moral: do not think that the readers have fallen in love with you just yet. You have to stick it out. Unless the reader in question is your mother. She already loves you. You don’t have to worry about her.
Unless she’s about to marry some shady guy she just met on a cruise. Then you should worry. Otherwise, you’re good.
Blogging is not one-sided. Blogging is just as much about reading as writing. You could write the most brilliant commentary in the world, and you would be very, very lucky to get a good readership. Go to other people’s blogs (you remember, the ones you researched? Go to those. You already like them). Comment on things you think are interesting. Click on the links to other commenters if you think they’re funny or you like what they have to say. Bookmark those blogs if you think they’re brilliant. You won’t be able to find them later. Seriously. It’ll be like your keys.
Show some love for others. One of the best things you can do to increase traffic to your blog is to comment on other awesome and noteworthy blogs and link them to your site. DO NOT comment on blogs if you don’t actually like them. DO NOT link to blogs just because those blogs get a lot of traffic. Do not, in short, be an ass about it. These guys are out there. They do little hit-and-run jobs, drop a comment that says ‘hey come look at my blog its coool!!!’ and then they run away again. Do not be that guy. We HATE that guy. I have only been here a few weeks, and if I saw that guy on the street, I would hit him in the nose.
Now, on the other hand, if I were to encounter any one of the lovely people who’ve been by just to post a nice comment, I would buy them a cup of coffee and ask after their children’s health. You see the difference?
Respond to your comments. All of them. Even if it’s just to say thanks for stopping by. If you really like the person and think they’re clever and funny, you should say so, and get a little bit of repartee going. Naomi at IttyBiz has agreed to be my nemesis, and I have never been so thrilled in my life.
Respect your elders. And by this, I mean elder blogs, not necessarily elder people. Though you should respect your elder people, too. Give them your seat on the train. Come on!
Some of the people out there blogging successfully for ten years are only about my age (and I am VERY young. In fact, I wet my bed last week). Thank them profusely when they show up on your blog and say kind things about you, and do not, by all that is holy, abuse their comment boards. Remember that many of these people are very intelligent and could probably kill you with the sheer power of their Digg page status. This is a mighty power indeed. It is a good thing Darth Vadar never found out about it, or that whole Dark Side issue might have ended differently. Then again, we might not have had to suffer through Episodes I-III. So it’s kind of a toss-up there. But still. The point is, it is a MIGHTY power, and though most bloggers are benevolent folk, they can bring WRATH upon you.
Don’t plagiarize. I should not have to say this, but I will anyway. Don’t plagiarize. It is just WRONG. However, one thing that is completely allowed is saying ‘DoshDosh did something brilliant today, and I’d like to riff off it for this next post.’ I wouldn’t do this all the time, or people will think that you cannot think for yourself. Yes, that is correct: the blogosphere will judge you. Sometimes they will judge you worthy, sometimes they will judge you sadly wanting, but judged you will be. Get used to it.
So this is my do-over. I’ll be posting over the next couple of days about the categories I’ve come up with that I’ll be referring to regularly, some of which will be off topic, but they will say they’re off topic in big, friendly letters so you can identify them easily and from a distance. Those are also probably the categories where all the naughty words are going to be, so if you get a kick out of that kind of thing, come on down.
What do you wish you could do over? If you have additions, I want to hear, because everyone remembers that there are infinite reasons to get a do-over, and all of them are valid.
Look! Shiny piece of foil!