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Blog Like Nobody’s Reading

September 14 2008 – 06:53pm

I just read a very important post by Merlin Mann. He very humbly and candidly spoke about how something that he had created so genuinely became a marionette to control his actions. He started writing a blog. A real blog. about the stuff that interested him, and it became huge. It started to make money, and what was once authentic, at times dictated his actions. I think that sometimes, the need to be successful at something can help us do a better job. If we have a blog that suddenly gets read, we start to refine our posts. We want to package our thoughts into little, easily digestible, tidbits full of newly-coined vocab words that will hopefully be used in the future as a bunch of webgeeks half a world away talk about our blog.

Even though my blog has been around about as long as Merlin’s I haven’t experienced a fraction of the success as he. Not without fault, of course, as Merlin is an incredibly gifted thinker and writer; and, if he hasn’t already, I believe he will eventually carve out a place in history. To me – and I doubt I’m alone here, he is to the blogging world one of those giants that comes around once in a generation – like Michael Jordon, Tiger Woods, or Warren Buffett. I really admire his sense of individuality, and ability to magically think and express what you’re bound to eventually learn on your own – three years from now.

Merlin goes on to talk about how his blog spawned a whole “productivity” or “life hacks” genre of blogs, complete with bloggers packaging and linking to one another, and writing about focus, productivity, and happiness, all probably while holding 5 consecutive IM sessions, pimping blog posts on Digg, and probably also, crying their eyes out.

Me Me Me

It feels ridiculous to relate my experience to Merlin’s, but I understand where he’s coming from. I started my blog without a clue of what I was doing, and I even had a taste of blogging success a couple of times. Suddenly, what had once been easy – writing a blog post – became an enormous chore. I have dozens of half-baked drafts sitting in text documents all over my computer – that are months or even years in the works. Most of them will probably never get published.

So what would happen if I wrote a crappy blog posts? Would I suddenly alienate my dozens of faithful readers? Would they stop subscribing? Why do I worry about it so much?

I remember when blogging used to be fun and exciting. It was a bunch of people publishing whatever came to their minds, and some of them have been successful at it and managed to make a bit of money. Still others got into blogging after witnessing this success, blogging with the sole intention of reproducing that success. If the former blogs are the smash debut hit, the latter are the sophomore slump. Something gets lost when expression doesn’t come from that deep-seated human desire to just put out whatever comes out of us.

I’ve worked hard at being a better writer over the past few years; and I think that I’ve written some decent stuff. I do make a conscious effort to make the concepts that I portray complete, well-packaged, and easy to digest. But it’s a different game now than it was when I was first starting out. Back when Lifehacker would link to a post of yours, rather than stealing your content. Back when you didn’t have to coerce 30 of your friends to Digg a post if anyone was going to read what you wrote.

Yes, I Know

It’s sort of a strange feeling to know what you need to do to accomplish something, yet be completely unwilling to submit yourself to doing it. I can tell you some simple things you could do to have a popular blog: 1) write on some very-focused topic, hopefully one that techies are interested in 2) be confidently wrong, that is, hold very strong opinions about controversial subjects, and write as such, and 3) build a strong Digg account. I’m a bad blogger in those respects. It never made sense to me to call my blog anything other than, because how the hell was I supposed to know what I would be writing about? I don’t link to other blogs because other than a few friends my readers aren’t likely to be interested in (or who probably comprise my readers), I don’t read blogs.

So why do I even care if someone reads what I write? I guess the short answer is that if I’m going to spend time doing something, there must be some ROI to it. But if ROI is really the issue, then why would I be blogging at all? Making a living blogging is kind of a long-shot. Design work I do for clients is much higher-ROI than that. Clearly there’s something inside of me that makes me want to express my thoughts with words. Ultimately, as I’ve seen the pile of things I enjoy doing – need to do in the sense of expressing myself – and the things I can make money at, converge and come closer to being one big pile, there’s probably been some crossover. And thus, any phoniness has been a result of that.

A key moment in my tenure as a blogger came shortly after I wrote about 8 simple things I did that made my life seem simpler than those of people around me. I was looking through Technorati to see all of the people who had linked to that post, and I came across a post where someone had said that they printed it out and had it on their monitor to serve as a reminder of how to live a happier life. It blew my mind that someone clung so closely words that came so naturally from me. Damn. That’s ROI. Not that choosing to condense those things into a list wasn’t a tactic to make the post more “digestable.”

So, I know I’ve made similar promises before, but you know that Mark Twain quote that has been distributed around the world on refrigerator magnets with pictures of little girls in flowery dresses on it? Including something to the effect of “dance like nobody’s watching.” I promise to – at least once in awhile – blog like nobody’s reading.


WARNING: The above post was produced in a small fraction of the time as the typical content, and thus, probably sucks. Not that you care, since you’re not reading this and all.

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This post is filed under Life Hacks, Miscellaneous.