Today’s my blog-iversary! Fifteen years ago today, a nobody announced to absolutely no one that he was “getting rolling” with a blog at Microsoft. Seven hundred posts and a million+ words later, this nobody is still publishing with regularity. Throughout all sorts of changes in life, this has been a constant for me, and maybe, some of you. I’ve learned a few things along the way, and figured I’d share some of them.
Keep a backlog so you don’t get stuck.
I’m not a big “list” guy. I don’t have a todo list. But blogging is different. I like blogs that have a heartbeat, or regularly rhythm of content. That’s hard to maintain if you’re constantly staring at a blank page and panicking about what to write. So, I keep a running tally of things that are interesting to me and warrant a blog post.
If you’re wondering how you’ll come up with anything to write, let alone a steady stream of material, I’d suggest widening your perspective. For example, don’t pressure yourself to write an essay every week. Maybe you create a list, like I am right now. Or you review someone’s book, video, or conference presentation. Start an interview series. Aggregate interesting links into a weekly or monthly post. Do some “hello world” material for newcomers to your technology domain. Few people I know can just crank out brilliant material on the fly. It’s ok to plan, and switch around your format.
Create your own blog.
My blogging career has now stretched through nine roles at five companies—seven if you count the acquiring company of two of them. If all my material lived on corporate blogs, I’d be stuck with a fractured resume. After I left Microsoft, I decided on a standalone blog, and that ended up being a great decision. I still published regularly on the blogs of my employer, but I always kept my own site as well.
You’ve got lots of choices today. Use something like a hosted WordPress or Medium blog, stand up your own instance, or take advantage of static site generators. Regardless, set up your own brand that survives role changes, job changes, and life changes.
Write the headline first.
This probably violates some longstanding rule of writing. I’m a rebel. I like having my thesis defined up front, and writing a headline helps focus me on what the rest of the content should address.
Struggle writing headlines? That’s fine. Write the content and then figure out how to summarize it. Whatever order you do it in, make sure you always start with your “point.” Why are you writing this? What are you trying to get across to the reader? Is it a call to action? Personally, I can’t just start writing and see where it ends up. I need to know where I’m going.
Simplify your publishing process.
Don’t overthink this. You should spend most of your time writing, and as little time as possible getting your material online. In the beginning, I spent too much time switching tools, and fidgeting around with layouts. When you’re staring at all that busywork, it can dissuade you from writing in the first place.
Now? I publish to WordPress which has built-in formatting for code, and simple configuration. I often write using Hemingway App to ensure I’m not too wordy. I create screenshots with SnagIt, and animated GIFs with Camtasia. Both Docker and the public cloud have made it easier to spin up demo environments. That’s about it. Make it simple.
Recognize that engagement changes over time.
In the early blogging days, I did zero self-promotion. I wrote a blog. People subscribed via RSS, and we chatted via comments. There wasn’t Twitter. LinkedIn was a weird place. No, it was just the wild-west of Internet content, where corporate blogs were few, and RSS readers were plentiful.
Now? I see more micro-sharing on social media, versus long-form posts. RSS feeds are hidden on sites, if they exist at all. Comments on blog post themselves are rare. Instead of being stubborn and nostalgic, I modernized along the way. Instead of assuming people would find me, I’m better about broadcasting and engaging in other places. I’m still uncomfortable with advertising myself, and you may be too, but if you don’t do some of it, you’ll get lost in a sea of alternatives.
Remember who you’re writing for.
You may write a blog to provides notes to your future self. If you’re writing just for you, totally fine. I suspect that most people write a blog to share information with others. If that’s the case, always think about that person’s experience.
Don’t erect walls of text. Use paragraphs. Use images. Use headers. Write posts using language that normal humans use, versus the synergistic thought-leadering of a marketing bot. Don’t use your blog to show off how smart you are, but rather, write so that others can understand and get smarter themselves. That doesn’t mean talking down to people, but rather, writing clearly and in a helpful way.
That’s all I got. I hope to be writing for another fifteen years, and that many of you will stick with me for it!